Sports is a business. Like it or not, it’s the facts. What might have started as activities during a physical education class is now a multi-billion dollar industry. While I believe that doctors and teachers should all be paid competitively for doing the same job, sports equality is earned. Like it or not, the facts are that at this point in time, everyone in sports should not get paid the same. You might have earned a spot on the team. You might have earned a scholarship or a contract. But that doesn’t mean you’re equal.
What kind of business is “sports”? It’s not healthcare. It’s not education (even though the NCAA might try to sell it that way). It’s entertainment. It’s a reality drama that takes place right in front of us. Besides professional wrestling, it is unscripted, or at least we believe that it is. It is actors and actresses on a stage that are constantly forced to ad-lib based on the evolving situation. Sometimes there are 10 people watching. Sometimes there are 10 million people watching. At the end of the day, it’s all a performance for entertainment, but it’s different than other forms of entertainment.
In sports just like in music, we can argue about our favorites and why they are better than others. Maybe we argue that one sport is better than another or that we prefer a certain team or player. But in sports, there is a scoreboard. Some sports bring in more revenue than others. There are winners and losers. And in today’s sports world, analytics are everywhere. Everything is measured, from ticket sales and jersey sales to the most minute details of a sport. Some sports might be more straightforward or objective than others in determining the outcome. In any case, there are rules and guidelines that determine who wins and who loses. It’s easy to see which sports, teams, and athletes are the most popular and which ones aren’t.
In the music world, it’s much more subjective. In the movie industry, it is the same. You can look at ticket sales or record sales, but there’s still a lot of subjectivity. Sports give us the entertainment of the music or movie industry yet there is a clear winner and loser. For the most part, teams and athletes that lose don’t have many as many fans as the ones in the same sport that win. There are many winning teams and athletes that no one knows about. There are even more losing teams that are only followed by a few people.
While there are plenty of elite leaders in all facets of society, we also see the leadership of coaches on display. Whether we admire or criticize the ability of coaches to develop their personnel, develop a winning strategy, or motivate their teams, we get a window into what leadership might look like in high-pressure situations.
And the media markets have capitalized on this. There are multiple television channels filled 24/7 with sports. Radio stations, podcasts, websites, and magazines dedicated to the sports world. Technology has made it even easier for less known sports to share their sports with the world. Now, you don’t have to be on a major TV network to get attention, but there are billions of dollars being spent in the sports entertainment industry. That doesn’t mean everyone should get an equal piece of the pie.
Professional sports seasons are extremely long. 162 baseball regular-season games. 82 NBA regular-season games. College sports seasons have gotten longer. And now there’s as much coverage of sports outside of the season as there is during the season. Free agency, trades, transfers, hirings, firings and their impact on teams and outcomes are always a topic of discussion. Youth sports are no longer just about the high school season. Sports are a huge part of our world. And it’s not just an American thing. Sports are a big deal all over the world.
This is not to talk about the benefits of sports. That’s a completely different topic. I’m talking about the business of sports. If we know that not everyone should get the same amount of playing time, why do we think everyone should get the same financial benefits?
I guarantee if I announced a music tour to make money, I would fail. I might have a few family members attend the first couple of shows but even then they would quit coming. Nobody wants to see me perform on stage like that. I hope somebody would convince me to change my goal or don’t try in the first place. I’m just not that talented.
Sports are no different. This is not to argue the validity of one sport over another. We all have our preferences. The numbers don’t lie. Soccer in the US isn’t as popular as basketball. However, there are millions of people in Europe who think soccer is the greatest sport ever. There are millions of people in India who think cricket is great. The same can be said of a lot of different sports all over the world.
There are probably a few people who think the rest of the world is dumb for not appreciating curling or throwball. Never heard of throwball? Check it out here.
The point is that there are only two revenue sports in high school and college in the United States, men’s football and men’s basketball. Major League Baseball seems to survive off of tradition and the NHL is very regional. Is it fair? Well if arenas or stadiums were constantly being filled to watch soccer, or lacrosse, or swimming, they wouldn’t be called non-revenue sports. This isn’t my personal preference. This is the market.
Is it possible that some “non-revenue sports” don’t do a good job of marketing themselves? Of course. Is the market always evolving and changing? Of course. Will this be the case 25 years from now? Who knows.
But if we are honest, sometimes the product isn’t very good. It might be hard to sell ice to an Eskimo. It’s even harder to sell rotten food in a grocery store. Yes, a lack of understanding can lead to a lack of appreciation. But greatness is attractive and undeniable. It is up to each sport to determine how to improve their product. Maybe they should change the rules. Maybe the players need to get better. Maybe it just takes time. Whatever the case, the answer isn’t to complain about equality. The answer is to make it so undeniably great that it sells itself.
In individual sports, greatness always brings out the fans. Tennis and golf are not as popular as the major team sports, but everyone is ready to watch Serena and Tiger. You don’t even have to say their last names. You already know who they are.
In team sports, people love watching great players. This is why NBA regular-season games cost more depending on the team that is coming to town. But when we talk about growing a sport, people want to watch great teams, night in and night out. Great teams are comprised of great players, and while there might be a lot of good players in sports all over the world, greatness attracts. Greatness sells and there isn’t a lot of greatness out there.
If coaches and athletes of “non-revenue” sports constantly sell out their games or matches, then they should have bigger stadiums and bigger contracts to bring in more revenue to benefit their programs. But this is the exception more than the rule. Most “non-revenue” sports should be thankful for the opportunity to compete instead of complaining about equality. Just because you have the same opportunity as someone else doesn’t mean you deserve the same outcome.
Greatness is always recognized. It doesn’t matter what sport you play or coach. There may be a few who have earned more than what they receive, but for the most part, they are being held back by the others in their sport who are just along for the ride.
If you’re participating in sports because you think it will make you money, it’s no different than being in business for the money. You might make money or you might not, but you’ll burn out and you’ll be unhappy. If you do it because you love it, if you do it because you want to be great at it, then you’ll be a lot happier, you’ll be a lot better, and the money will work itself out.
There are a lot of parts of our world where inequality is pervasive and unfortunate. In sports, equality is earned.