“People really don’t know how the sport is funded,” says David, who is the first to credit his sport’s success on sponsorship. “You need someone to bring money in as partners or for television rights. You don’t have to pay for a team when you have a group of people at least one of whom is a billionaire. It’s not like you have a big TV deal. It’s kind of like a golf tournament. And when you’re playing golf with your friends, you still need someone to pay for a ball.”
That makes it easier to attract big sponsors, because these are people whom you don’t have to explain the sport to. When you’re a player, it’s like a sport that you know all too well but that you don’t really understand. It’s an awkward sort of love for something you don’t necessarily have a visceral connection to or that you see on television, so you don’t get to know the players.
To be clear, I’ve talked to plenty of people who do think they can make money in their sport, and they’re very aware that they have to justify why they’ve chosen it over others. “It’s about passion,” says Michael Jones. “It’s not about how people perceive me, it’s not about who I’m going to see as the guy who’s going to give me the most money. Money is just one of the things that you need to have.”
That’s just it? If you don’t have money, are you not really playing the game? Why the need to justify the sport to new people?
It’s important that sport fans understand athletes, David says. “They have this ego, I guess it’s a bit of a narcissistic thing. You have to understand that everyone makes it on the day. I’ve met many athletes who have never made a dime, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not capable of making it. I think it gets in the head of some athletes that it’s their job to justify it to everybody, and they have this tendency to put the blame on everybody else for their lack of success. That’s not their fault—I don’t know where it comes from!”
We can only guess. I’ve talked to some athletes who are well-off and have made hundreds of thousands of dollars on the back of their sport. And there’s a belief among some athletes that their sports isn’t about their careers or their individual stories. It’s about the sport itself—about how the
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