Effects of free agency in sports



Professional baseball is in a state of turmoil. While the National Basketball Association and the National Football League are prospering, America\'s "favorite" pastime is faltering. It is no coincidence that this downward spiral began in 1976. That year the court decided in favor of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, two pitchers fighting for their own free agency (Burns and Ward, Art. 10). Free agency grants players the ability to choose what team they want to play for once their contract expires. Prior to this case players were confined to stay with their original team. They only changed teams if they were traded (Worsnop, Art. 83). Once Messersmith and McNally won their case, twenty-four players tested the free agent market the following year (Montville 100). Free agency has caused team, league, and labor problems in the financial world of professional baseball.
Free agency has caused many different team problems, such as high salaries, high ticket prices, and unloyal players. Professional baseball players\' salaries have skyrocketed since the conception of free agency. In 1976, the first year of free agency, the average salary for baseball players was $52,300 (Montville 102). The next year the average salary doubled. Four years later, the average salary had tripled (Burns and Ward, Art. 10). Even though the average salary was about $50,000 in 1976, the first twenty-four free agents earned about $200,000 each that same year (Montville 102). Today, baseball players make about fifty times more than the average working man. In 1976 they made only eight times the typical person (Burns and Ward, Art. 10). The salaries have steadily increased since that destructive year. The latest studies have shown that the average player salary is now approximately $1.2 million (Zipay, Art. 75). Along with the higher salaries, the ticket prices have also soared as a result of free agency. Ticket prices before free agency could be purchased for as low as $1 (Stuller, Art. 95). In 1982, five years after free agency had been established, tickets cost between $5 and $8 for the Cincinnati Reds\' baseball games (REDS Baseball). Tickets for that same team currently range from $6 to $14 (The Drawbridge Estate). The small market Montreal Expos charge an average of about $10 per ticket. The large market New York Yankees receive about $14 per ticket (Starr 52). Since the ticket prices are higher, fewer fans can attend the games. In 1995 attendance was on the decline "for twenty-five of twenty-eight teams," and was down overall about 25% (Atkin, Art. 89). Ross Atkin, a writer for the Christian Science Monitor, stated, "... the fans are staying away in droves" (Art. 89). Teams have also encountered major problems in keeping their players because of free agency. The baseball players have decided to play for the highest bidder instead of remaining loyal to their team. Nearly 27% of the players change teams each year. In 1976 there were 108 American League players twenty-five years old and younger. After the first seven years of free agency, only eighteen of those players remained with the same team (Rogers, Art. 41). The owners are feeling the repercussions of this mass movement. Phillies owner Bill Giles remarked, "... it is increasingly difficult to keep your own players once you develop them" (Rogers, Art. 41). Teams have found out the hard way that free agency has made it "increasingly difficult" to run a professional baseball team with the high salaries, high ticket prices, and unfaithful players.
The league has experienced major problems, such as lopsided competition since free agency began. Small revenue teams have been faltering and deteriorating with the development of baseball\'s free market. These teams, located in smaller cities, make less money off of tickets and television revenues than most teams. The argument of many experts is that "small market teams ... [are] at a competitive disadvantage" (Grabarek and Ozanian, Art. 57). Many facts support this philosophy. The Detroit Tigers made only $4 million off of stadium revenues in 1994, and lost over $5.4 million (Grabarek and Ozanian, Art. 57). Not surprisingly, the Tigers have maintained one of the worst records in baseball the past few years. The teams in less wealthy markets have been dealt a competitive handicap. The other side of the spectrum