MONEY Sports

How the Economics of Playing Football and Basketball Compare

That loud roar you heard this week was NFL training camp getting under way. With less than six weeks until the Green Bay Packers head to Seattle for a game against the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, fans across the country are following every move of their favorite players and planning for their fantasy football draft.

We decided to take a look at some of the important markers in the life-cycle of a professional athlete. From sporting gear to concussion rates, the gallery below provides a snapshot of what parents have to pay to get their kids on the field—and how long players stay in the big leagues once they actually get there.

To put the numbers in a little bit of context we compared football’s costs to basketball’s.

TIME NBA

Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer Meet for the First Time, Unproductively

A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles
A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 29, 2014. Mario Anzuoni— Reuters

No progress was made on Ballmer's bid to buy the L.A. Clippers, but ESPN reports it was otherwise a "friendly conversation."

It was a private meeting between two men very recently and very publicly ushered from power: one the erstwhile leader of a once iconic tech company whose stock prices swiftly rebounded upon news of his resignation, the other the former owner of a basketball team whose departure from it only parenthetically had anything to do with basketball (in that his apparently racist vitriol was targeted at, well, people the color of some of his basketball players).

The latter, Donald Sterling, was banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the remainder of his life after TMZ leaked a recording of some comments he made to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, concerning her friendship with black people. He’s consequently in the throes of selling the Los Angeles Clippers to the former, ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who stepped down from the company last year after thirteen tumultuous years at the helm, marked by the surge of the Apple Empire and the ultimate marking of his once-eminent firm as a brand that just wasn’t cool anymore. When all else fails, one supposes, buy a basketball team; Ballmer successfully made a bid of $2 billion to buy the Clippers within a month of the Sterling controversy.

The two men met at Sterling’s Beverly Hills home to negotiate the sale of the Clippers franchise together with Sterling’s wife Shelly. And while the crew reached no definitive settlement, ESPN reports that it was otherwise a perfectly pleasant conversation, considering Sterling’s notorious obstinacy on the matter.

It’s a trickier deal than just writing a check. Two years after Sterling bought the team in 1979, he granted co-ownership rights to Shelly, from whom he has been estranged since December 2012. Donald is banned from the NBA; Shelly is not. The NBA briefly considered snatching all license of ownership from the entire Sterling clan — their son-in-law, Eric Miller, has served as the Clippers’ “director of basketball administration” — but not before Shelly arranged the sale to Ballmer in late May. Donald condemned her actions, and a day later sued the NBA for $1 billion.

He’d drop the suit all of three days later, though he has since called his wife of 59 years a “pig.”

The warring couple met on Sunday to finally discuss business, two days before Shelly was to testify in the civil case between them over whether or not she was justified in her negotiations with Ballmer (she’ll be in court on Tuesday in Los Angeles). After a three hour conversation concerning all the tumult of the last few months — oh, to be a fly on that wall — the two invited Ballmer to come over the next day to further address the matter of the Clippers’ sale, which was supposed to have been finalized a week ago. It’s the first time the two men met in person to talk about the deal.

The NBA, meanwhile, twiddles its thumbs and waits. It’s widely assumed Ballmer will ultimately take the reins from the Sterlings, but if nothing’s certain by September 15, the league has the option to take matters into its own hands and sell the team itself, since the 2014-15 season will begin just six weeks later.

TIME NBA

Poll: What Jersey Number Should LeBron James Wear: 6 or 23?

All hail King James

King James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he needs your opinion. LeBron asked his Instagram followers for their input: Should he wear number 6 or number 23? The championship player wore number 6 in Miami after leaving the Cavs, possibly resurfacing some resentment in Cleveland. Or will LeBron James choose number 23, the number he gave up to honor Michael Jordan?

Take the poll below.

TIME Sports

Economist: LeBron James Worth Almost $500 Million to Cleveland

Cleveland Celebrates LeBron James Coming Home
A Cleveland Cavaliers fan watches news coverage of LeBron James' return at Panini's Bar and Grille in downtown Cleveland on July 11, 2014 Angelo Merendino—Getty Images

But a lot would have to go exactly right

When LeBron James announced that he was coming home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he did more than give long-suffering fans reason to believe the city could soon win its first championship in any major sport since 1964. King James also boosted Cleveland’s bottom line.

The greatest player on the planet could be an economic catalyst for the Rust Belt city. More fans will flock to Quicken Loans Arena to see James play, more staff will be needed at the arena to handle those larger crowds, more money will be spent during games at local bars and restaurants, and all of that will get pumped back into the region. The result, says LeRoy Brooks, a professor of finance at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland, could be nearly $500 million added to the local economy. Call it the LeBron Effect.

Of course, that forecast is preliminary and depends on a number of variables. Here’s how Brooks found his way to $500 million (or so):

Cleveland’s home-ticket prices last year averaged $68.17, according to TiqIQ. In 2009–10, the last season James played in Cleveland prior to leaving for Miami, Cavs ticket prices averaged $195. Last season, Cavs fans paid $202.74, on average, to watch Miami beat Cleveland.

Miami had the NBA’s highest average ticket price last season, at $245. To account for the lower cost of living in Cleveland, let’s make what still might be a conservative estimate: Cavs tickets go for $210, on average (remember — this doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of seats for far less). Cavs attendance last year averaged 17,329 per game. With James, the Cavs are likely to fill up their arena’s capacity of 20,562. Spread over 41 home games, James could bring in $129 million in additional ticket revenue for Cleveland.

According to Brooks, Cleveland’s leisure economy — think hotels, bars, restaurants, shops — lost $48 million in annual revenue after James left, as fans and media lost interest in the team and spent less money. Brooks assumes that money is recovered, adjusts it for inflation, and adds a 10% premium for James’ increased popularity since 2009–10 — after all, he’s now a two-time NBA champ, and a player more on par with Michael Jordan than he was when he was last in Cleveland. That’s $57 million in local spending James brings in. Brooks estimates that money will trickle through the greater northeast Ohio area, to the tune of another $114 million. So add that amount to the haul, and that brings in $171 million of non-ticket-related economic activity generated by James. In all, we’re at $300 million.

Now, add the playoffs. Each home game generates around $15 million in economic activity, according to data collected by Brooks. Vegas has already made Cleveland the favorite to win the NBA title. For fun, let’s roll with the oddsmakers and assume the Cavs make it all the way to the finals. Let’s give them home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs — that could give them three home games a series if they don’t sweep, or if they don’t need a Game 7. Let’s say one series does need a Game 7, and a fourth home game — that’s 10 home games for the three-playoff series. In the finals, say they face the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs, who have a better record, but take the series to a least a sixth game. That’s three more games. That’s 13 home playoff games in all, or $195 million from the playoffs.

Under this scenario, James delivers $495 million to northeast Ohio.

Brooks is the first to admit these are educated guesses. Cut down the number of playoff games or the average ticket price, and the economic impact will be significantly lower. Plus, the Cleveland metro area has a $111 billion GDP. At around $500 million, James’ impact would be worth just 0.42% of Cleveland’s overall economic activity.

The city has come a long way since it was known as the “Mistake by the Lake.” A booming biomedical sector, fueled by the Cleveland Clinic, has helped recover some of the jobs lost in the decline in manufacturing. The arrival of another hyped star, rookie Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, and the GOP’s announcement that it will hold the 2016 Republican National Convention in the city have also created some momentum. And the metro-area unemployment has fallen to 6.8%, down from a recession-era high of 10% in January 2010.

Still, that rate is higher than the 6.1% national average. And the Cleveland area ranked in the bottom fifth in the country in job growth from 2012 to 2014, according to USA Today. But James’ return is welcome news in Cleveland no matter the size of the economic benefit — something even an economist can recognize.

“The Cleveland fan can expect the LeBron Effect to provide a lot more positive and less negative experiences then most of them have had in any prior year, or imagined that they would ever see in the future prior to LeBron’s announcement,” says Brooks. “Many would view this as priceless.”

TIME Basketball

Heat To LeBron: Thanks for The Memories

The basketball star brought the team two NBA titles.

The Miami Heat wished LeBron James farewell with a nostalgic tweet of a photo of the Cleveland-bound NBA star before a crowd of cheering fans.

“Thanks for the memories,” it read.

The Miami sports franchise has many reasons to thank James, not the least of which are two NBA titles.

TIME NBA

Hometown Has-Beens: Sports Stars Who Returned

Can LeBron avoid being a hometown has-been?

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It’s not often sports heroes get to bring it back to where it all started.

LeBron James is going back to the team that drafted him in 2003 while he’s in his prime, but usually stars return in the twilight of their career.

The memories fans have of their favorite players loom over diminished play from the stars, and even greats like Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth couldn’t bring back their hometown magic.

If James is hoping to make this a happy reunion, he’s going to have to buck decades of hometown has-beens.

TIME NBA

A Heat Fan Who’s Happy for LeBron

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat
LeBron James of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Atlanta Hawks at American Airlines Arena on November 19, 2013 in Miami, Florida. Mike Ehrmann—Getty Images

It's a bummer, but Miami will be fine

LeBron James took a lot of ludicrous abuse in 2010 for accepting a better job with better co-workers and a better boss in a better city. He was a free agent. He had every right to take his talents to South Beach. I’m an obnoxious Miami Heat fan, so I’m sad he’s returning to Cleveland—sadder than I ever imagined I’d be—but I’m not going to dump on him in Comic Sans. He’s got every right to take his talents home.

I’ve always thought the widespread over-the-top LeBron hatred reflected something more insidious than natural disappointment about his lame ESPN special announcing his departure from Cleveland. He had fulfilled his contract. Thanks to a salary cap designed to save NBA owners from themselves, he had been vastly underpaid. And Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had been too cheap and too arrogant to surround him with winning talent. After he left, Gilbert’s infamous open letter—just removed from the Cavs website last week!—revealed some incredibly ugly sentiments. He clearly saw LeBron as the help.

This situation is different in many ways. The Heat organization did right by LeBron. It surrounded him with good players—not quite as good as I thought, at least this year–who played the right way and helped him lift his game.

And owner Micky Arison has been predictably classy about his departure from Miami. That said, LeBron did right by the Heat, too. He fulfilled his contract and then some, leading the team to four straight Finals and two championships. And I can’t emphasize enough how much fun it’s been to watch him play every night. He’s just unbelievably unselfish on the court. He always seems to make the right play. He guards speedy point guards and giant centers and everyone in between. Even after four MVP’s, he’s still underpaid and underrated; I assume he always will be.

But the dude wants to go home. He thinks he can win more titles with Kyrie Irving—I’m trying to be gracious, but how overrated is that guy?—and (probably) Kevin Love than Chris Bosh and whatever’s left of Dwyane Wade’s knees. He’s willing to go work for an owner who trashed him as a heartless coward after raking in millions of dollars off his labor. Well, he’s given me a lot of enjoyment over the last four years, and I’m not going to start questioning his choices now.

Anyway, this isn’t going to be like 2010. We always knew that LeBron was an Ohio guy. This is a bummer, but the people of Miami will be fine.

I mean, it’s not like we have to live in Cleveland.

TIME NBA

Yeah, LeBron James Totally Won Free Agency

LeBron's a different man now

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If LeBron has any “haters” left, now’s not a bad time to exit that whole silly business.

In a simple, direct, and utterly genuine essay penned, with the help of writer Lee Jenkins, on SI.com, James announced Friday he’s coming home to Cleveland. He’s leaving the Miami Heat, which has won two championships during his four years in South Beach, for a team with the worst record in the NBA since he departed in 2010. Why would he take less guaranteed money with Miami, and much shakier prospects at adding more rings to his fingers, to sign with the Cavs?

“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” James wrote. “I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

No chirping about taking his talents somewhere. “I’m not having a press conference or party,” James writes. He just a offers a frank assessment of where his head is at now, compared to where it was four summers ago, when he made his infamous “Decision” on national television. James’ openness, and emotional maturity, should be applauded. He admitted what any reasonable person watching James in that Boys & Girls Club four years ago could see: he was stressed as all hell about leaving Cleveland. He looked somewhat miserable that evening.

“I was thinking, this is really tough. I could feel it,” James writes. So could everyone else. “I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating.”

But he needed that first ring, and knew, back then, that joining up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was the easiest path to that goal. “When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission,” James writes. “I was seeking championships.” After sports fans cheered when the Big Three lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 NBA Finals — and LeBron underperformed — James became a happy mercenary. You can still criticize him, I guess, for avoiding the rough road to a title. Michael never left Chicago. Bird never left Boston. Magic never left the Lakers. Kobe never left the Lakers. Isaiah Thomas never left Detroit. But LeBron never had his Scottie Pippen, his McHale and Parish, his Kareem and Worthy, his Shaq, his Joe Dumars and his Bad Boys. And bottom line, when James writes, “I became a better player and better man” in Miami, he’s absolutely right. He put in the work to develop a post-game, to become a more efficient outside shooter and creator. He took no easy road.

He’s made his peace with Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner who torched James when he left for Miami. “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man,” James writes in SI. “We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?” Gilbert is so, so lucky that James is a “better man.” No one would have blamed James if he never wanted to work for someone who became so unhinged.

So James is coming home to write the fairy tale ending, and try to deliver Cleveland its first major sports title since 1964. The Cavs team he left in 2010 was probably more championship-ready than the one he’s coming to (unless Cleveland can land Minnesota’s Kevin Love in a trade). Now, he’s voluntarily taking a rougher road — at less money, we should repeat — for more hardware. Should Miami fans feel cheated? Ha. Lebron helped the Heat win two more titles, on top of the one Wade delivered, nearly on his own, in 2006. The Miami Heat made its franchise debut 26 years ago, and have won three championships. You know how many franchises have won more titles than Miami over that period? Just three: the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. Detroit, like Miami, has won three. So 25 NBA teams, and fan bases, would love to have Miami’s problems. Also, South Beach isn’t the most sympathetic fan base. Remember when all those people left Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, and tried to get back into the arena after Ray Allen’s killer game-tying three kept the Heat alive in a series it would go on to win?

LeBron’s reportedly off to Brazil, to watch the World Cup final. Over the next few days, he’ll let the fans and pundits back home dissect this momentous move. He’s already written his piece. Millions of captivated hoops fans will be watching, over the next few seasons, to see how the story ends.

TIME NBA

LeBron’s Decision Sets Off Tweets of Congratulations and Wizard of Oz Puns

Cavs fans tweeted congratulations while Miami Heat fans were less than delighted

Less than an hour after LeBron James announced he would return to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the hashtags #TeamCavs and #TheKingIsBack as well as “Poor Wade” were all trending on Twitter.

The championship-winning player himself chose to announce his decision with an Instagram post, followed by a separate tweet linking to Sports Illustrated’s exclusive on his choice.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert as well as fellow athletes and sports commentators also chimed in on the social media platform to offer words of congratulations or simply a well-timed Wizard of Oz pun.

Miami fans were slightly less enthused.

Tickets to see LeBron back at his home court and the Cavs’ chance at a championship also became topics of Twitter conversation.

Other Internet onlookers were at the ready to remind Cleveland fans of Gilbert’s infamous letter to LeBron (typed in Comic Sans font) after he left the Cavs in 2010, calling him a “coward” and mocking his nickname “King James.”

The letter remained on the Cavs’ website for four year and was only removed earlier this week. No hard feelings, King James.

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