Unlike pro athletes, fans’ relationship to their sports team is personal, not business.
Players come and go. Names on the back of jerseys are forever changing. But followers’ allegiance to the logo and color scheme remains intact. The franchise’s interests take precedence over labor’s wants and desires.
We love to imagine the feeling of earning, say, $24 million a season (Kirk Cousins) or $228 million for the next six years (James Harden). We fantasize over the thrill of signing a $400 million contract (Bryce Harper). The notion of that much money boggles our minds and numbs our senses.
Yet, fans typically align with management when player salaries threaten team success.
When the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year pact for $252 million, the All-Star shortstop held up his end of the deal. In three years with the Rangers, he won an AL MVP and two Gold Gloves while leading the league in homers each year, with Top 3-finishes in RBIs and total bases.
Good for A-Rod; bad for the franchise. Texas finished last each season before trading him to the New York Yankees in 2004.
Those who believe Washington is correct to resist paying Cousins nearly $30 million per year have a two-fold argument: He’s not worth that much and he would eat too much of the salary cap. Nationals fans thinking twice about Harper’s price in 2019 are on shaky ground if they debate his value. But their concerns about limited payroll for the other 24 players remain valid.
That’s usually when someone suggests a “hometown discount,” a term that arouses owners to no end.
Supposedly, the athlete is indebted to the team for paying him in the past. Even though competitors are willing to pay more, the athlete is expected to accept less from the home team. It’s a token of appreciation and sign of respect for their shared history. It’s also a good-faith measure that savings will go toward strengthening the roster, not the owner’s bottom line.
Fans love an athlete who demonstrates solidarity with the common folk who buy tickets, wear the gear and drive broadcast ratings. “We’re all in this together!”
What’s a few million dollars between friends?
The question rarely is asked the other way, though, which would put the onus on ownership to sacrifice millions. I don’t want to suggest that players are suckers, as millionaires, when they offer breaks to owners, the billionaires.
But it’s like the 99 percent worrying about the 1 percent’s financial well-being.
New England quarterback Tom Brady has done that twice this decade, signing two extensions that gave the Patriots discounts instead of driving the market. Compared to what he would’ve earned under his 2010 contract, which was set to end after the 2014 season, Brady signed for $71 million of “new money” over five new contract years, an average of just $14.2 million per year.
Oakland quarterback David Carr recently signed a $125 million contract that made him the league’s first player to make $25 million per year in average salary. Nonetheless, he said he left money on the table to help the Raiders retain some key players. Detroit QB Matthew Stafford is next in line to push the bar on pay.
Count on Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford asking him to cut her some slack.
You can argue that NFL players who take less merely demonstrate their competitiveness. The league has a hard salary cap and teams have only so much money to divvy among 53 players. Owners can’t exceed the limit even if they want to.
But what’s the excuse for NBA players?
Kevin Durant accepted a $10 million pay cut from the Warriors so the defending champs could more easily keep Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston (giving them raises in the process). Golden State also added to its bench by signing Nick Young for $5.2 million.
Warrior fans rejoiced. No one was happier than owner Joe Lacob, who has a 10-figure net worth and whose team is estimated to be worth $2.6 billion. He could’ve made the exact same moves with Iguodala, Livingston and Young while also paying Durant’s full, Bird-rights salary. It just would’ve cost about $25 million in luxury tax.
Before Durant, it was LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh combining forces at reduced rates to lessen the tax burden on Miami Heat owner Micky Arison. Owners love that, opposed to an emerging form of player charity that could become a disturbing trend.
No team could pay Gordon Hayward more than the Utah Jazz. The same was true for Paul George and the Indiana Pacers. However, both are elsewhere now, Hayward as a free agent who took less money from Boston, and George via trade after declaring he wouldn’t re-sign.
Yes, there are hometown teams that gladly would pay the max. How’s that for flipping the script?
Owners and fans in outposts like New Orleans (Anthony Davis) and Milwaukee (Giannis Antetokounmpo) are hoping their All-Stars make business decisions when free agency arrives.
Forget about lifestyle, market size, culture, etc. Just make it about the money.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.