Sports is Costly! Way Costly!

Players who once used to play the game for the love of it, often spending money from their pockets, are now increasingly demanding a remuneration package befitting a CEO of a large multinational corporation. Some argue that sports is an art and that the talent of the player deserves the greens. Agreed. However, quite chillingly, when you recall the horrors of the recent global recession and yet, when you roll through the figures involved and invested in the games across the world, it will become difficult to believe that the two happened in the same world, at the same time.

Sports is meant to entertain. And that it does. However, there is a lengthy price-tag attached to the experience. Golf leads the way in the regard. With millions being part of the game, it has several tournaments organized each passing year, money has becme a big draw for the clubbers. Formula 1 and NASCAR follow close, although sponsorship in these games can be cited as a cause. But money does have its (big, fat and enticing) role nevertheless.

Basketball continues its rich affair in the States and in Japan. Tennis stars grow richer each year with the top five stars in the male (three) and female (two) lanes together pocketing nearly 120 million dollars every year! Football and cricket too have been big spenders. Only the top three footballers – Lionel Messi, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo — earn more than 100 million Euros together each year! The football clubs of Spain and England continue to pile debts in thousands of millions; the Italian League still has echoes of a major money scandal, but the game goes on. As result, the top twenty clubs have an average enterprise value of $632 million. And yet, the buyers never fall short!

The Giillette family owns a club; steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal has one. The Sheikhs from UAE, Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 guy, the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi and Paul Allen (Microsoft’s co-Founder) have one a piece too!

Even though cricket has yet to catch up with the fan following that football commands, it is not so as far as the cash-splash is concerned. With three successful (commercially and otherwise) the IPL has taken the world of cricket by storm. Franchises have always carried hefty labels and the sums involved in the players’ auction would make Midas go shy.

Various studies have lent credence to the view that, when the incentives are increased, players will aim higher and perform better. Whatever happened to the players’ romance with the sport? And what is more appalling is the sheer unnecessary amounts being invested in haywire projects and premature careers. Chelsea Football Club recently signed an 11 year old footballer, their reason being his quality with the ball. Though the green figures on the cheque will probably increase in the coming years, just to make sure he is not ensnared by a rival! Almost eight years ago, a promoter offered Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi $10 million for their daughter to appear in a women’s tennis tournament in 2017! Somebody make some sense of that to me, please? So how exactly is the money involved? First, you build a team and a stadium. You buy, sell and transfer players. You hire a coaching staff and ensure their stay, travel and other needs are attended to. This alone takes the bill astronomically high! And if you opine that ticket sales are a major share, well, wake up! Ticket shares form the meanest fraction of the ways in which money is minted. The investors involved would still have their grins as wide even if a single ticket was not sold. Merchandising; sponsorship; TV, radio and online revenue; prize money and of course the “investment” by owners/ board members all ensure for a happy ending even before the game has started.

However, in all the flood of money, what is so surprising is that there has not been much done to check this commercial chaos! And the same idols that thousands of followers look-up to, seem to go unheeded by it all… busy, of course… spending the riches is not an easy task when the reserves are so thick and warm!

All one can hope is for the mania to get some refrain… if not for anything else, then just for the love of the game!

Rohit Rohan