The Extra Point: Athlete’s Salaries

With Prince Fielder signing a nine-year, $214 million deal last week, the commonplace argument on every sports talk show was whether athlete’s salaries today are fair or blown out of proportion.

Let’s start with some numbers. By year, the highest contract in North American sports is held by Alex Rodriguez, third baseman for the New York Yankees.

His yearly salary, before taxes, is $27 million. That deal is for a guaranteed 10 years. For the 162-game baseball schedule, that’s a little more than $169,000 per game.

In football, the largest contact belongs to Larry Fitzgerald, who makes $15 million annually. For a 16-game football schedule, that’s a little more than $937,000 a game.

The largest world contract is that of Ferrari Racing driver Kimi Räikkönen, who makes a whopping $51 million every year. With a limited racing schedule, that’s about $2.9 million every event.

Not included in these numbers is income received, like endorsements and signing bonuses.

So are these huge dollar amounts warranted, or is society to blame for inflating these athletes’ heads to the point that they believe they can demand such ridiculous amounts of money?

In an article by Patrick Goldstein entitled “Is Sports the New Showbiz?” he says sports teams are willing to take monetary risks that they would not have in past years because of the payoff for successful teams.

With TV deals and revenue sharing at an all-time high, the best teams are making enough money to more than cover their salary expenses. In these days, when actors in Hollywood are making less money per movie, sports ventures are not as risky and have more guaranteed returns.

However, this has come to bite some teams in the proverbial behind later down the road.

The largest basketball contract belongs to Rashard Lewis, making more than $21 million yearly. However, after signing this contract with the Seattle SuperSonics, he was traded to the Orlando Magic, where he had a few good years before he was traded to the Washington Wizards.

He was widely criticized for never living up to his contract and taking up large portions of his teams’ salary cap.

Sometimes these moves pay off, however.

The New York Yankees have the biggest payroll in Major League Baseball, along with 27 World Series and 40 American league titles to show for it. They also have four of the top-10 largest contracts in all of sports.

Mihir Bhagat, Bleacher Report senior analyst, said athletes’ salaries have blown out of proportion.

“Professional athletes are making too much money in a society where salaries and wages are traditionally based on the value of one’s work,” Bhagat said. “In today’s society, one should be paid according to the job’s economic importance and their value to society.”

Economic importance? We are talking about billions of dollars in taxable revenue generated by American sports. That seems like economic importance to me.

The reason athletes get paid so much is because that is the cost of putting a good product on the field, which, in turn, makes the money back. Owners wouldn’t give such lucrative contracts if they weren’t still making money.

“Professional sports are a business,” said Jimmie Lee Solomon, director of minor league operations for Major League Baseball. “Our product just happens to be putting highly paid players on the field or court.

“Which player has the superior talent? Which player is more likely to help the team win games? Which player is more likely to draw fans into the ballpark and sell jerseys? Those are the questions we ask.”

Marcellus Wiley, former NFL player and current ESPN analyst said he was all for the guys getting paid and he loves it.

The bottom line with sports, and life, is that you’re going to have busts. Some people are not going to perform up to expectations. However, some risks are taken in order to be successful. It is a business. If fans and companies continue to pay large amounts of money in support of teams and individuals, then owners and managers will continue to pay top dollar in order to acquire the best players.