Win-Win Situation

This past weekend marks the largest contract signing in Major League Baseball history. On the 12th of February 2000, Ken Griffey Jr. (formerly of the Seattle Mariners), signed a nine-year $116.5 million contract with his hometown Cincinnati Reds. The city’s fans were ecstatic to bring Griffey back, and considering he turned down an eight-year $148 million deal to re-sign with Seattle, they feel that the acquisition was a real bargain. It really is amazing when a man can make $12.94 million a year, simply for playing the game of baseball and millions upon millions of people are calling it a bargain. Salaries in sports are incredibly sensitive and controversial issues. There are many die-hard fans that believe high-profile athletes are worth each and every cent their contract gives them, however most people believe otherwise; I am one of them. What exactly is it that athletes do that makes them deserving of such high salaries? The real issue at hand here, is that the more money athletes are making, the more fans are going to have to pay to see them in person. Is there really a win-win situation here?
As entertainers, athletes are paid for fan satisfaction. The more fans that want to see an athlete perform, the more the athlete is paid. In fact, most athletes, even those who make millions of dollars for each flubbed fly ball, dropped pass, and missed free throw, feel they probably deserve even higher salaries; the reason being that they’re still in demand. While certain athletes may never bring a championship ring to their team, or even bring home a winning season, those athletes will always pack the stands. Fans in the stands translate into ticket sales. Ticket sales can potentially lead to national television broadcasts. Inevitably, the formula of ticket sales plus national television broadcasts leads to massive revenue, and this is how owners and organizations can afford to pay players like Michael Jordan $25 Million for his retiring season alone. However, how does society (as a whole) benefit from these over-inflated salaries? In short, it doesn’t.
It is a delicate and confusing situation. If the fans will pay for everything from the hats to the T-shirts, to the tickets to the hot dogs, the teams will generate more money. However, if that happens, come contract time athletes will demand for more money. If the athlete demands more money, the cost of tickets and memorabilia will go up. On the other hand, if ticket and memorabilia sales are down, and the money isn’t there, organizations will need to find a way to accommodate their players’ salaries, and yet again ticket and memorabilia prices will go up. Is it wrong for an unproductive player to demand more money, simply because he can pack the stands with fans? Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones definitely believed so.
Four years ago, when the Dallas Cowboys signed Deion Sanders to a five year $35 Million contract, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expected performance. He knew Neon Deion was arguably the best defensive back in the National Football League, and he knew that Sanders alone could fill Texas Stadium with fans. In his first year with the club, Sanders was a massive contributor to the Cowboys’ 1996 Super Bowl Championship season. Since that season however, Sanders has been riddled with injuries, and his performance has declined drastically. While nearing the end of his contract with the Cowboys, Sanders asked for a new $8 million a year contract. Because of that, Jones was outraged, and the club released him. Like many others, Jones believed that teams should introduce an ‘incentive pay’ system. Teams could give players more modest base salaries that still reflect their relative value; the rest of their pay could then be put at risk. Half their potential earnings would be based on targets customized to their role on the team (for example Dennis Rodman the rebounder versus Michael Jordan the scorer). The potential to earn the other half would be based on games won. With this system, athletes may still make a lot of money, however they will actually be earning their pay, and in most cases salaries will decrease, and maybe ticket and memorabilia prices will then decline. If that happens, who knows, maybe just anybody will