Two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors signed shooting guard Klay Thompson to a four-year NBA-maximum, $70 million dollar contract extension. Last weekend, I paid $15 to see Christopher Nolan’s new movie, “Interstellar.” A basketball player and a blockbuster movie don’t seem to have any connection, but these two things have much more in common than you might think.

According to ssa.gov, the average salary in the United States was just over $44,000 in the year 2012. The average salary of an NBA player in 2012 was $5.15 million dollars, as reported by Forbes.com. The NBA tops the list of highest-average pay among the four major American sports leagues, with the other three being the MLB, NHL and NFL. To most people, $5 million dollars a year is quite a lot of money. In fact, it is 113 times the national average salary. That does beg the question: do athletes deserve to get paid so much more than the average American, just for playing a game? Are professional athletes overpaid?

The answer, I think, lies in how much the work they do is worth. This is where “Interstellar” ties in. Professional sports and major motion pictures are, in terms of social impact, forms of entertainment.

Think for a moment about the last time you went to the movies. Now think about the last time you went to a sporting event.

How much did the tickets for each cost? Odds are that you paid much more for the sports tickets.

There’s a very good reason for this though — a movie can be viewed anywhere, at any time, by anyone, sporting events on the other hand, offer fans the chance to witness the entertainment first-hand. For me, at least, it’s a chance to watch a history being written.

Athletes then, are entertainers for the general public. They use their physical gifts to showcase the pinnacle of human performance by playing sports.

Professional sports have become much more than entertainment over the years. Today, wearing a basketball or football jersey is fashionable. Team logos are printed on everything from lunch boxes to spatulas. No other form of entertainment even comes close to the scope of branding that sports do. This results in sports franchises that are worth billions of dollars.

The goal of these franchises, like any business, is to make money. The only way to do that in sports is to win. The better a team is, the more viewers its games will receive and the more its logo and brand will be worth.

In order to win, a team needs the best players — players who they (the team owners) are willing to pay large amounts of money to acquire.

Of course, other teams want these top players as well, so the price continues to increase. Right now, the highest paid athlete (outside of Floyd Mayweather) is Cristiano Ronaldo of soccer club, Real Madrid. According to Forbes.com, Ronaldo earns $52 million dollars a year before endorsements.

You could argue that these players simply aren’t worth the salaries they are paid. The problem is that they’re not overpaid.

To a multi-billion dollar sports franchise, a player salary of a few million dollars is worth it if that player brings their team championships. When a team is winning championships, it draws more fans and more fans comes with more money.

A rather interesting conclusion arises from all of this. There are athletes all around the world that are being paid hundreds of times more than the average American makes in a year, just to play a sport. But when you think about it, we’re the ones watching the sports, “the average Joe’s.”

And us “average Joe’s” want our sports teams to win. We want star players and championships. So what drives up the salaries of professional athletes? We do.

 

Cal Thompson can be contacted at cthompson@keene-equinox.com