Sport, money and stories of the present time

By: José Antonio Michelena

Sport, in its long journey through time, has been registering the marks of its evolution. Each era has contributed its share in this process of transformation. The development of communications expanded the concept of spectacle to a universal scale for the public, turned it into super profits for the multiple companies around the sports movement.

Professional sports have been a large business for a long time, moving an amount of money that causes astonishment. A 2019 Forbes magazine article referred to the sports that generated the most money. According to that publication, they were: 1. Basketball: 972 million in salary and 321 in sponsorship; 2. American football: 704 in salary and 71 in sponsorship; 3. Soccer: 457 in salary and 151 in sponsorship; 4. Baseball: 449 in salary and 18 in sponsorship; 5. Tennis: 46 in salary and 246 in sponsorship. But those figures, from two years ago, have already been surpassed.

Another way to analyze the money generated by sports is to look at the huge numbers that move in the big competitions that occur in cycles (once a year, every two years, every four years). An article in El impartial, in April 2020, points out the four events that move the most money: The Superbowl, the game that the NFL decides (378 million); the Summer and Winter Olympics (3 billion); The Soccer World Cup (141 million); Dayton 500, the biggest car race in the NASCAR Cup Series ($ 98 million).

However, fans are more familiar with the sports leagues of their choice. The publication cited above shows a table that collects the data of the ten professional leagues that generate the most money annually:

NFL: American Football League: $ 13 billion a year.

MLB: Major League Baseball: $ 9.5 billion.

Premier League: English Football League: $ 5.3 billion.

NBA: United States Basketball League: $ 4.8 billion.

NHL: United States Hockey League: $ 3.7 billion.

Bundes Liga: German Soccer League: $ 2.8 billion.

Santander League: Spanish Soccer League: $ 2.2 billion.

Serie A: Italian Soccer League: $ 1.9 billion.

Ligue 1: French Soccer League: $ 1.5 billion.

NPB: Japan Professional Baseball League: $ 1.1 billion.


These are general data, but the information that arouses the most interest in sports followers, in terms of money, is that which has to do with the contracts of athletes. In that news zone there are a lot of articles and comments.

For those who are part of the elite, the athletes who participate in the highest professional leagues, and especially the superstars, the numbers of the contracts have grown vertiginously, and a narrative has also been created around the firms, the money and the craks. It is a constant rain of news that invades sports publications and social networks.

Behind each signing of a crack contract, a storm of opinions arises, for and against, comparing the athlete with other superstars of his league, or of other leagues of his sport. Comparing athletes, as if they were cars, is one of the least serious, least responsible things in sports narratives.

It is clear that this language is in correspondence with the practices of professional sports. When a club is paying 30 million euros or dollars to an athlete per season, it is valuing it as a luxury merchandise. And by the way, he’s not giving her anything. He has already calculated that his name (Messi, Cristiano, LeBron, Harper, Trout, Cole) is going to report more tickets to the stadium, more sales of shirts, better sponsorships, more news coverage, higher profits from broadcasts; well, a lot of money. As an old saying goes, he is worth his weight in gold.

Interestingly, that spending of money by the clubs in the signing of the great talents is not directly proportional to the number of victories and championships they achieve. The New York Yankees, the richest franchise in MLB, estimated to be worth $ 6.75 billion, haven’t won the World Series since 2009. Oh, but they made $ 683 million in the 2019 campaign, according to Forbes 2020 data. And that’s what owners really care about.


The other side of the coin is the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the most humble franchises in the MLB, which year after year is fighting for the leadership of its division, and which in the 2020 campaign lost the World Series in the seventh game with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the second richest club in the MLb, but not winning the top trophy since 1988.

Stories around contract money aren’t the only trivia haunting craks, because just about anything they do on the pitch – and even off it – makes the news. Now, in MLB, the biggest favorite of the headbands is the Dominican Fernando Tatis Jr., signed by the San Diego Padres for 330 million dollars for fourteen years. His contract is one of the highest, one of the best, as well as the clause included later, which allows him to veto being exchanged until 2028, among other privileges.

So far Tatis Jr. is responding very well with his game to the expectations aroused by his enormous talent and the money invested in him; On the other hand, the same is not happening with the Puerto Rican Francisco Lindor. The former Cleveland Indians star signed an astronomical contract with the New York Mets – $ 341 million for ten years – and is not hitting as expected, quite the opposite, to the point that he has been booed by fans in Queens.

To what extent does a contract like that put pressure on an elite athlete, stress him more than he usually endures? You would have to ask him. And we will never fully know. At one time the cinema has represented the drama that athletes go through in certain circumstances. Those who have seen 61, the Billy Crystal film that picks up Roger Maris’s nightmare to break Babe Ruth’s home run record can get an idea of ​​how far fans and the press are pushing. They led him to a nervous breakdown. And it was sixty years ago. There was no internet or social networks.

Of course, the stories that revolve around contracts and comparisons between athletes are not the only trivialities that feed this era where anyone publishes a comment or supposed news. The professional and private lives of sports celebrities are constantly exposed in the media. It is an omnivorous narrative, it feeds on everything.

Messi, Ronaldo, LeBron, Durant, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper have to deal with this ambient noise day after day … One imagines that just as Odysseus covered his ears to avoid listening to the sirens, so do they. And they always have their millions of consolation to forget the madding crowd outside the stadiums.

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