The Sporting Life:
The Public Professor’s
Saturday Sports Column
On the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we should of course give thanks for the wonderment of blessings that grace our lives, even in the worst of times. And I have done just that, in the privacy of my mother’s apartment in the Bronx, and in the presence of loved ones.
But here? Not a chance.
When It comes to the sporting life, I’m not here to give thanks, I’m here to take it. Because it’s not about me being grateful for what others have given me. It’s about how the world of spectator sports should be grateful to you, me, and everyone else who makes it possible. We like to think of ourselves as ”fans.” But in some darker quarters we are referred to as customers. So today let us stand up, unite, and take the thanks they owe us. Let us count the ways.
Owners- These are the pleasant fellows who own and run businesses worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They’ve come a long way from the days of cut-rate hucksters, cheapskates, and charlatans who first sold tickets to curious spectators itching to catch a gander of this newfangled game of baseball. Here in the 21st century, some team owners are still individuals, but most are either the leaders of investment syndicates, or large, faceless corporations. Either way, they are not merely hawking tickets to some sideshow attraction. Rather, they are sitting upon monstrous business organizations that reap revenue from a myriad of sources, game day tickets just being a small piece of the action. Television broadcasting, product licensing, concessions, in-house advertising, and of course the dreaded public subsidies, all boost revenues into the billions. And every dime of it, in one way or another, comes from you and me, the “customers.” Let them thank us.
Players- They have the shortest shelf-life of anyone in this equation, and in some sports they risk enduring a heavy physical toll. Nonetheless, they stand to make a pretty penny. We’ve come a long way from the days of the Reserve Clause which bound players to ball clubs like indentured servants, as in Yankees GM George Weiss trying to get Micky Mantle to take an $17,000 paycut for the 1958 season because even though his 1957 batting average was 12 points higher than hi 1956 average, he hadn’t won the Triple Crown in `57 like he had in `56. Wow. If someone hit for a triple crown now, they’d get a guaranteed contract giving them every single hundred dollar bill printed by the U.S. Treasury for the next 20 years, and the owners would convince the government to raise your taxes to pay for it. But even for everday shlubs life is pretty damned good when you’re a pro athlete.
The average NFL salary in 2009 was about three-quarters of a million dollars. The average NHL player makes $1.9 million. The average Major League Baseball player made $3.3 million in 2010. The average NBA player makes $5.3 million. And for the internationally minded, the average English Premier League “footballer” raked in a very competitive 1.1 million pounds; that’s 1.8 million George Washingtons to you and me. So even though they don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, let the athletes of the Premiership and every other major sports league around the world thank us.
Corporations- When TV stations broadcast the exploits of athletes, they are accompanied by a torrent of commercials. So one might be tempted to say, well it’s the corporations that are directly funding this with their advertising dollars, and the players should thank them, not us. Not so quick. The money does come directly from corporations, but indirectly it’s coming from you and me. After all, corporations aren’t handing over all of that advertising money out of charity. They’re doing it because each broadcast delivers to them a neatly packaged demographic: men aged 18-45. Each televised game sucks us in by the millions, and the leagues gladly offer us up to advertisers, who in turn target us with an endless stream of commercials about cars (especially trucks), medicine (especially for broken dicks), and beer (especially the shittiest swill). My favorite of late is the Lite Beer from Miller campaign in which sexy, condescending bartenders shame the one guy in the bar who doesn’t buy Lite because, after all, everyone knows that’s what real men drink and you’re never getting with a hot woman unless you drink Lite Beer from Miller, you pathetic loser. And in case you hadn’t noticed, this kinda crap works; people buy these trucks and these dick pills and these inferior beers by the millions, in part because of the endless, buzzing din of carefully crafted commercials ringing in people’s heads.
Oh, and for the record, I’d rather drink fermented horse urine. Either way, let those corporations thank us.
Free Loaders– If they can afford to go to a game at all these days, Joe Six Pack and Betty House Coat are probably in the nosebleeds. If they were sitting any higher in the upper deck they’d need air traffic control clearance. Meanwhile the Rockefellers and such are drinking martinis and picking at caviar in their hoity toity, super expensive luxury boxes, and largely ignoring the game as they go about putting on the ritz. But here’s the dirty little secret: not only were those boxes largely paid for by tax payers through public subsidies and by real fans through personal seat licencese, but the high falutin’ sorts inhabiting those boxes often don’t even pay the price of admission. They’re typically high-priced corporate employees or customers who get comped, as in for free, courtesy of the large corporation that owns the box. And that corporation itself? They’re deducting the expense of the luxury box from their corporate income taxes, claiming it as a business expense to entertain clients. So while they’re sitting in their ultra-cushy seats, sipping lobster bisque, and sharing insights about Swiss boarding schools, let them thank us.
All of these people are very blessed by us every day of the year, riding high on the money that flows from our spectation of their sports. So this Thanksgiving Weekend, let them give us thanks. And don’t be shy about taking it.
You can also find me every Saturday at Meet the Matts.