The further back you look in history, the less money becomes an issue surrounding sports. Teams were being formed with little more than a passion and desire, plus a little backing from a company or benefactor. Money has always been present in sport, as with any activity, but is the amount of money owners now have at their disposal too much?
Looking at the positives, money breeds competition. Having so much money does not guarantee success but it does guarantee competitiveness. In the modern world, if you are not competing for the top prizes, you are not aiming high enough. Looking at football, the likes of Paul Pogba, Manchester United’s £89 million signing, Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., Paris Saint-Germain’s £198 million, and Gareth Bale, Real Madrid’s £86 million signing, all moved for record fees but how have they affected the teams and leagues involved?
Starting with the earliest, Real Madrid bought Gareth Bale in 2013 from Tottenham Hotspurs for £86 million. The fee was more than the fee paid for Cristiano Ronaldo, who has played for Real Madrid since 2009. The money spent was astronomical, with Florentino Pérez using the marketing power of Real Madrid to buy the best players since the turn of the millennia. Real Madrid is owned by the members of the clubs, as are rivals Barcelona. Real Madrid’s squad gained another superstar who had a knock-on effect on the team. Mesut Özil moved to Arsenal for £42.5 million and Ángel Di María moved to Manchester United for £59.7 million only a year after Gareth Bale arrived.
They made way for more players and allowed two huge talents to move to another league to improve other squads. Tottenham brought in several players to improve on their current squad, including the likes of Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen, and Erik Lamela. Whilst all the players Spurs bought to fill in the hole left by Bale, the club has gained one of Europe’s top talents in Christian Eriksen.
United’s Paul Pogba cost them £89 million in 2016 when he made the switch from Juventus back to Manchester United. The midfielder originally moved from Manchester to Juventus for a tribunal fee of £800,000. £89 million allowed them to buy Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuaín and Bosnian Miralem Pjanić that summer. Pogba also improved Manchester United’s midfield, helping them improve in an area they had struggled in since the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher. Manchester United have struggled since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club but Pogba restored some stability and creativity to the midfield.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar Jr. cost over double Pogba at £198 million when he moved from Barcelona in 2017. The Brazilian forward has added to PSG’s attack, with the likes of Ángel Di María, Kylian Mbappe and Edison Cavani also at the club. Stepping out of Barcelona’s ‘MSN’ attacking trio, he was replaced with Ousmane Dembélé, formerly of Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund then used that money to buy in his replacement Andriy Yarmolenko. Barcelona have also brought in Portuguese full-back Nélson Semedo and former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho to name a few.
All these players made huge moves across the continent and these players improved the squad but also improved other squads. These transfers breed additional competition. But there is also the argument for the opposite to happen. With transfers such as Neymar, it has been argued that teams such as PSG are hoarding talent and are dominating Ligue 1. With the league being almost a ‘one league team’, minus the rise of AS Monaco last season. The likes of West Brom, Newcastle, Malaga, Troyes, Werder Bremen etc. cannot afford these types of transfers and so struggle to bring in that quality of player, making a disparity between the top 3-4 teams and the rest.
That gets worse the further down the footballing pyramid you go, as teams struggle to buy in talent to stay in higher divisions when they are promoted. It can get worse as teams such as Coventry and Bolton Wanderers have struggled financially and have been relegated multiple times and had to sell their best and most promising players to try and keep the club running. These teams are disappearing whilst clubs in the top tiers are paying transfers for 1 player worth more than the clubs. The teams in non-league football disappear when players are being transferred for fees that would set these teams up, financially, for years. The commercial problems for non-league teams means the more fan-orientated teams are being shut down.
Wages are another negative but for sports other than football, such as basketball, these are limited to not allow a few teams to hold all the best players. Also in the British basketball League, players are paid a full wage, allowing them to play the sport they love because the league has recently got more commercial and with broadcasting rights selling for more and advertisements, the clubs can afford to pay players full time instead of part time. Whilst they are not the level of the NBA, they are decent wages.
The lack of wages can bring along problems, for example in field hockey, the players are not fully contracted until they are in the top division. But the problem with English field hockey came when Holcombe, who were outside of the top tier, started the 2014/15 season with 12 home nation internationals on their books. This was because they were willing to pay them all higher salaries to join them, allowing a lot of the players to focus solely on field hockey and not have to hold another job.
Otherwise, these players will normally play in India, where hockey is much more marketable and they are able to get higher wages. This means the nation’s best players are not playing at the highest level because of monetary reasons. Olympians generally do not get high wages, with most of their income coming from advertising and appearances.
However, most Olympians do not get significant monetary support, as shown when Olga Korbut sold her medals, though she later denied it was because of financial difficulties.
Overall, the main problems are not with commercialization as it has been something that has existed since sports started becoming a profession. The problem is mainly with the way it is handled with a lack of support for those with not such a following as those at the top of the sports. Olympians, athletes, teams and players all suffer from the same problem with only the very top and popular thriving and the smaller ones being unable to survive in some cases. Until something is done, the true potential of teams and athletes may be restricted for monetary reasons, which in itself is putting off very talented individuals from pushing to be the best as there is no guarantee of having enough money to survive on.