Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cash Rules Everything Around Me - Sports succumbing to the bottom line, v. 4,146,900


AC Milan midfielder Kaka, a former World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or (European Fotballer of the Year), is the target of the most recent example of money being thrown around in sports like it's Monopoly. Photo from goalvideoz.com

"Cash rules everything around me/C.R.E.A.M. get the money/Dolla dolla bill ya'll." Arguably the best-known song from the Wu-Tang Clan's breakout debut album, "C.R.E.A.M." is also applicable as a refrain when absolutely silly amounts of money are thrown around in the world of sports.

It's applicable often nowadays, considering the amount of money teams make, what the salary caps are in American sports, the budgets of big-money NASCAR and Formula 1 racing teams, and the amount of money bidded on players in European soccer. I don't know if it's wrong or right, but there's certainly a lot of money being thrown around.

Take our boy Kaka there as seen above. He's a star playmaking midfielder for Italian giants AC Milan, lifted the Champion's League trophy in 2007, and won a World Cup as a young substitute for Brazil in 2002. He's a silky-smooth passer and dribbler without the flair of a Cristiano Ronaldo or Robinho, but the capability to drive a team from the heart of midfield. He won both the FIFA World Player of the Year and the European Footballer of the Year, the Golden Ball (Ballon d'Or), after the 2006-07 Champion's League-winning season, and is clearly a player most any team in the world would love to have in its side.

Which still doesn't quite excuse nouveau-riche Manchester City's ~$155 million bid for him (link to BBC Sports). Of course it's not the player's fault, and one would hardly blame him if he decided to accept City's offer. However, this move would more than double the record transfer fee and certainly challenge the deal New York Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez has as the richest for a team-sports athlete in the world.


Current world transfer-record player, former France playmaker Zinedine Zidane, being introduced after Real Madrid paid Juventus 46 million pounds ($67 million) for his services

The names at the top of the record transfer list are not entirely shocking when one thinks about it. Real Madrid are the New York Yankees of international soccer; 9 European cups, nearly 30 Spanish Liga titles, and a grand history of expensive stars. Juventus are the "old lady" of Italian football, Inter are the rich little brother in Italy (well supported but falling short in title chases numerous times), Barcelona are the old enemy to Madrid in Spain and have a history of splashing cash, and Manchester United are quite possibly the best-known soccer team in the United States, thanks to star players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and of course, at one time, David Beckham.

But two other names stand out. Manchester City, the squad looking to more than double the transfer record to sign Kaka, have already added a big-name Brazilian star in the form of Robinho, signing him from Real Madrid in August for 30 million pounds. Lazio, though - who were injected with cash in the late 1990s in order to push the Roman side into the Italian title chase - mirror Manchester City rather well, down to the traditional home colors of sky blue.


Former Lazio owner Sergio Cragnotti poses with one of the players his largesse brought to the Roman side, Czech winger Pavel Nedved.

Lazio were powered forward by the largesse of Italian food magnate Sergio Cragnotti, who spent early and often in a search for the Italian scudetto. While Lazio had always been one of Italy's "Big Six" (along with Juventus, Inter, AC Milan, AS Roma, and at times Fiorentina), Cragnotti wanted to rocket the team into the stratosphere.

The well ran dry and it left Lazio stumbling; they seem to have recovered and made the Champion's League in 2007-08, but have done so without spending huge.

Sound familiar? Manchester City were purchased in late August by a group that consists of the royal family of the city of Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates. Oil-rich and expanding into tourism and finance to diversify its economy, Abu Dhabi's royal family has a multi-billion dollar bankroll behind them thanks to oil production. Now, they're trying to play a virtual video game with the Premier League and see if, like on the PC games, attracting all the best players in the world with lots of money will lead to success.

Of course you can't help but think of the impact this has on sports in general. If it works, and Manchester City - traditionally well-supported in England but without a great history of winning titles - qualifies for the Champion's League and challenges for titles, then the "money cheat code" method of ownership could be proven correct.

Regardless of the opulence it's representative of the sports world at large. TV money has poured into a variety of sports since the late 1960s, and with it has come an era of previously-unheard of success. The NFL practically has a license to print money in the United States - and yet ticket prices are only ever going up. Major League Baseball had 10 teams with payrolls higher than $100 million in a year, and that includes the Yankees, who broke $200 million.


The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez is currently the highest-paid team sport athlete in the world; will Kaka's salary match his?

What can be done about it, though? Short of salary caps staying at an equal level and nobody deciding to break the salary caps with tons of money, that is; in leagues without salary caps, like Major League Baseball and European soccer, there's nothing to it. If it works as a business decision and you can afford it, who's to stop you spending that much money? Welcome to the free economy.

It's a tough situation. Stop supporting sports because of the money being thrown around? Stop supporting the highest levels of athletics and focus on semi-pro, or more minor leagues? Or go along, wary, hoping that when the bubble bursts, your team will be in decent financial shape?

It's a tough decision. Especially as, during all great booms, it looks like the money will never dry up.

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