$250 Million for Kicks
In 1931—in the middle of the Great Depression—New York Yankees slugger, Babe Ruth, demanded a salary of $80,000.
When Yankee management pointed out that this was more money than Herbert Hoover, the President of the United States, was making ($75,000), Ruth retorted, “I had a better year than he did.”
In my opinion, great athletes deserve great paychecks for two reasons: (1) They fill stadiums and produce giant TV ratings, and (2) Their peak earning power lasts only a few years.
I was never really aware of British-born European football (soccer) player David Beckham until last week, even though he’s the most recognized sports star in the world.
While soccer is huge in Latin America and Europe—except for blips on the U.S. sports radar screen, it has been a big ho-hum.
Beckham’s pay package of $50 million a year to play for the L.A. Galaxy, eclipses the salary of every other team athlete in the United States and perhaps the world. For example, the highest paid athlete in 2005 was Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers whose salary was $31 million.
What makes the Beckham deal fascinating is that he’s not only being paid these vast sums to play soccer, but also to make America fall in love with a sport.
In direct marketing, this is called changing behavior.
Rome v. Argentina
In the fall of 1954, I got a taste of Europe’s passion for soccer. The scene was a game in Rome’s Foro Italico, the sprawling 1930’s Facista sports complex designed by Benito Mussolini. Rome was playing the Argentine. The stadium was filled to capacity and the roar of the crowd and raw emotion were palpable.
Late in the game, it was growing dark and Rome scored the winning goal. Everyone had brought a small pile of newspapers to sit on. As the final seconds ticked on the clock, a fan on the far side of the stadium rolled up his newspaper seating pad, lighted the top of it with a match and held it as high as a torch.