Money talks, as they say.
There was a day not too long ago when professional athletes joined a particular club, found camaraderie with their teammates, and remained there for years to come. Maybe even their whole career. Salary negotiations were rarely discussed in public, and fans genuinely felt that their favorite players were enjoying the sport that they had devoted their life to playing. Are those feelings a thing of the past? In the era of skyrocketing salaries, free agency, and record endorsement deals, the rivalry between teams often seems all but gone. Players are more likely today to be seen focusing on their latest contract negotiations than they are perfecting their game. Fans are beginning to notice. One can’t help but wonder, do professional athletes still play out of love for the game?
The answer is not simple. It is rooted in a much deeper question, and one that involves business principles. How much is a professional athlete worth today? There is the argument to be made that some athletes, such as Tom Brady of the NFL and LeBron James of the NBA, make their teams (and cities) hundreds of millions of dollars. Because of that, some say they should be compensated accordingly. But when that compensation becomes the focus of their existence, however, one does begin to question their motivations.
Everyone has the right to pursue the salary of his or her dreams. In that respect, you and I are no different than the superstar athletes we have grown up admiring. The difference today, however, is that many fans simply do not see that passion and drive for excellence that once existed. When young kids come straight out of college expecting to make millions of dollars before they even lace up their shoes for the first time, something is wrong. There is something about proving oneself first that has become lost in the equation somewhere.
Within the last week, Andrew Luck signed a six year, $140 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts. A whopping $87 million of this is guaranteed. Even with those staggering totals, the feeling is that the contract is a let down to future quarterbacks. It seems that this much money simply is not enough. Since when did more than $20 million per year to play a sport that most of us would gladly play for free become not enough? When the focus of young athletes—and to be fair, the industry and coverage of it itself—is more on securing a record breaking-deal than it is on breaking records, something is wrong.
The NBA is in the midst of beginning a new television deal that has started to bring astronomical contracts to the hands of the elite players, and highly inflated totals to players that are viewed as just “good”. As a result these players, both mega-star and mid-tier, are shifting teams like many of us change shirts. There seems to be no loyalty any longer, at least from a fan’s point of view. Do these players still love the game, or has it become one big business deal after another?
Things aren’t always as straight forward as wanting more money. Wade, LeBron and Bosh famously all took less money to sign with the Heat in hopes of winning championships. Kevin Durant just shockingly left the Oklahoma City Thunder, who could have payed him more money than anyone. On the surface these actions would seem opposite of the cash rules everything around me MO. Yet there are rumors Durant’s decision had much to do with his Nike endorsement deal wanting him in a larger market, not just the want to win.
Really however you look at it, when it’s likely that players shooting commercials for their latest endorsement deals when they should probably be practicing with their teammates, things just aren’t what they used to be. When are the fans going to notice and begin to take action of their own? Perhaps they already have.