By Eric Bilach
The following article is featured in the January 2020 special edition of The Campus, The Beaverbeat.
It is safe to assume that no student of the City College of New York, past or present, would dare sneeze at the opportunity to land a $100,000 salary within six years of graduating. In fact, for many, after years of schooling and working up the employment hierarchy, such compensation would be a dream come true.
Pretend you are in this position, and now imagine that salary had a chance of increasing by half, say, every six years you remain with the company. Assuming you manage your money correctly, does such a financial proposition not sound bountiful to you, as a City College student?
Now consider the following scenario: you graduated from City College six years ago and after working for a couple of different organizations, you are presented with a guaranteed opportunity to become $324 million richer. Would such an offer not be absolutely life-changing? Of course, it would be an amazing proposition for most everyone.
As far as the City College student body is concerned, a contractual offer of this magnitude is nothing more than a hypothetical situation — a mere mental exercise in contemplating the “what-ifs.” For star Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher Gerrit Cole, however, this multi-hundred-million-dollar fantasy is, as per his recent signing with the New York Yankees, a reality.
On December 10, Cole, with the simple stroke of a pen, entered into the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. The enormity of his salary, which is valued at $36 million per year for nine years, as well as those of fellow baseball stars Mike Trout ($35.8 million per year for 12 years), Bryce Harper ($25.4 million per year for 13 years), and Giancarlo Stanton ($25 million per year for 13 years), has received some impassioned disdain from disgruntled Americans across the nation. The exorbitance of these sports contracts has even managed to seep into contemporary political consciousness, with presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders tweeting, “If pitchers can make $324 million, we can pay every teacher in this country at least $60,000.”
Between the years of 1999 (the decade in which the vast majority of current City College students were born) and 2014, the average annual MLB salary has effectively doubled from approximately $1.75 million to $3.5 million. In 1999, the highest-paid player was pitcher Kevin Brown of the Los Angeles Dodgers, earning $15 million and in 2014; the highest-paid player was third baseman Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, earning $27.5 million. The remainder of the “Big Four” professional sports leagues, which include the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), and National Hockey League (NHL), have all experienced increases in their average annual salaries similar to, although perhaps not quite as dramatic, as that of the MLB in the period between 1999 and 2014.
It is important to note that, with the exception of the NFL, all Big Four sports contracts are guaranteed in full, regardless of the player’s performance or injury status. That means for Cole, he could, hypothetically speaking, lose his right arm tomorrow in some horrific accident and never throw a single pitch for the Yankees, yet still be owed every single cent of his $36 million contract.
In discussing the driving force behind these lucrative deals with City College senior Sadaab Rahman, Rahman claims that there has never been a time where owning a sports team has been more worthwhile than it currently is. According to Rahman,
“Each franchise has billion-dollar television deals in addition to the actual revenue they make throughout the season from ticket and jersey sales. For example, this year the Yankees made $800 million, which is quite the profit considering their payroll is not even half that. The way they see it with Cole is that they are paying him less than $40 million or, in other words, five percent [of their profits], which sounds like a pretty good deal for them and the player… MLB teams are basically hedge funds with the way they weigh their investments.”
This analysis of the rationale behind contracts asserts that the owners and front offices of these wealthy organizations know exactly, to quote Rahman, “what is best for their bottom line.” The fact of the matter is that deals such as Cole’s, while outrageous to the ordinary individual, comprise only a fraction of each teams’ respective annual budget. Thus, a $324 million investment into a single player has the potential to produce tremendous rewards, namely in the form of a championship. On the other hand, though a failed long-term contract may deflate a team and their fan base’s expectations of winning, these investments are rarely ever costly enough to cause irreparable damage to the organization.
Regarding the equity of modern sports contracts, senior and former collegiate pitcher Christian Barletta claims that the idea of Cole earning, after some mathematical computations, approximately $10,000 per pitch for the next nine years is “mind-boggling.” Despite this, Bartletta concedes that, “Cole has earned everything he has. He’s obviously proved himself. He’s a top-tier pitcher, which he has worked on since he was a kid. If the Yankees can afford [Cole’s contract], then why not?”
With a new decade underway, Big Four contracts are predicted to soar to astronomical new heights. As such, the following three questions, regarding the gravity of these deals, have already begun to crop up in the national discourse: 1) Just how lucrative will sports contracts become within the next 10 years? 2) Do we, as Americans, collectively believe that these contracts are fair, especially when considering the constantly expanding wage gap that exists within our current culture? 3) Assuming Rahman’s supposition that professional athletes are “entertainers,” do we reserve the right to express our dissatisfaction over their enormous contracts?
If sentiments toward athletes’ paydays continue to sour as the next decade progresses, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate what our society values.