Money’s the Root of All Evil in Sports, Right?

Updated: March 6, 2013
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

When someone says ‘it’s not about the money’, you know it’s about the money. Tru dat.

Kudos to Zack Greinke for refreshing honesty and self-awareness: upon signing his $147M deal with the Dodgers openly admitted it was about the money“I could play for the worst team if they paid the most,” Greinke said. “If the last-place team offers $200 million and the first-place team offers $10, I’m going to go for the $200-million no matter what team it was.”



On the other hand we have Joe Flacco“It was never about earning the money and all that. It was about earning the respect.” Joe puts a little spin on the usual, talking about ‘respect’, but it still sounds like it’s about the money. Respect is a function of how someone thinks of you…the money is a function of how much leverage you have. Joe’s a competitive guy and he had leverage. Period.

Once when I heard the trite comment that money had ruined everything in sports, I considered the point.

At best it’s a very debatable point. You can argue that free agency means no player loyalty. Big contracts are an incentive to juice. Roster decisions are partly a function of affordability. On the other hand money flowing into sports has meant upgraded stadiums, more games broadcast, and money has attracted more great talent from around the world.

And all of this is a spurious argument and totally beside the point. Fact is that once big money flowed into sports, it flowed in big…and then it was just a matter of, how are we going to whack this up this pile?

Various accounts of early sports marketing…Gillette sponsored the first World Series TV broadcasts to selected cities, to great effect. Jack Nicklaus was asked to play golf with some businessmen, was paid a fee and the appearance fee was born. The 1958 NFL title game between the Colts and Giants, dubbed the ‘greatest game ever played’, catapulted the NFL into a new era of TV ratings and escalating rights fees.

Greatest Game from

Greatest Game from

The basic story of sports and money writ short is as follows:

  • once upon a time pro franchise owners pinched pennies to keep a franchise afloat (except for the big city boys); they were skin-flints, threatened players and paid them the bare minimum possible; they owned the talent and had a plantation mentality.
  • Marketers discovered that an association with a sports property (team, player) helped sell product.
  • Marketing dollars (ads) spurred more sports programming.
  • Sports org’s were already ripe for unionization and collective bargaining due to mistreatment and abuse…and now that owners were starting to make a lot of money…
  • Players said, I want my share. Or as Mickey Mantle said when asked how he’d negotiate in the modern era, “I’d go to George Steinbrenner and say, ‘Howdy, partner’”. That about sums up the shift in thinking.

mantleSo this whole progression and the ancillary effects were all inevitable once sports marketing was discovered and the cashola rolled in. And now it’s just unstoppable since live sports is today considered to be the most valuable TV property out there…big draw, great demo, ‘live’ makes it immune to DVR-ing, preserving the value of ads. Sky’s the limit for rights fees now.

What, you want a return to the good ol’ days before all this happened? First of all the good ol’ days usually weren’t quite as good as they might seem in retrospect. Secondly that horse is out of the barn and ain’t coming back.

Besides now we can debate who are the most overpaid and underpaid players. When we concoct suggested trades for our favorite clubs we now have to take into account service time and contract status, makes it more challenging. So what if the players are all mercenaries? Huge salaries seem to better confirm their status on Mt. Olympus. And we can still marvel at their great skill and enjoy the games they play.

This post was written by

Dave Graziano – who has written posts on Big Dog Sports Blog.
Short Hills, NJ USA


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