When $90 Million Isn’t Enough

A man you most likely haven’t heard of is going to say that $90 million isn’t enough.

Jimmy Butler, a swingman for the Chicago Bulls, is expected to turn down the Bulls five-year offer. The 25-year-old is a not a superstar – he’s outshined publicity-wise by teammates Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah – but is efficient, reliable and versatile. And his value will increase. This deal is the second max offer Butler will decline. (He said nah to the Bulls offer last November.)

The reason Butler continues to reject the Bulls is because he wants a shorter deal. Butler is betting on himself to improve in this next one- or two-year window because that’s when the salary cap’s lid will be blown off.

Butler, if he plays well this year, avoids injury and receives the maximum again, stands to sign a contract worth north of $129 million.

“That’s a sin,” a friend, and avid basketball fan, texted me last week. “A (basketball) player does nothing to contribute to society. Absolutely nothing.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe he has a point about not contributing to society. Regardless, that’s not the point I’m going to debate here.

That’s because we – the fans – give pro sports the money to pay the players. And the reason Butler keeps saying no is because he sees the future.

Last October, the NBA finagled ESPN and Turner Sports into forking over a total of $24 billion for nine years of The Association’s content. To put it in perspective: Currently, as per the deal signed in 2007, Turner and ESPN pay the league $930 million annually. That figure will rise to $2.6 billion when the new TV deal takes effect in 2016-17.

The NBA nearly tripled the value of its product in a decade. It’s a 180 percent increase from the 2007 deal. The 2007 deal was a 21 percent jump from the previous deal. The NBA has remarkably increased profitability since the turn of the century.

Stark is the juxtaposition of NBA success with the rest of the TV landscape. TV profitability has plummeted due to a combination of DVRs, internet streaming, more channels, fragmenting audiences and cord cutting.

The NBA’s success stems from the fact that live sports are the one block of programming seemingly immune to this downward spiral. Its viewership remains flat – or even has increased – recently. Forbes calls live sports the, “Audience Aggregator.” In the cord-cut, DVR’d TV wastelands, advertising firms are realizing that live sports are the one place where they can reach attentive audiences. Wanting to guarantee itself the audience and advertisers, ESPN and Turner sports pounced.

The reason they leapt on the deal to keep the NBA’s product exclusively on their channels is the same reason Butler forgoes payment now – because of us, the consumers.

Here’s the thing: We the common people give Butler the opportunity to make that money. We set the proportional salaries for the NBA’s stars and scrubs relative to the salary cap because we the viewer dictate that salary cap when we watch.

Every basketball fan who flips on the NBA during the season is putting money is players’ pockets. Every person who tuned into this year’s captivating Finals gave Butler reasons to say no to $90 million. We inflate television deals (and the salary cap) because we flock en masse to TNT or ABC to watch the games. We keep advertisers interested in the cable packages and the cable packages interested in the programming. And the live programming interests us.

We vote with remotes.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York City. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com.

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One thought on “When $90 Million Isn’t Enough

  1. Pingback: Is Baseball Dying? Observations from Harlem, and the Internet. | Purely For Sport

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