Rob Jenkins: Big-time sports may be next bubble to burst

In the past few years, the manufacturing bubble has burst, the dot-com bubble has burst, the stock market bubble has burst, the housing bubble has burst, and my own personal dreams-of-retirement bubble has burst. What's next?

How about the big-time sports bubble?

That could never happen, you say. Big-time sports are too popular. People just like them too much.

Yeah, well, some people like their homes a lot, too. They just can't afford them anymore.

Consider that, in 1990, the average NFL player made about $400,000 a year. Today that figure is closer to $2 million. During that same period, NBA average salaries have increased from $575,000 to over $5 million -- about three times the rate of inflation. Coaches' salaries have experienced an even sharper incline.

Now, I don't begrudge anybody his or her salary. I'm not one of those who think it's a crime that pro athletes make more than teachers. It's simply the law of supply and demand: there are a lot more people in the world who can teach English than there are people who can hit 50 homers a year.

I just wonder if we can continue not merely paying people that kind of money but constantly upping the ante, season after season. It seems to me that, at some point, something's got to give.

I mean, where does the money come from? From us, of course. The fans. We ultimately pay those athletes' salaries either by buying tickets or by purchasing products advertised during televised games. Think about it: If we weren't opening our wallets, would advertisers still be willing to cut ginormous checks for 30-second spots?

Unfortunately, people's purchasing power isn't what it used to be. How long before that affects the rates advertisers are willing to pay -- and ultimately the amount of revenue professional sports franchises bring in?

As for attending the games, what has long been a struggle for middle-class families has become a near impossibility. Sure, I'd love to take my boys to a Falcons game, but I can't afford to spend $500 for three hours worth of entertainment. That's enough money to feed two teenagers for a day and a half.

On top of that, we've now seen fans in Los Angeles and Oakland attacked for supporting the wrong team. One guy was beaten nearly to death in front of his kids. Who wants to take his family into that kind of environment?

Listen, I love sports as much as the next guy -- probably more, if the next guy happens to be working on his Boba Fett costume for DragonCon. I just don't think a system in which fans pay ransom-like sums to watch multi-millionaire players with whom they have increasingly less in common can sustain itself indefinitely. Eventually, it's going to implode.

When it does, I'm hoping the Braves can scoop up Ryan Howard for a paltry 5 mill.

Rob Jenkins is a local free lance writer and college professor. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.