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FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Pro sports big business; players deserve their pay

The average fan tends to side with owners when labor disputes arise in professional sports.

The athletes, after all, are paid a fortune to play children's games that, in the larger picture, mean little compared to the jobs teachers, doctors, police and firefighters perform for a fraction of the compensation.

Professional sports leagues recently experienced more than their share of labor unrest. The National Hockey League missed the entire 2004-05 season due to failure of the league owners and players to reach a collective bargaining agreement. Work stoppages in the National Football League and Major League Baseball are memories of the not-yet-distant past.

Last week, talks between the National Basketball Association and its players broke off, increasing the possibility of a lockout when the agreement expires June 30.

In the ongoing NHL dispute, the sticking point is a salary cap the owners want for themselves because they haven't had the discipline to live within their means. Management portrays players who oppose the principle of an arbitrary ceiling on salaries as selfish and greedy, not caring enough about the fans who ultimately pay those huge salaries.

But in a free-market economy, shouldn't a player earn what the owner is willing to offer? If an owner knows he can sell $10 million worth of tickets by obtaining the services of Player A, shouldn't Player A be entitled to a portion of that profit? And shouldn't he be able to sign a contract with whichever franchise is willing to pay him the most for those services?

Of course, the issue is much more complex than that. Professional sports leagues and their owners obtain revenues not only through the box office, but also through the sales of merchandise, television rights, parking and concessions and other marketing strategies. Anti-trust law exemptions prevent professional sports from being true free-market enterprises. And large-market franchises generally have much more money to spend on salaries than do small-market teams. The leagues have a vested interest in keeping the playing field competitive.

But, while players are not out saving lives or preparing our children for future success, they nonetheless provide a wealth of revenue to their bosses.

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