Market Ignorance: Almond’s football salary faux pas should confuse fans

Once upon a time, people lamented how political discourse had devolved from great oratory to the desire to create juicy sound bites. Today, it has devolved even further, into the “artform” known as the meme.

There I was, minding my own business on Facebook, and there it was scattered between the quizzes to determine what type of goldfish you are and funny pictures of cats. This one meme that had so many glaring problems that I just couldn’t let it go.

Almond Meme

The quote comes from a book called “Against Football: One Reluctant Fan’s Manifesto” by Steve Almond. Almond’s background is in journalism. Clearly, it’s not in economics, based on what we see here.

First, let’s take a look at his comments regarding the market.

“The ‘market’-meaning us, the fans-has determined Allen’s value is roughly $18.5 million per year.

Uh…no.

Almond doesn’t even begin to understand what the market is. Fans do not hire players. Teams do. The market in this case is not the fans, but the teams. These are teams that also operate under a salary cap, so they take a look at each player’s talents and abilities and that salary cap and decide what it’s worth to them.

The fans either applaud the decision, scream about it, or ignore it. None of that really has much bearing on the decisions the team makes. As a football fan myself, I understand where I am “the market”. That’s on things like merchandise, ticket prices, and vending inside the stadium. At that point, my decisions to buy or not buy (along with everyone else’s) does impact the team.

Now, it’s possible that if too many people decided to boycott the team because they were paying Jared Allen so much money, then that could motivate change on that front, but that’s a whole different game.

If that was all Almond missed, I’d have let the whole thing go. After all, memes aren’t for high brow debate. They’re little snippets of words that have no real power in and of themselves, but are often treated like absolute gospel.

However, Almond managed to double down when he compared the number of teachers, paramedics, and police officers that could be paid with Allen’s salary. Yes, the numbers are interesting, but that’s where it really ends.

You see, there’s a key fact isn’t mentioned in this meme. It’s possible that Almond mentions it in his book, but since I haven’t read it, I don’t know. That problem is that Allen isn’t paid $18.5 million per year on a lark. He possesses a unique set of skills and talents that make him very, very good at sacking quarterbacks in the NFL. There are only a handful of people who have demonstrated the ability to do similarly.

However, how many people can be teachers, paramedics, or police officers? Not to demean those professions-in fact, I have known people in all three in my life-but the potential pool for these individuals is much, much larger. That’s why the wages are so much lower. There’s only one Jared Allen, while there are thousands of Officer Joe.

Further, Almond compares average salaries to an outlier. This is a commentary trick used to make the difference seem so much more significant. Business Insider took a look at what NFL players make, it their numbers look a lot different than Almond’s.

On average, NBA players make $5.15 million, MLB players make $3.2 million, NHL players make $2.4 million, and NFL players make $1.9 million per year, according to Forbes.

But that doesn’t even tell the full story.

Andrew Powell-Morse and Brett Cohen at BestTicketsBlog put together two charts that reveal how few NFL players are making real money.

In short, the average NFL salary doesn’t spike until most players are out of the league.

Now, for simplicity, let’s just use the Forbes numbers. $1.9 million is a whole lot less than $18.5 million, and you can pay a whole lot fewer teachers, paramedics, and police officers off of that, but Almond’s point is that players are paid too much money. $1.9 is more annually than most of us will ever see. I get that. However, Almond’s failure to understand basic economics undermines his entire argument regarding player pay.

It’s not just that either. Let’s say the NFL disappeared tomorrow. Does anyone really believe the money going to the league would suddenly be diverted into education or public safety?

Of course not.

Football isn’t considered a necessity by anyone (well, not seriously at least). People pay for football related things out of their disposable¬†income. If you remove the NFL, people will find something else to fill that void for them. Maybe they’ll watch more movies, or read more books, but they’re not going to suddenly start donating it to the government.

Yes, there might be an increase in revenue due to the NFL’s non-profit status (and if Almond had taken a shot at that, I might have been willing to listen), but that’s not the argument presented here. Instead, the implication is that Allen’s salary would be better in the hands of government employees than in a private citizen who has managed to turn his talents into a multi-million dollar profession.

As F.A. Hayek writes in The Fatal Conceit, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” It’s evident here Almond knows little about both economics and the market.


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