Are sports stars and celebrities really overpaid?

Catherine Choi, Layout Designer

Athletes and celebrities earn a fortune each year for all the work they do. Although only the top 1% of athletes and actors enjoy such prosperity, the public often questions whether they deserve that much pay. It only takes a short period of time to earn a fortune that will take other people more than a lifetime. Does Tom Brady, despite his skill, deserve to earn more than 10 times what general surgeons make? Does Taylor Swift deserve to charge thousands of dollars for her concert tickets? According to the rules of capitalism, the answer is yes, and most celebrities and athletes deserve every cent they make.

Under capitalism, the private sector and the individual hold power over the industry and the economy. It is up to the individual to evaluate a product or service’s worth and find the sweet spot on the supply and demand graph and the optimal price where both the supplier and the consumer are happy. In this case, the public decides how much famous celebrities and athletes will earn. The public will determine if the services people provide are worth their money. Football is highly popular in the United States, and the NFL makes billions of dollars each year with sponsorships, tickets, merchandise and broadcasting revenues. Players would like to get paid as much as possible—they are the ones who bring the money to the team. Further, teams will want to keep the players they need to make revenue, win trophies and attract sponsorships. They will negotiate a proper salary based on the monetary value that the player brings to the team so that both parties can be happy. 

The same applies to Taylor Swift’s concert tickets. If the public determines that the cost of the tickets is outrageous to the point where they won’t purchase the tickets, Swift would potentially reduce the ticket prices to a generally acceptable point while still making profit. However, the public agreed that the prices are fair enough to buy tickets, which is shown by the number of tickets and albums she sells, and she gets to keep the prices the way they are. Another example is hiring a famous actor/actress for a film to elevate its quality, making it easier to attract sponsorships, ticket sales and views. Hiring a famous celebrity for an advertisement will increase sales by bringing more publicity and media exposure to the product. If the public didn’t care about celebrity appearances, then sales would stagnate and the value of their work would plunge, decreasing their own salary. It is the same logic of a company trying to keep a skilled employee in their company instead of letting them leave for a better term, only the capital involved is much bigger.

A more specific example is the case of FC Barcelona. FC Barcelona was the top team in European soccer for many years with its numerous titles. However, the team has been in financial ruin since 2017 due to poor management and failure to replace its retiring legends. In 2021, Lionel Messi, a living legend and the most expensive player in the world, left the team to go to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) because Barcelona could not afford his salary. Due to the transfer, Barcelona experienced a drop in sponsorships and wins. In contrast, PSG gained eight more sponsors and Nike and Coca-Cola extended their partnership with larger capital. Messi increased PSG’s revenue by 15-20% in his first season with his new team. Their social media platform also grew and attracted more people. In 2021, he was paid $75 million USD, but the revenue that he brought proved that he was worth the price. In this case, PSG is paying Messi not only to score goals and win matches; they are paying him to bring revenue and media exposure to the team.

Apparently, the world determined an athlete’s performance and a celebrity’s media appearance to be worth more than a surgeon’s life-saving surgery. Those people aren’t earning that high amount of money because they are “better than other people”; instead, it’s because of their ability to bring profit, and that profit is made by the public. If hospitals made more money than movie studios, record companies and sports clubs, doctors would be in a position to demand higher wages. The degree of contributions to society plays little work in determining the worth of a service. Supply and demand make the decisions in our world.