If you were to ask your average British citizen their opinion of a millennial footballer, the response may include a tendency to be image-obsessed, a lack of intelligence, an on-field fragility, and you can bet your bottom pound sterling that any response would include reference to them being overpaid. Dig a little deeper and they might say something like: “It’s just kicking a ball around” as if they have no grasp of the dedication and skill involved; “Why aren’t doctors paid that much?” like a billion people would tune in to watch a televised tracheotomy; “All that money and they complain about playing twice in a week!” as if a player could somehow trade wealth for physical fitness and preparedness for matches.
World class footballers earn a huge amount of money. That is a fact. Christiano Ronaldo has just earned himself a new €30 million/year contract with Juventus at the age of 33. With his endorsements and sponsorship deals, he will earn close to €100 million next year. To put this in perspective, Mark Wahlberg was the highest grossing Hollywood actor last year and made just over $60 million. But do these footballers deserve their wealth?
With 13 factors considered including the audience, TV rights deals, accessibility, regional dominance and social media presence, football is the most popular sport in the world. There is no other sport that captures the collective imagination like football. Take this summer. You couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a cross of St. George, an M&S waistcoat or hearing “It’s coming home”. The astronomical Premier League TV deals tell you all you need to know about the popularity of football. People want to watch more and more football, so television companies are paying more and more for the viewing rights, which enables football clubs to pay higher wages to their players and staff. It’s simple supply and demand. The player’s wages are directly related to the number of people that enjoy the entertainment they provide.
With 1 in 5 adults playing, football has the highest participation of any sport in England. It is hugely competitive to get to the top. If you are an outstanding talent you may be scouted by an academy and asked to trial for them. Under 0.5% of boys then drafted into some sort of professional academy are then able to earn a living from the game. So do those outstanding individuals who make it right to the top not deserve the money they earn?
In the USA, the rags to riches story is what the ‘American Dream’ is all about. Those who came from nothing are celebrated. They worked hard, so they deserve it. The sense in England seems to be that footballer’s short rise from rags to riches means they haven’t worked sufficiently hard to get there. As if their skill, determination and desire to get to the top is not enough. Psychological studies have suggested it takes 10,000 hours of training to become a professional sportsman. That’s 3 hours a day, every day for 10 years. All of this happening in a child’s formative years. Having to balance schoolwork with football and leaving little time to socialise. They put it all on the line. You can understand why this gamble would make the subsequent success all the sweeter.
Like many people in the public eye, world-class footballers can make a huge amount of money through endorsement deals. Often the juxtaposition of the product to themselves is clearly not a consideration. Ronaldo is an official endorser of KFC in Malaysia, despite clearly not eating saturated fat for the last 20 years. Wayne Rooney did an advert for Casillero del Diablo wine back in 2011. Pizza Hut released an advert in 1997 starring three English penalty villains (there was once a time we were not good at penalties) including the waistcoated Messiah, Gareth Southgate.
But the ridiculous product plugging is not limited to footballers. Kim Kardashian and toilet paper (I guess she is full of shit), Brad Pitt and Pringles, Ozzy Osbourne and butter, and of course the Flinstones and Winston cigarettes. Given the opportunity, few give up the chance to earn more money by putting their name to products.
Footballers often come from nothing to make their millions. They are often scalded for the money they make and the way they laud it on social media, but should instead be revered for the skill and dedication taken to get to the top and the joy they bring to the billions that watch them.