Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Economics in Pro Sports: What Do Yo Do With It?

The first grand slam of 2016 is well underway Down Under. For many tennis fans, this one might be the one major tournament they are least likely to follow. The time change and the literal distance make viewing more of a challenge, but it's possible that a recent investigative report from the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU)  has given sports fans a reason to check in. 
They have discovered that "over the last decade, 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they have thrown matches."

What's interesting to me isn't the fact that it happened—a sad thought, but what sport isn't plagued with its own form of corruption? For example, in 2015, FIFA was the target as 14 soccer and marking officials were charged and indicted and in 2012, USADA finally broke the US Cycling Conspiracy with Lance Armstrong at its center. But it is surprising to me is that according to the TIU's website,
In September 2008 professional tennis became one of the first major sports to establish its own dedicated anti-corruption unit. The Tennis Integrity Unit is charged with enforcing the sport’s zero-tolerance policy towards gambling-related corruption worldwide.
Furthermore, according to a BBC report by Simon Cox, "Eight of the players repeatedly flagged to the TIU over the past decade are due to play in the Australian Open which started on Monday, January 18."
It's only natural to wonder, Who are these athletes? The TIU is prepared to answer that and so are some of the athletes themselves. The number one male player in the world Novak Djokovic came forward and disclosed that in the past he had been offered $200,000 to throw a match.

For me, this is the rub (a term I love to use when teaching ethics). I thought to myself "$200,000? That's not that much money." And then I realized, something is more than wrong with the sheer money involved in professional sports, and that extends far beyond player salaries. 

Indeed, my reaction wasn't totally unfounded. I came to learn that the "Djoker" made $17.2 million in prize money in 2015. This does not account for all he made in endorsements which according to is and additional $31 million. The Serbian tennis star made $48 in 2015. He was #13 on the list. My only response to all of it is that it leaves me with what I think all sports fans confront on a regular basis. How can this be? And my question isn't one for sports fans to answer, my question is: What do you with it? 

In the very same week as this report, I heard within a one hour window a heard two contrasting stories that reveal quite a bit about our econometric system at work. Driving to work, I flip between the San Francisco Giants flagship station, KNBR 680 and National Public Radio on 88.5 KQED.  KNBR morning show host, Brian Murphy expressed great relief that the Giants signed outfielder Denard Span to a a three-year contract for just $30 million. Many quipped what a "steal" that was given that the Detroit Tigers signed left-field Justin Upton to a six-year, $132.75 million dollar contract. As the ad for hair replacement treatment began to air on KNBR, I switched to NPR which was discussing the on-going push to raise minimum wage to $15 a hour in the state of California.

I know just enough about economics to realize that raising minimum wage doesn't lift folks out of poverty, that it doesn't guarantee a more stable economy or present other problems, but I do know that the sheer amount of money in professional sports must give us to pause to ask questions. Questions should lead to answers, or least solutions, but if we just accept what is and what will be...I don't want to say we are just as guilty, but....??? Again, What do you do with it?

I know that I pay a lot of money for sporting events. I am aware that some of my very favorite sports are the greatest offenders to this unbridled spending—major league baseball, professional golf and even college football (under the sweatshop of the NCAA). I recognize the  culture that I live in values professional athletes more than...fill in the blank, please. I sti and write all of this from my rent controlled apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the United States and I look at the bevy of ticket stubs from past contests—hundreds of which were given to me (thank you Deloitte. I appreciate it Latham...).

A good ethical quagmire never stands alone. They usher in other ethical questions, problems, challenges and failings. As Super Bowl 50 takes up camp in the city where I live and work, I'll probably be asking a lot more questions. (What is the face value on that ticket) And, like I did last year—I know I'll make a bet on it.

Photo Credits
Tennis Money

Justin Upton

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