Short answer, Capitalism.
The TL: DR version is that we love watching sports; and sports stars, much like any famous person, are constantly in the public eye. On the court or off it a lot of eyes are on them. Quite possibly to their annoyance, but advertisers see it is a tremendous opportunity. Due to a huge fanbase, they have a platform to push whatever products, brands, or ideas they wish to. We live in an attention economy where little is more valuable than a consumer’s attention.
15 years ago, we would watch athletes perform for a few hours every couple of weeks and that was all the screen time they got. Now they have managed to make it onto smaller screens but have achieved longer watch time. This translates into bigger payouts and multiple streams of income for the top athlete.
On top of being athletes, they are now public figures. Which enables them to amass a large following due to their physical prowess and technical brilliance. These followings are a major bargaining chip when negotiating endorsement deals from businesses.
In 2019, Cristiano Ronaldo made $47.8 million from his Instagram posts alone. As opposed to his contract with Juventus which stood to make him a modest $34 million. Along with him, many other top athletes / public figures owe it to Zuckerberg for inventing the first social network thus creating the largest advertising agency in the world.
The question then we should be asking is, are athletes making too much money? With the money sport brings them alone, do they really need to advertise brands to push more sales? No, not really. But this allows the modern-day athlete to pick and choose what brand, and subsequently what ideas they wish to represent. This leads to brands being conscious of the social problems that exist and creates an accountability partnership with their athletes. In which the brands have to live up to the Athlete’s ideas and vice-versa. The interconnectedness of the world has led to greater Corporate Social Responsibility. Greater Athlete’s social responsibility to improve the standard of living across the world.
Whether athletes should be making more than a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher and a scientist combined is for a political philosopher to address. I am neither qualified nor capable of answering such a question. In conclusion, of the long answer. It is because they have the capability to influence millions of lives.
Written by Yousef A Bogis