Professional sport has long since become more than just players and viewers. Nowadays it is business with qualified managers, marketing strategies and, of course, high salaries. However, revealed in the media, the sums that professional athletes get, provoke vivid discussions. Increasing with every next season, athletes’ salaries have exceeded the salaries of CEOs at leading companies. With the economy that is still struggling to reach the before-crisis levels, many people wonder whether the athletes are heavily overpaid. They believe that although being a professional sportsman requires certain talents and skills, they still do not deserve to be paid seven-figure salaries. However, others argue that athletes are paid what they are worth, considering their rather short career. Settling this controversial issue requires consideration of many factors regarding professional athletes and teams, as well as sports at large.
The salaries of athletes have not always been this high. In the middle of the twentieth century, there was not much, if any, money in sports. All the professional athletes had a regular day job that they needed to earn their living (Mueller). Moreover, the sports themselves were not commercialized. Tickets to sports events were cheap and there was not much excitement about branded shirts and scarves of the favorite team.
However, those, who are nostalgic about the days when athletes were no more than ordinary people who were having fun, need to face the facts. Sports are no longer simply about winning matches or getting trophies, it is business. Teams have marketing teams, participate in advertising, go on tours and even sign up players of certain nationalities to ensure audience interest. Consequently, the athletes do not consider sport to be a hobby any longer. They work in this business and want to get their share of the profits. Thus, there is no doubt about the need to pay professional athletes for their performance. However, the most important and tricky question of how to “measure a player’s value in dollars and cents” still remains unanswered (Mueller).
According to the statistics presented on the Debate.org website, the majority of 59% of respondents believe that athletes are overpaid (“Are most professional athletes overpaid?”). Expressing their opinions, people name many different facts. If only objective facts are considered, there are three major arguments that support this point of view.
Firstly, for most athletes, the season can be quite short. None of them work the whole year. Moreover, being paid thousands of dollars, the athlete can spend the whole season or most of it on the bench. Besides, the matches themselves do not last too long.
Secondly, athletes are believed to be selfish and greedy (Lefebvre). In the present economic crisis, they do not consent to their salaries being reduced. Moreover, some of them even demand a raise.
Last but not least, people believe that athletes are paid more than anyone else in the country. There is an opinion that this money could be put to better use. For example, some suggest that doctors and teachers, who do a much more important job of keeping the nation educated and healthy, should be better paid (“Are most professional athletes overpaid?”). Others argue that being a professional athlete requires fewer skills and less hard work than being a CEO and running a company efficiently (“Should Superstar Athletes Be Paid like CEO’s”).
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However, counterarguments are also numerous. Firstly, when the length of the games and seasons is discussed, one should remember that being a professional athlete is a full-time job. It requires constant and intensive training. Players spend many hours a day in order not only to exercise their skills but also to keep themselves in the necessary physical shape.
Furthermore, few people are aware of the strict disciplinary rules that the athletes need to obey, otherwise, they are fined. These vary and some special rules are even stipulated in the players’ personal contracts. In general, such disciplinary measures can include anything that may affect the athlete’s performance or be potentially dangerous (“An Analysis of the Working Conditions of Professional Sports Players”). Thus, the personal freedom and spare time activities of the athletes are severely restricted.
When it comes to spare time, many other factors affect the work/life balance of the athletes as well. This includes, for instance, the constant necessity to travel, as well as move to different cities and even countries, when changing teams. Moreover, like any other famous people, who attract much public attention, athletes suffer from media intrusion into their private lives and lack of privacy.
When talking about athletes’ salaries, one must also bear in mind the fact that careers in sports rarely exceed 15-20 years (Mueller). Before that, it takes any athlete many years and much effort to get as good as to be noticed and become a professional. Moreover, even that short professional career can be cut short because of injuries. That is another important factor that should be taken into account. Most sports involve serious health risks. Even if the repeated injuries do not seriously affect the athlete’s performance, they are to be faced after the end of the professional career. In such cases, the athletes themselves have to cover all the medical charges since hardly any insurance company is willing to cover professional athletes (“An Analysis of the Working Conditions of Professional Sports Players”).
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The absence of pension plans is another reason athletes’ salaries should not be considered as yearly earnings (“An Analysis of the Working Conditions of Professional Sports Players”). Professional athletes are aware of the fact that after the end of their career, there are few possibilities for finding a new and well-paid job.
As for the number of salaries, athletes do not earn the most. On the list of top-earning celebrities, sportsmen are only sixth, closely followed by actors and models. The list is headed by musicians, who keep earning even after they finish their career or even die (Hillsberg).
It is also important to remember that sport is a very competitive market. When one sees the fee of £86 million that Tottenham paid to Real Madrid for the transfer of Gareth Bale (Top 20 Most Expensive Transfer Fees of All Time”), or the salary of Kobe Bryant in the amount of $27.9 million (Badenhausen), it should be remembered that the prices are market-driven. Teams and clubs are ready to pay millions to ensure victories and trophies, and, consequently, increase profits from, for example, advertising.
Finally, not all athletes are paid that much. Only the best and most skilled can demand to be paid millions in the current economic conditions. It is a rare talent that gets the highest salaries. As with any other profession, the best specialists in each field always earn more than average ones.
All in all, it is clear that numerous issues add up and influence the level of salaries in sports. Although the athletes have short seasons, for which they are paid millions, they cannot be simply compared with other professions’ annual salaries. Unlike other types of professional training, athletes spend years practicing before they can start their careers. The career itself is short and is often interrupted by serious injuries. Having no pension plan or health insurance, it is during their professional career that athletes need to provide for their future. These are the conditions that are set by the sports business that, like any other business, is regulated by competition and market conditions.