The fabulously rich often develop appetites for foods whose cost far exceeds what ordinary folk can possibly imagine–$295 hamburgers and $1782 slices of pie.
Many of today’s professional athletes, particularly in football and basketball (slightly less in baseball) likewise possess an extravagant appetite. This super-expensive gourmet item is the Goose whose golden eggs enrich these jocks. Now, thanks to their seemingly irrepressible hostility to American values and traditions, they are determined to kill and eat the Goose, perhaps by taking a knee on its neck. Ironically, these rich athletes seem unaware that those they denounce for a litany of race-related sins fund their extraordinary incomes. Do millionaire woke athletes believe that watching the NBA or NFL is so genetically hard-wired that the American public is terminally hooked?
Following the NBA or NFL is not an addiction. Eating the Goose may soon be replaced by jobs at Walmart and dining at McDonalds.
Prior to World War II professional basketball and football barely existed as spectator sports. Americans flocked to boxing and horse racing, not the Decatur Staleys, the forerunner of the NFL Chicago Bears. Public attention is fickle, and today’s Super Bowl mania may eventually be forgotten like when 120,557 fans packed Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia to watch the 1926 Dempsey-Tunney heavy-weight championship fight.
To understand today’s extraordinary salaries and why this affluence is hardly eternal, consider sports prior to TV. In a nutshell, it is TV revenue, directly and indirectly, that has generated these salaries and allows Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors to earn $40,281,758 while even mediocre player earn $10 million. Correctly understood, Curry is a TV star who just happens to play basketball,
David Halberstam’s Breaks of the Game recounts how TV revenue creates this enormous wealth. Basically, prior to TV, teams depended entirely on “the gate”–tickets, hotdogs and beer, souvenirs, and the like and player salaries were totally constrained by gate revenues. A star demanding a huge bonus would be turned down by the owner with “there’s no money” since there were only so many seats to be sold. The ticket or beer price might be boosted slightly to cover a star’s wage demands, but market forces constrained salaries and so players were paid poorly (many, fact, had off-season jobs).
Broadcast revenue changed everything for player income. You might be able to sell 4000 tickets on a good night, but the radio and TV audience could exceed a hundred times that number, so the trick, then, was converting a growing media audience into cash, a portion which would go to players. Player salaries were now freed from arena revenue.
Changes in technology were critical but moved slowly. AM radio hardly helped while early black and white TV was better but lacked modern pizzazz to attract millions (and TV ownership was still limited). Local professional basketball also had to compete with other local sports programing, As a youngster in the New York City area during the mid-1950s I occasionally watched the New York Knickerbockers professional basketball on a 16” TV but slow-moving Knick games vied with telecasts of roller derby, college basketball, boxing, horse racing and staged wrestling. Professional football did not exist on TV even in America’s largest city.
Technological advances changed everything, and the NBA and NFL now offer enormous razzle-dazzle entertainment, sophisticated world-wide merchandizing, and the fan base is in the tens of millions. Technology also created a national audience for sports so even those without professional teams in their cities can become avid NFL or NBA fans—millions more eyeballs. Today’s NFL generates some $14 billion in revenue (more than 182 million people watched an NFL game during 2019). The Goose has grown obese and the eggs huge so even a tiny sliver of this action generates Stephen Curry’s $40 million paycheck.
Alas, a healthy Goose need not be forever. I once owned a small retail business and personally bought professional basketball and football spots. I thus received closely guarded proprietary audience profiles showing that not all eyeballs are equally valuable, and if you want poorly educated women viewers, they come dirt cheap. Upscale middle-aged males, however, are the great prize since they only selectively watch TV, particularly sports, and enjoy ample discretionary incomes. Critically, to reach them, you buy expensive NFL and NBA commercials. Ever wonder why you see boring, low-rated golf on TV but not the more popular bowling? Golf fans buy Cadillacs; bowlers favor cheap beer, and car companies will pay dearly for the hard-to-reach former.
NBA, NFL, and MLB executives know this truth and realize TV revenue will drop if this relatively small audience departed. It exaggerates only slightly to say that these affluent males (and many women, too) are turned off by games marked by brawls and trash talk. No wonder that league executives are cracking down on both on and off-field behavior that gives the game a “bad imagine” and for many fans, the current mania of BLM everywhere, game boycotts, and outlandish (and inaccurate) accusations about American racism will have consequences, It hardly helps when LeBron James tweets says that he’s terrified of living in America (James’ 2019-20 salary is $37,436,858). Even more troublesome is how the quest for social justice is becoming a celebration of convicted felons as “heroes.” If TV ratings drop, huge salaries will likewise decline.
This audience decline is now happening. A 2020 Harris poll reported in Forbes found that 39% of NBA fans reported that they were watching fewer games due to “politics” Recent viewership of the NBA play-offs is down about 20% compared to last year’s numbers, and for the first time in sixteen years, a play-off game was not broadcast on TV. The particularly “woke” LA Lakers have seen especially large drops in viewership. Sports Illustrated has speculated that the NBA’s $24 billion TV contract will be trimmed when it is up for renewal in 2025. Tellingly, the “white” NASCAR out-drew a play-off game featuring super-star LeBron James. In 2019 NFL TV ratings fell when players refused to stand for the national anthem and the TV ratings of the NFL’s season opener were down 12.3% compared to the past year. Tellingly, that game was played on a field lined with the words “end racism” and the fans booed when the players from both teams joined hands in a show of solidarity against social injustice.
There may also be a “Plan B” to resolve the current “image problems” —avoid troublemakers ostensibly for reasons other than their anti-white views. The NBA now has some 108 players born overseas, a group probably disinclined to mix sports and radical racial politics. The NFL, of course, lacks this option but it has recently stepped up its policy of expelling players with legal problems (especially domestic violence) and it is conceivable that punishments will disproportionately target those outspoken on race. In any case, professional athletes generally have short careers, and today’s vocal protestors will soon be gone without anybody having to push them out the door for their views.
Most importantly, the Goose is protected by a Pretorian Guard–team owners, league and TV executives and hundreds more whose rich livelihood spends on high TV ratings—and these nonplayers decide who makes the team and who goes home to Walmart. That this guard currently acquiesces with the calls for social justice, painting BLM on arena floors and all the rest is not a sign of their deep ideological commitment. These owners and executives (nearly all of whom are white) know firsthand that these athletes have short attention spans and are easily seduced by trendy slogans. Better to ride out the crisis that attempt to reason with these multi-millionaires.
Moreover, obvious super-stars aside, who gets to be a rich jock depends on countless murky qualities besides raw talent: intelligence, self-discipline, attitude and willingness to take orders (“coachable”). Conceivably, highly vocal activists will fail on some of these standards and there is no recourse for those who fail to make the team. Even those who initially survive the cut are with scant exception, expendable and the Pretorian Guard will not coddle troublemakers who needlessly alienate fans. Today’s outspoken racial justice jocks are “the help” and do not hire themselves let alone create rival leagues. If players keep up the protests and boycotts, TV revenue will fall and rest assured, dozens of other talented but less vocal athletes are standing by to replace them. Smarter professional athletes will soon discover that its best to leave the Goose alone.
A postscript. When trying to grasp the social justice mania among professional athletes, especially black jocks, recall that for decades the common complaint was that schools exploited them, earning millions off their skills while paying them (at least officially) zero. Particularly galling in this exploitation was the shoddy education they received: “A’s for no-show courses, altered transcripts to ensure eligibility, paying tutors to write their papers and similar chicanery. The upshot were often semi-literate “graduates” overwhelmed by complicated issues. Hundreds of future professional athletes never even came close to earning a degree—One and Done.
These educationally deficient youngsters are now being taken seriously when pontificating on race-related tribulations that befuddle real experts. More than a few cannot even offer cogent arguments let alone explain terms like “systemic racism” and, to compound this folly, nobody dare challenges these millionaires as a college teacher might demand in a writing assignment. The intellectual diplomatic immunity that protected them in college has, apparently, been extended and, no doubt, this absence of intellectual challenge is hardly even noticed by recipients since it has existed for decades. The principle, “I speak therefore I know” is now sacred.
Who would ever have believed that America would now be educated on race relations by athletes who could not write a coherent essay on the topic even if their lives depended on it? A whole new meaning to the dumbing down of American education.