$tupid, Ridiculou$…and Loving It

Posted: November 2, 2011 in sports
Tags: , , , ,

The business model for professional sports is ridiculous. Incredibly, it has worked as well as it has.

What other business rewards its people BEFORE they perform? The answer is none.

Highly drafted rookies are given a lifetime of riches. Veterans who become stars – in many cases only potential stars – have their original contracts torn up and are given millions of dollars for what they are EXPECTED to do.

Yes, I know all of the pratfalls faced by pro athletes. Their careers are short, often because of injury. Their teams make huge profits, sometimes in the billions, so why shouldn’t they get their share?

Still, the business model is one seemingly doomed to fail. Time after time rookies fail to come close to expectations. Examples are too numerous to name. More often than not veterans who get those once-in-a-lifetime free agent contracts never come close to earning them.

It’s human nature to relax once financial security has been achieved. The remarkable stories involve the rookies and stars who get mega contracts and still have the drive to excel. Perhaps it is that trait that truly separates the superstars from the rest.

The Jaguars have had their share of players who grabbed the money and then bombed. They may be seeing another example in tight end Marcedes Lewis, who established himself as one of the NFL’s better tight ends. Lewis held out this preseason, demanding a new contract. The Jaguars obliged. Lewis has responded by having a lousy season, including dropping at least three touchdown passes for a team that ranks last in scoring.

The biggest offseason story in baseball will be about St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols, who after 11 remarkable seasons is a free agent. Pujols’ camp wants a contract in the neighborhood of 10 years and $200,000 million. Pujols is 31 years and has been beset by nagging injuries in several years. What are the chances he’ll play another 10 seasons? Almost zero. What are the chances he’ll come close to matching his career numbers of batting .300, hitting 30-plus homers and driving in 100-plus a season for more than two or three more seasons? Slim, at best.

Admittedly, his value to the World Champion Cardinals can’t be matched with statistics. He ranks next to Stan Musial as the greatest St. Louis player ever. To lose him to another team would be a major blow to St. Louis’ immediate future on the field and crushing blow to the city’s baseball image.

He has earned everything he’s been paid – and he’s been paid millions. He’ll be paid in the future far more than he’s worth either by the Cardinals or a Major League team with deep pockets (Cubs?).

Every team owners surely realizes how stupid the business model is. Even the athletes have to know they’re not worth the kind of money most of them make. The biggest flaw in the system isn’t what the stars make; it’s the trickle down effect that so grossly over rewards the .240-hitting left-fielders, the backup centers in basketball, the run-of-the-mill linebackers, etc.

But the beat goes on, because television continues to pump billions into sports, and fans whine but ultimately make sacrifices to buy expensive tickets. The desire to be part of a winner, a false sense of civic pride and the fantasy of living their lives through athletes – these are the things that separate pro sports from other businesses. The business model, stupid and ridiculous as it may be, isn’t going to change anytime soon.

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