I wonder what elite female athletes are making of the various dragged out pay disputes in a number of high profile men’s sports, including AFL, NRL and cricket.
Having made that comment, I am going to focus on men’s sports in this article (arguably following the lead of advertisers, administrators and broadcasters), and will add my thoughts on the pay discrepancy around women’s sports in a separate article.
I instinctively support the players when I hear about these kinds of disputes. They are the ones we pay to watch after all. But after thinking about it a little more deeply, I am not sure that is really as compelling an argument as we might assume for why they should receive a larger proportion of the revenue.
While the details of the various pay disputes have been obfuscated by claim and counterclaim, considering just how elongated these negotiations have been, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that greed from both sides is the major stumbling block.
At first blush, it seems a no-brainer that players provide the actual product that their governing organisations rely on to generate income, so why shouldn’t they demand more for their efforts?
However it is arguable that the work of administrators and television networks has actually been responsible for the increased the popularity of the sports more so than the efforts of the players.
More so than at any time in history, players themselves can hardly claim to be underpaid, or that they don’t live an enviable lifestyle and it is certainly a difficult argument that the increased popularity of sports such as AFL and NRL are reflections of a higher standard of play and not better marketing. In the AFL example, one could even argue the game has become less watchable since the advent of flooding in recent decades (and Brian Taylor being added to the commentary team), yet membership and TV audiences continue to flourish.
The tribalism and club-based loyalty that has been so effectively nurtured by the industry ensures that supporters care more about the fortunes of their team than the actual skill level of a game. The experience of Essendon in 2016 showed that supporters would watch games even with their superstars sitting out the season and while the bombers’ attendances were down, this was arguably more to do with being the only team missing their stars and the resultant drop in competitiveness at times.
On the other hand, the players have every right to ask where the extra money is going. Administrators of the sports in question are paid handsomely already. Any suggestion that increased revenue would be lining their already bulging pockets would rightly objectionable to the players. However if the money is going into facilities, marketing or junior programs there could be a reasonable argument for denying any significant increase to player wages.
What I am sure won’t happen as a result of increased revenue from the TV rights deal is reduced ticket prices or membership (which is one of the great marketing scams of professional sport) for fans. Because let’s be honest, neither stakeholder in this debate care much about them.