Monday, January 14, 2008

Money, money, money

Seeing that the last two pieces I'd contributed have been on civic events and on the strange turns of weather in the Ottawa valley, it's time for a departure into the land of green. As in the greenback, as in green with envy, as in the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence.

We now take it for granted that we live in a world where top pro athletes make huge money. We also take it for granted that NHL is a venerable institution, sometimes embattled and criticized, but always there in the background of the mind of the sportsfan...and more than that, it's really a national institution. And I think we can all agree that Alexander Ovechkin is one of the most talented humans to ever lace up a pair of skates and wield a hockey stick. I love to see his moves, it is like the highlight reel of the week, over and over. It's like the best Gretzky moves or the Stevie Y early years in Detroit, and the sick goals that Jaromir Jagr used to score for Pittsburgh, all combined in one package.

But, $124 million...over ten years? That is a lot of dough, ladies an gentlemen. Enough to buy out several smaller companies, enough to provide a sizable foreign development budget to a Third World country, enough to kickstart a major infrastructure project in a big city. If someone had agreed to donate $124 mil to a conservation-minded foundation, that would buy and protect lot of land, and I mean a lot of land. You could have a new national park for that and more. And if you're guarding the coast, you could refurbish a fleet of patrol ships and buy some state of the art helicopters, too.

When some athletes make this much money, I wonder if the "whatever the market can bear" adage is actually still relevant. It tells me that some players are worth ten other players - and that makes me ponder what it would feel like being one of those 'other' players, perhaps on the same roster, same dressing room, donning the same jerseys.

Those of us who play or have played competitive sports, especially on a high level, can attest to the fact that sports careers as such are highly varied and that it is an inherently unfair world. Some sports personalities may gain fame but can, at the same time, struggle to make ends meet, never mind make a pile of cash. So-called amateur sports are a ticket to poverty and inadequate Sports Canada grants (whatever these grants are called).

When I see a young guy like Ovechkin, all I see is someone who had bet on the right sport. Most athletes end up in non-paying or low-paying sports. The discussion need not be in abstract. Most of us know someone who has or is playing a game or n individual sport at the highest level. I know several nationally ranked, "carded" athletes who have all risen to the elite levels and represented Canada on international stages. My brother-in law rowed at the Henley regatta several times, went to the worlds, and narrowly missed out on the 92' summer Olympics. My former triathlon training buddy Marc (from the UCTC fame) posted some world-class times, competed on the World Cup triathlon circuit and donned the national team uniform as well. My friend Waine had competed twice at the world duathlon championships, once finishing the course with a broken arm (!) A guy from my high school ran the 100 m under 11 seconds and later got a big college football scholarship in the US. These are all exceptionally gifted, tough, resourceful people with phenomenal physical abilities. It makes me a bit sad that none of them ever saw any substantial sum of money, either from a sponsor, a circuit, or from the state.

In the meanwhile, a cool $124 million. Hope Ovechkin doesn't spend it all on himself.

1 comment:

Umar said...

I think it was over 13 years... Which is probably the most shocking part. I agree with Allan Muir's assertion that Ovechkin is one of the few players that would pay off at the annual rate of this contract. Note that I didn't say he's worth it; hockey player's aren't worth this money, as you've pointed out. However, if healthy, he'll return the money they spent to his bosses, so that's why he is a good investment. What is shocking is that he's the third 12+ year contract handed out - Rick DiPietro and Mike Richards have also received them, and this just seems a risk that is not worth taking if you're the owner - as Allan Muir's example of Eric Lindros demonstrates.