The recent contract awarded to Miami Marlins’ hitter Giancarlo Stanton is so exorbitant that it has made more headlines globally than the World Series win by the San Francisco Giants in October. These days, it takes a $325 million contract to be paid over 13 years before the sporting world will take notice. Having gradually acclimatised to enormous wage packets being paid to sport’s biggest stars, it is hard to fathom that twenty years ago the football world was agog as Chris Sutton signed for £10,000 a week at Blackburn Rovers.
Yet here we are in a world where the frequently misfiring Wayne Rooney was able to hold his club to ransom for an improved contract of over £300,000 a week back in February. Although football’s cash is usually distributed as part of a sophisticated meritocracy it has always been that certain situations conspire to reshape the usual earning capacity of a player. Rooney’s salary which is higher than either of the world’s two best players – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – is the consequence of the wheels falling off during David Moyes’ season long struggle as United boss. Coming at what would have been a disastrous time to lose their most influential player, United were left with little choice than to boost his pay-packet to keep him on their books.
Rooney though is not just their most valuable player to the team’s efforts to win games but also the ongoing campaign to juice every last drop of revenue out of their fanbase. For it is us, the followers of sport, who are responsible for the runaway salaries that show no sign of abating in the near future. Our insatiable desire for sporting action, as well as a slow ossifying of attention towards the most successful teams has resulted in a larger pot shared between fewer fortunate beneficiaries.
After signing the contract, Miami Marlins star Stanton described the new salary as a “huge responsibility.” He embodies a spectacular piece of speculation by the notoriously tight-fisted franchise, as they seek to capitalise on his hitting abilities to ignite a cycle of success and catapult themselves to the elite level of the Major League Baseball with its attendant financial rewards.
Real Madrid have wholeheartedly adopted the mantra of ‘speculate to accumulate’, buying the game’s superstars on astronomical wages, secure in the knowledge that these are worthwhile investments that will be recuperated through their extensive revenue streams. When Cristiano Ronaldo takes to the field and scores goal after goal in exchange for huge financial reward he is the embodiment of a business model being emulated throughout top tier professional sports.
It is this never ending cycle of success followed by future goals that is helping to drive the giddy rush of money into the pockets of sportsmen around the world.
We as fans are never placated by one success or even years of sustained success. Manchester United’s recent trolley dash aimed to satisfy both the needs of the team as well as an irate fanbase spoiled by years of victory and unable to acclimatise to a world where success was no longer guaranteed.
In a time when fans will demand that the club spends more money on players while simultaneously complaining about the price they have to pay to watch their team, it seems that we have reached a stalemate. The majority of fans seem no longer appalled by the vast amounts of money earned by sports stars and have begun instead to view them as some detached social group with preternatural gifts for scoring goals or hitting baseballs.
It seems then that contracts like Stanton’s will continue to occur until the real world no longer fetishises the particular skills that athletes have to flaunt, which is hard to imagine happening any time soon.