The Sports Dollar: What We, Fans, Don’t Want to Hear

professional sports

It’s a specific time of year. No, I do not speak of Independence Day, nor of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, though these are all events happening this July. I speak of NBA summer trade deals currently going on.

Here is the crazy thing, at least for me: I’m reading about folk who are not “superstars” but are getting signed for close to $30 million a year! Not a four- or five-year contract for that much, but being paid that much over a period of twelve months. One person being paid that much money in one year – superstar or not – is mind boggling!

[Update: The whole sporting world finally heard from Kevin Durant who has decided to take his game to Golden State making a cool $54.3 million over the next two years.]

I’ve actually been wanting to do this for some time now. Reading about recent trade deals has propelled me to do so.

I was interested to find out the payroll numbers for all major sports in the U.S. So, here they are, with links to the sources.

The projected payroll for the entire NBA for 2016-17 is estimated at $1.675 billion. The salary CAP is expected to rise to $107 million for 2017-18, which means the thirty NBA teams could collectively pay out up to $3.21 billion for that season.

While I cannot even fathom that much much, the 2016-17 NBA payroll is the lowest of the other major sports.

It’s $3.039 billion for MLB.

And $5.169 billion for NFL.

Don’t forget $1.936 billion for NHL.

That’s nearing $12 billion for the 4 big sports in America.

You could add in $319 million for the PGA (men’s golf). Then we have a meager $79 million for ATP (men’s tennis) so far for 2016; we still have six more months to go. The WTA (women’s tennis) reports $55 million so far for 2016—that’s reporting for 100 women whereas the ATP reporting was for 200 men. Lastly, the MLS payroll for 2015 was $146 million.

None of this includes many other sports like NASCAR, UFC, etc.

Oh, and none of this includes the soccer-football salaries of European teams, but suffice it to say it’s eye-opening to note the English Premiership’s (considered the top European soccer league) combined team salaries for 2015-16 came in at £1.867. That’s approximately $2.5 billion dollars. What’s interesting to note is that the Premiership only has twenty teams (like the U.S. version, MLS), whereas the top professional sports in the U.S. all have thirty teams (the NFL has thirty-two). Add in another ten teams and I’m guessing they would easily hit $3.5 billion.

Don’t forget that these figures do not cover all the endorsement deals the top players sign. Who knows how much the sports economy pays out each year when combining payrolls and endorsement? $50 billion, $100 billion, more? Or what of the NBA’s nine-year contract with ESPN and Turner just a hair under $24 billion!

I offer a very simple expression after calculating these numbers: Absolutely insane!

A couple of years ago, I was speaking with a CPA. Somehow we got onto the topic of money in sports. He shared with me that, in the crash of 2008, he never saw the businesses stop paying out for sporting events. There’s was always money available to get tickets for clients, customers were always wooed with box seats, and droves of buses would transport a company’s employees to the Daytona 500. He gave me a staggering figure in regards to how much each SEC school gets for sports each year—$30 million. That’s $420 million total!

Why have we created such a machine?

I’d offer that this is not good; I’d offer that this is immoral.

Listen, I don’t say this as someone who doesn’t like sports. I enjoy sports very much. In particular, I cheer for my University of Memphis teams, plus the Grizzlies.

Nor do I launch myself on some self-righteous high horse. But this gives me a lot to chew on, something I’ve been chewing on for some time now.

In light of the many things that happen in my city (Memphis) each year, in my country each year, in this world each year, to think this kind of money is kept from the needy is hard to swallow.

I am aware that each of the professional sports has an arm in which they give back to the community, programs like NBA Cares and NFL and the Community. I’m also aware that many superstars start foundations and other projects to serve the underprivileged. For that, I am truly grateful. I also don’t believe money is the primary thing that solves our problems. As one who is a follower of Jesus, I know that very well.

However, I am aware that this kind of money-making machine creates many problems for the “have’s” and easily keeps funds from being redirected to other more important opportunities for the “have not’s”.

And, on some level, there is complicity on our part as we fill the arenas and stadiums week in and week out. I don’t even want to know how much money is channeled into the 80,000-seat Cowboys Stadium on an autumn Sunday afternoon.

The next time a player’s union holds a lock-out, it will be hard to not believe these players are being driven by deeply selfish, self-entitled perspectives.

I imagine these numbers above won’t matter to many. Or perhaps they will. I’m not exactly sure if this means we should boycott professional sports and their events/games. I’m certainly not going to stand on the street corner and hold up picketing signs. Yes, I wrote this article, but this blog post is far from a rallying of troops for a public boycott.

I simply put these figures forward for us to have on our radar and to consider what they mean. It’s a big pill to swallow, one that I imagine will, or should, hurt on its way down.

Money is not bad, no. It’s the love of money that is problematic. However, perhaps we could consider better ways of frugality to offer opportunities of flourishing for those who are desperate, hurting, down-trodden, starving, and more. I hope we can find a better way forward.


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