We can easily execute a search and find out how much various athletes earn in a year playing a sport. We can even find estimates of how much their endorsement deals are worth. But don’t try to find the same information about team owners because it’s nowhere to be found. They don’t want you to know how much they make.
People who don’t have money are generally envious of people who do, but only up to a certain point. Once reached, anything above that subjective threshold is seen as gratuitous. That is the world most athletes dwell in. It makes them idols when they are performing well and objects of hatred and scorn when things go badly. The same is true when talking about money. A great player earns his or her money while a bad one is overpaid or sometimes called much worse.
I think the fact that we know how much athletes make allies fans with management. Anytime there is a contract dispute or general threat of strike in sports most fans side with management, and money is surely the reason. We know that some players make hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s perceived as not being enough. However, we never know the flip side of the equation – the hundreds of millions the owners are earning. If we knew it would surely reorient our understanding of these markets. We could make more informed decisions about who to support and why. Instead we have debate where it’s about money on the athlete side and owners can talk about their affinity and importance to a particular city.
This dynamic also speaks to the much larger issue of fan equity. We have romantic notions of teams being representatives of a city or part of a larger community. When you strip away branding, colors, and geography you’re left with nothing more than homogenized team units, evenly distributed across the county to extract entertainment dollars from fans and pay owners.