The Undeniable Truth as it Relates to Professional Sports
Doing what it is I do, I find myself in many arguments concerning the true nature of professional sports. Perhaps you find yourself in similar situations as well. If that's the case -- or if you think there is no possible way the professional sports leagues could manipulate, script or outright rig the results of one of their own games -- then the following five facts are for you.
The "Big Four" professional sports leagues - the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), and National Hockey League (NHL) - possess drafts, anti-trust exemptions and revenue sharing. If the teams within these leagues were truly independent entities, none of this would exist as its flies in the face of the free market companies they purport to be.
The NFL shares 70 to 75 percent of its $10+ billion-a-year income including television/broadcast/internet rights and licensing. Ticket sales are split 66 percent for the home team and the other 34 percent shared equally among all franchises. Only luxury boxes sales (which explains the "need" for new stadiums), local advertising & sponsorships, and official pro shop sales are not shared. No other league shares as much of its income as the NFL.
While also sharing its national TV & internet income, the NBA agreed to a new revenue sharing plan which began with the 2013-14 season. The radical new change in this plan will be that all teams will put 50 percent of its total revenue (minus a few allowable expenses) into a pool. After averaging the total contributed by all teams as well as every team's total payroll, the lowest contributing teams will be able to take out their "fair" share. This will redistribute approximately $140 million within the NBA each season. The most a team could receive under this plan is $16 million. There are limits in place to protect the NBA's highest revenue teams -- including the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Orlando Magic -- as prior to the 2011-12 lockout, reportedly only 10 NBA teams were profitable, earning a combined $150 million in the 2010-11 season.
The NHL was the last league to implement a revenue sharing plan. The one it currently possesses is extremely complex. The gist of it is the top 10 money-making teams contribute to a pool from which the bottom 15 teams can collect; however, certain guidelines and benchmarks must first be met before any money can be received. Also, teams in markets with more than 2.5 million television households do not qualify for assistance in this program, meaning the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks can only contribute, not receive.
Major League Baseball's plan originally saw each team contribute 31 percent of its local revenue into a pot which was then divided equally amongst the franchises. At the same time, lower-revenue generating teams were granted a larger proportional share of the league's national TV deal. However, MLB's plan recently changed as well, if only slightly, to monitor what teams are doing with that revenue-sharing money they receive -- meaning it must go towards "improving" the team. Supposedly by 2016, 15 teams will not be eligible for any of this money: New York Yankees, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's.
Just so you're aware, these four leagues generated $21.6 billion in revenue in 2009-10. Of that, $9.7 billion went to their respective athletes. As of 2014, the four leagues' revenue topped $25 billion.
While we call these leagues "sports," they are in fact businesses. Their business is entertainment. The NFL, for one, has actually argued this fact before the Supreme Court as recently as 2010. Being "entertainment," the leagues are legally entitled to do what is needed to entertain their audience, such as the creation and promotion of certain "storylines." Despite arguments to the contrary, this makes the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL on par with Roller Derby and Professional Wrestling.
The ticket you purchase to a sporting event reflects this notion of sports being simply entertainment. The "Spygate" lawsuit proves this. In this lawsuit, a New York Jets fan sued the New England Patriots for illegally (by NFL rules) videotaping their opponents' coaching signals. The lawsuit asked for the Jets ticket holders' money back in 10 years worth of games -- the duration of the Patriots "cheating" via this videotaping.
While you can read the U.S. Appeals Court's complete ruling in this case here, Senior Judge Robert E. Cowen's main conclusion was this: "At best, he [Carl Mayer, the plaintive] possessed nothing more than a contractual right to a seat from which to watch an NFL game between the Jets and the Patriots, and this right was clearly honored....Mayer possessed either a license or, at best, a contractual right to enter Giants Stadium and to have a seat from which to watch a professional football game. In the clear language of the ticket stub, ‘[t]his ticket only grants entry into the stadium and a spectator seat for the specified NFL game.’ Mayer actually was allowed to enter the stadium and witnessed the ‘specified NFL game[s]’ between the Jets and Patriots. He thereby suffered no cognizable injury to a legally protected right or interest."
Cowen concluded, "We do not condone the conduct on the part of the Patriots and the team’s head coach, and we likewise refrain from assessing whether the NFL’s sanctions (and its alleged destruction of the videotapes themselves) were otherwise appropriate. We further recognize that professional football, like other professional sports, is a multi-billion dollar business. In turn, ticket-holders and other fans may have legitimate issues with the manner in which they are treated….Significantly, our ruling also does not leave Mayer and other ticket-holders without any recourse. Instead, fans could speak out against the Patriots, their coach, and the NFL itself. In fact, they could even go so far as to refuse to purchase tickets or NFL-related merchandise….However, the one thing they cannot do is bring a legal action in a court of law. [emphasis in original].”
If that is the best protection a ticket provides a fan, do you honestly believe watching a game on television grants one more legal protection?
There is no law preventing a league from fixing its own contest. The two closest federal laws on the books are these:
The "Quiz Show" law which was passed after it was revealed that television networks had been fixing the outcome of nationally televised game shows including Twenty-One and the $64,000 Challenge. The law reads: "(a) Influencing, prearranging, or predetermining outcome
It shall be unlawful for any person, with intent to deceive the listening or viewing public—
(1) To supply to any contestant in a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill any special and secret assistance whereby the outcome of such contest will be in whole or in part prearranged or predetermined.
(2) By means of persuasion, bribery, intimidation, or otherwise, to induce or cause any contestant in a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill to refrain in any manner from using or displaying his knowledge or skill in such contest, whereby the outcome thereof will be in whole or in part prearranged or predetermined.
(3) To engage in any artifice or scheme for the purpose of prearranging or predetermining in whole or in part the outcome of a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge, intellectual skill, or chance.
(4) To produce or participate in the production for broadcasting of, to broadcast or participate in the broadcasting of, to offer to a licensee for broadcasting, or to sponsor, any radio program, knowing or having reasonable ground for believing that, in connection with a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge, intellectual skill, or chance constituting any part of such program, any person has done or is going to do any act or thing referred to in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of this subsection.
(5) To conspire with any other person or persons to do any act or thing prohibited by paragraph (1), (2), (3), or (4) of this subsection, if one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of such conspiracy."
Note the repeated use of the word "intellectual" -- not physical. Therefore, this law does not apply to sports.
The Sports Bribery Act of 1964 which was passed to protect the "integrity" of sports from mafia and gambling interests. It reads: "Whoever carries into effect, attempts to carry into effect, or conspires with any other person to carry into effect any scheme in commerce to influence, in any way, by bribery any sporting contest, with knowledge that the purpose of such scheme is to influence by bribery that contest, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both."
The key word in this law being "bribery." If a league instructs one of its employees -- be it an official, coach or athlete -- to influence and/or manipulate an outcome in a certain manner, such action does not break this law.
No one has been arrested for violating the Sports Bribery Act in relation to a professional sporting event -- ever.
It is legal for the media to lie to us all. Not just in the realm of sports, but in every aspect of journalism and mass media. Don't believe me? Read this.
Then go on to realize that the New York Times recently admitted that it -- and virtually every major media outlet -- allows the government to censor its work. The jaw-dropping article/admission can be found here (the full piece is embedded within the linked article).
If this can occur, do you honestly believe that ESPN/ABC/Disney, CBS, FOX, NBC/Universal and Time Warner (which owns TBS, TNT and Sports Illustrated) report truly and accurately on the professional sports world which they fund?
Four of these five mass media conglomerates give the NFL alone $6 billion a season. Are they then going to turn around and investigation any improprieties within the league that threatens those investments? Especially when they are able to legally lie to their consumers while censoring the work of individuals who may be committed to reporting the truth?
As Karl Taro Greenfeld recent wrote in Businessweek, "In a real sense, ESPN no longer covers sports. It controls sports."
With all of this being true, what then is preventing a league -- or all of the leagues -- from fixing the outcome of their own games to maximize profit and revenue which is the very reason why they put on these exhibitions?
The short answer is obvious: Nothing.