Column: When sports returns, a chance to move past greed
Golfers on the European Tour received news this week that didn’t exactly paint a rosy picture of what things might look like when the coronavirus crisis subsides and play resumes.
There will almost surely be less money to play for, which by itself was bad enough. Euro Tour CEO Keith Pelley told players he expects reductions in purses because sponsorships and television money will be down.
But no espresso in the player’s lounge? No free courtesy cars to get around?
Possibly no fans, either, but that increasingly looks like the reality for most sports, at least for the remainder of this year.
A different era in sports is coming, thanks to the ravages of the new coronavirus. And it’s not only golfers who will be feeling the fallout for some time to come.
Around the world, sports officials are scrambling to figure out a future that is suddenly uncertain. And just what that future might be is now beginning to come into a little focus.
In golf it likely means fewer tournaments, fewer perks and, yes, less money. While the PGA Tour has yet to weigh in, Pelley made it clear what the sport is facing in the places it plays around the world.
“The reality is, the pandemic is going to have a profound impact on the tour financially, as well as many of our partners, both in sponsorship and broadcast areas,” Pelley said.
There will be changes in other sports, too. Money that has fueled exorbitant profits — and exorbitant salaries — for most of the current century won’t be as easy to find as businesses and entire industries try to recover from the economic shock of the coronavirus shutdown.
The old guarantees are simply not there anymore. The financial model for sports may not be broken, but it’s certainly going to suffer from a million cracks.
That’s a big reason why the XFL folded its tent rather than try to resume what had been a promising first season. It’s the same reason colleges around the country are beginning to make moves as they try to figure out what football and basketball will look like when sports resume.
Already, the University of Cincinnati has slashed soccer, a sport on campus for nearly a half century. Salaries at Iowa State have been trimmed, and Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack had $400,000 lopped off his $4 million annual pay.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is cutting the salary of senior staff by an average of 35% for this year as it becomes increasingly clear any season that might be played — if it is played — will be shorter than anyone wants. MLB had already made a deal with the players’ union to advance $170 million to players in salary for the first 60 days of the season in exchange for players giving up the remainder of their roughly $4 billion in salary if no games are played.
Revenues are going to be down across the board in all sports. There’s no way around it because even if games resume, fans will be slow to return and adjustments will have to be made to lure them back.
That might not be such a bad thing for fans who have to pay $50 to park and $16 for a decent beer after already digging deep to buy tickets for the family. That’s especially true now, with millions of fans out of work and others living paycheck to paycheck, with no money in the budget to go to a ballgame when they resume.
It will be a bad thing for players, who might be shocked to find out that in the real world, salaries can go down just as they once used to always go up.
It’s already an issue in England, where players in the Premier League are digging their cleats in and refusing to accept pay cuts. That drew a response from a Conservative Party lawmaker who contrasted player pay to that of health care workers and said they needed to have their salaries cut as part of sacrifices being made across the nation.
There’s no easy answer, and no magic wand to return to the days of not so long ago. There hasn’t been since we first heard whispers of a virus in China that was spreading so fast it baffled health officials.
The world is being reset, and sports will be reset, too. The bubble of ever-escalating profits, salaries and costs has been punctured, and it’s hard to imagine it will re-inflate quickly.
Everyone wants sports back, that’s a given. But when they do come back, it can’t be as if nothing ever really happened to force them to go away.
The price tag of sports that comes with sports will be in need of a heavy discount.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg