Superstars are underpaid. Discuss.

Relative to sports teams' staggering values, athletes are undervalued

Updated: May 3, 2012, 5:03 PM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
BobbleheadsDan WintersCompared to what team owners bring in, even the highest paid athletes are actually a bargain.

IT HURTS. When athletes reveal that their true loyalty is to themselves rather than to their teams or fans, it hurts. And when we see players demanding ever-larger salaries -- whether their franchises can afford them, whether their squads have won more games than they've lost, whether they themselves have been good teammates and citizens -- we feel more than pain. We feel anger, especially when so many of us are being priced out of the arena.

So it's no surprise that LeBron James incurred the wrath of fans when, after last year's NBA Finals, he rubbed our collective face in the inequality between star athletes and those who fund their salaries. "All the people that were rooting on me to fail ... they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today." That's right: After not leading Miami to a championship, LeBron was going back to his Liverpool soccer club and meetings with Warren Buffet and apple martinis. Meanwhile, we fans had to go back to our relatively miserable lives.

Perhaps our resentment is why, in a recent poll by Yahoo Finance and Fitness, LeBron was voted, after Snooki and Kim Kardashian, the most overpaid person in America.

There's just one problem with all our anger: It's misplaced. As much as it drives us crazy to see the amount of money thrown at athletes these days, it's time to recognize the real economic order of sports: Superstar athletes do not make too much money. If anything, they don't make enough.


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Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.