Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 8th March 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The strike of players in the National Hockey League in the United Sates and Canada is one of the more extreme examples of player power in sport in recent times. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for the players whose average earnings approach $2m per year and whose on-rink behaviour rarely sets an example that young spectators could admire. That player earnings have reached these levels is a characteristic of American sports where the normal economics that govern businesses do not really apply. The drive for success of the owners of Baseball, American Football, and Basketball and Hockey franchises in North America is such that they are quite willing to give almost unlimited sums of money to the teams to try and get it. Much of this money goes to the players. In a recent book, "Leveling the Playing Field", Paul Weiler calculates that in 1947 the average baseball player earned $11,000 a year, a little more than four times the pay of the average American worker. By 1999 the average baseball player was earning $1.57 million, while the average worker earned just $28,000 - a ratio of 56 to one.

Whilst North America is the extreme example of sporting salary escalation it is clear that the phenomenon has spread to many other sports and other parts of the world. David Beckham’s salary at Real Madrid, for example, is $8 million dollars and the rest of the “galacticos” in the team will not earn much less. Whilst Real Madrid is a big business generating substantial income from ticket sales, media rights and sponsorship you can be sure that it is still not big enough to cover these huge player costs. As is the case in England with Chelsea, and their Russian benefactor Roman Abramovich, the only way that these salaries are payable is because a billionaire owner writes the cheque.

Far removed from the rarified world of American sports and European football is the current shambles in West Indies cricket. The West Indies is the poorest of the major Test playing countries with far lower income from sponsorship, ticket sales and other sources than (in particular) Australia, England, India or Pakistan. West Indies cricket has run at a substantial loss for around five years and although a new sponsorship deal giving West Indies cricket around $5m a year has been negotiated with the phone company Digicel this is only a fraction of the sponsorship income of other major countries. The West Indies Board proposal would mean that a top player (Lara or Sarwan) who played in all of the Windies Test and One Day internationals would earn around $210,000 per annum (retainer and appearance fees). This compares badly with the earnings of the top players in other Test nations – Ricky Ponting’s salary is around $500,000 and Michael Vaughan’s is even more. And both these two international captain’s will more than double these earnings with personal sponsorships and other related income.

The financial basis of England cricket is secure following the $400m TV rights deal negotiated at the end of last year and a significant proportion of this income will go to the England contracted players. Cricket Australia is currently locked in negotiations with the Australian players but it is unlikely that the outcome will be anything other than a deal giving the players good earnings. So it is understandable that Brian Lara and other West Indies stars have sought to augment their more modest salaries with personal spronsorhip deals. The problem is that these deals include ones with Digicel’s competitor “Cable and Wireless” – and that is a situation which the Windies Board, understandably, finds unacceptable and is one of the principal causes of the current problems.

Whilst the greed of North American hockey players brings that sport into disrepute and will have caused long term damage the plight of West Indies cricketers is one that we can regard with much greater sympathy. It is no exaggeration to say that the very future of cricket in the Caribbean is in the balance at the moment and, with the Cricket World Cup in the region only a couple of years away, this is a worrying situation indeed. This is an issue that should be fairly high on the International Cricket Council’s agenda – but they seem not to be in the loop. Curious priorities!