MLB players earned more than $4MM on average in 2017, with some players’ salaries exceeding $30MM. For most people, that’s an unfathomable amount of money. Many people feel that baseball players and other athletes are overpaid, with the median American full-time worker earning around $45K per year.
Why do people object to MLB player salaries? One reason is the nature of the profession – Major League Baseball is a game played for the public’s entertainment, while baseball itself is a game many of us played in our youth for the sheer enjoyment of it. MLB players don’t serve an essential function to society like a teachers or doctors. And to many, the work of an MLB player seems less difficult and much more enjoyable than a typical job. It can be difficult to stomach professional athletes earning 100 times or more than that of a typical American.
Another reason some fans consider players to be overpaid is ticket prices. For a family of four to see the Cubs host the Cardinals on a Saturday in July, sitting in the upper deck, currently costs $565.91 on Stubhub for tickets alone. Of course, context is everything. Go to a Rays-White Sox game on a Wednesday afternoon in April, and a family of four can get in the door for $50 or less. At the heart of the matter: how much do player salaries actually affect ticket prices? I’m not an economist, but I think one would argue that teams will charge what fans are willing to pay. If player salaries were magically cut in half tomorrow, but demand for tickets remained the same, would you expect teams to reduce prices?
The other side of the coin is that, as difficult as it may be to accept given their salaries, MLB players might be underpaid. As an industry, MLB’s revenue has grown to $10 billion. As Nathaniel Grow wrote on FanGraphs a few years ago, the players’ percentage of that pie has dropped from a peak of 56% in 2002 to less than 40% in 2015. No one’s suggesting fans should feel sympathy for wealthy MLB players, but rather that they are entitled to fight for their fair share of the sport’s revenue. After all, without these 1,000 or so players, there’s no MLB. More money for the players doesn’t have to mean higher ticket prices; it would just mean less for the owners. Those on this side of the debate would note that MLB players are highly compensated because there are so few people in the world capable of doing their jobs, and interest in watching them perform drives the sport’s revenue.
As tensions mount between the owners and players, let’s see where MLBTR readers stand. App users can click here to take the poll.