How Overpaid Superstars are Disrupting Sports Teams

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Athletes’ salaries are at an all time high, and the success of a team often revolves around and is dependent on one or two star players. According to the Forbes list of the 100 highest paid athletes, 4 out of the top 5 are members of a team, making a singular person that much more important. With salary caps and team budgets often limiting their ability to acquire new players, the health and skill level of those individuals is critical.

Just behind American boxer, Floyd Mayweather, are Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Cleveland Cavalier’s basketball giant, LeBron James, FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, and LA Lakers veteran, Kobe Bryant. Of the top 5, Mayweather is the only athlete to compete in an individual sport, while the others are the members of a collective team. Often, if that person suffers an injury or is simply off his game, then the rest of the organization suffers with him.

In the past, sports often revolved around a group of players, hence the term “team,” making it so when one was hurt, the others were still able to rally and play for success. Now, however, that is less and the less the case. The NBA World Champion, San Antonio Spurs, is a unique example and is often mocked for their fundamental team play. They do not have an individual superstar but rely on their ensemble cast and their “off the bench” talent, whereas competitor, LeBron James, is the sole hope for the ever-struggling Cleveland Cavaliers. James was formerly a member of the Miami Heat, where he shared the spotlight with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, but throughout his time there, rumors of unrest and tension persisted. Now that he is back in his hometown of Cleveland, the expectations around a championship run are high, but without a capable team, there is also doubt that it will ever happen.

So, what’s the big deal? What’s the problem with this, you may ask. The player has earned this salary. The team brand benefits from having a superstar, and other companies and businesses rake in the cash by selling their merchandise and hiring them as spokesmen. However, when a team’s budget is blown on one player, it makes acquiring a solid supporting cast almost impossible. Often, excellent players will forego signing with a certain team due to the fact that they will be paid significantly less. Others hold out all together until they are given what they want and then end up being a “bust,” or a player that doesn’t live up to their hype, and then the team is left without its star and without its cash flow.

Ronaldo and Messi are football extraordinaires and are widely accepted as the two best players in the world, and it is true that they have earned their status with a combined 44 hat tricks and various La Liga scoring records, but what happens to the team if something happens to one of them? Both clubs have been tested in the past, and the results have been mixed. Last Spring, Ronaldo was out with an injury and Gareth Bale and Di Maria did what they needed to do to secure the win, but when Messi was out in 2013, a struggling Barcelona was forced to fork over even more money to keep their number two player, Neymar. (Brassell, Andy. football clubs are facing the pressure of keeping their top stars healthy and happy and must face the expensive consequences if they are unable to do so.

Many wonder if this trend in sports is sustainable. Can one person carry an entire team and franchise on their shoulders? It is not impossible, as it has been done in the past and many do so today, but the bigger question is, does it benefit the sport? Does is discourage other talent from signing, does it put too much pressure on its superstars, does it make it impossible for other teams to even join in the hunt for the championship? These are all valid questions and only time will tell if this kind of reliance and exploitation of the individual will pay off in the end, but one thing is for certain, there is most definitely an I in TEAM.

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