The business of professional sports

Cartoon by Alex Ross.
Cartoon by Alex Ross.


Professional sports has become one big game of Monopoly. The fans are the spaces, the athletes are the tokens, and the owners and league commissioners are the ones rolling the dice and controlling us all. And just like the game of Monopoly, their goal is to take those tokens to every space and do one thing, make money.

They litter your television with advertisements, schedule games on every available day, sometimes disregarding player safety to put themselves in your living room even more than they already are, and they’ve created a culture which craves numbers featuring dollar signs rather than wins or losses.

It truly begins and ends with the insane level of advertising professional sports has taken on. Almost every stadium name is now sold to the highest bidder. A perfect example is the stadium formerly known as the SkyDome. It now stands as one giant advertisement for Rogers.

On top of their names, stadiums themselves are plastered with advertisements. From the jumbotrons to the benches, to the walls holding the building up.

But no one does advertising quite like European football. Turn on your television on a Saturday or Sunday morning to catch some Barclays Premier League action and you’ll see the likes of Chevrolet, Yokohama Tyres, Etihad Airways and Standard Chartered plastered on the kits of the league’s biggest teams. This trend is now spreading to North America.

The NBA announced Kia Motors will have its logo on the All-Star Game jerseys for the next two years. I suppose the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night festivities, featuring the Degree Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point contest, and Sprite Slam Dunk contest was too subtle.

The real king of the professional sports business model is the NFL. Twenty of the 32 NFL teams were on Forbes most recent edition of their 50 most valuable sports franchises. Every team is worth over a billion dollars and the league’s average value has grown 38 per cent over the past year, to two billion dollars.

The NFL is such a lucrative business that it’s led to the historic rise of fantasy football. A 2013 article by Brian Goff of Forbes estimated 32 million Americans participate in fantasy football, and placed its value at around $70 billion. It’s only grown since then, and has gotten to the point that during Sunday Night Football, commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will often make comments about their own fantasy teams.

However, the NFL is a league that now clearly values the dollar more than its athletes. Thursday Night Football was established in 2006, and has been a staple in the weekly schedule for the past few years. In a sport built on beasts of human beings trying to slam each other into the ground, the NFL has decided that each week two teams will play on Sunday and then again four days later on Thursday. Why would the league completely disregard player safety like this, you ask? Maybe it’s the almost one billion dollars of tax-free revenue those games pull in annually.