The commercialization of sports is that aspect of the sports enterprise that involves the sale, display, or use of sport or some aspect of sport so as to produce income. Some experts prefer the term “commodification of sport” as a label for the same process. Interest in the commercialization of sport has existed for several decades,but only in recent years has the phenomenon has been taken seriously on a larger scale. The first attention came from a small group of critical, mostly leftist writers, who have now been joined by people from all political and social perspectives.
The commercialization of sport is not a cultural universal, but a product of unique technical, social, and economic circumstances. Sports in the colonial United States were usually unstructured, spontaneous activities that the participants initiated, coordinated, and managed. Only in the latter part of the 19th century did organized sport cross the ocean from Great Britain and arrive in America. At that time, urbanization forced a large number of people to live in new settings and to abandon traditional leisure activities, which included drinking, carousing, and gambling.The dominant class sought to replace them with activities such as baseball, horseracing, and boxing.
Professional sports, a big business that has grown rapidly over the last three decades, may be the epitome of commercialization, its influence pervasive throughout. Athletes, support personnel (managers, coaches, officials, media persons, lawyers, and agents), and sports team owners benefit handsomely from the willingness of sports fans to pay to watch their favorite sports and to purchase the commodities endorsed by sports personalities. Hundreds of professional athletes earn well over $1 million a year. Before 1977, $1 million contracts did not exist.By 1994 there were well over 200 professional athletes who earned salaries in excess of $1 million. In 1990, reported average 1989 salaries for athletes in four different professional sports stood at $577,200 in the National Basketball Association, $490,000 in the national baseball leagues, $212,000 in the National Football League, and $156,000 in the National Hockey League.Forbes’s 1994 list of the top-earning athletes included basketball stars Michael Jordan at $30 million and Shaquille O’Neal at $17 million, golfers Jack Nicklaus at $15 million and Arnold Palmer at $14 million, and boxers Micheal Moore and Evander Holyfield at $12 million each. In most cases, athletes’ endorsements make up over 90 percent of their earnings.
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