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Players


The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution

By: Matthew Futterman

ISBN:  9781476716954

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

Publication Date:  4/26/2016

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 4 Stars

 

For fans of Michael Lewis, the astounding untold story of how professional sports transformed, in the span of a single generation, from a cottage industry into a massive global business.

 

In the cash-soaked world of contemporary sports, where every season brings news of higher salaries, endorsement deals, and television contracts, it is mind-boggling to remember that as recently as the 1970s elite athletes earned so little money that many were forced to work second jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. Roger Staubach, for example, made only $25,000 in his first season as the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and wound up selling commercial real estate in the summer. Today, when Fortune reports that every athlete on its Top 50 list makes more than twenty million dollars per year, it’s clear that a complete reversal of power occurred under our eyes.

 

Players is the first book to chronicle the astonishing business story behind modern sports—a true revolution that moved the athletes from the bottom of the financial pyramid to the top. It started in 1960, when a Cleveland lawyer named Mark McCormack convinced a golfer named Arnold Palmer to sign with him. Within a few years, McCormack raised Palmer’s annual income off-the-course from $5,000 to $500,000 and forever changed the landscape of the sports industry. Futterman introduces a wide-ranging cast of characters to tell the story of athletes, agents, TV executives, coaches, and owners who together created the dominating and multifaceted industry we know today.

 

Players is a riveting, fly-on-the-wall account of the creation and rise of the modern sports world, and the people who fought to make it happen. From landmark moments such as the 1973 Wimbledon boycott and baseball pitcher Catfish Hunter’s battle to become MLB’s first free agent to the outsize influence of companies like IMG, Nike, and ESPN, this fascinating book details the wild evolution of sports into the extravaganza we experience today, and the inevitable trade-offs those changes have wrought.

 

 

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My Review

 

A special thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Bold impressive cover!

Matthew Futterman, a senior special writer for sports with theWall Street Journal; who better to tell readers of this incredible journey PLAYERS, The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution --a well-researched, gripping and insightful look at big business- American professional sports industry. 

From the fifties to the essential shift in the 1960s, with the first eight decades of the twentieth century—a profession largely one of exploitation—to its driving force today. How we arrived. 

Timely, and newsworthy, a story of sports, history, revenues, power, money, greed—those courageous individuals who helped make the rise of modern sports, and its transformation to today. A wide-ranging cast of characters, from athletes, agents, TV executives, and league officials who together created the dominating and multifaceted sports industry. 

Futterman delves into the history as far back as Mark McCormack with his simple ideas. "Sports stars were about athletes." They needed gasoline to make them go. People wanted to connect with them. They were a salable commodity that was being undervalued, and by doing so, the industry was preventing these athletes and the sports from being as good as they could be. They were being held back in so many areas.

McCormack wasn’t about just higher salaries for athletes. He wanted to uncover ways to enrich the clients he represented. His philosophy was about creating an environment where television networks could give fans the convenience of watching competitions, from all over the world, in the comfort of their homes. 

More control and freedom-leaving athletes more time for training, ultimately improving quality of the competition—more valuable to the industry as a whole as well as the entertainment industry. More from leagues and event organizers to invest in the experience for fans, stadiums, arenas, and be able to charge higher prices. He was determined to make life better for everyone. 

The first part of the book is focused on Mark McCormack, (the man who invented sports), a Cleveland lawyer who moved into the full time sport agent, starting with Arnold Palmer, with much success. (my favorite part). For those who are fans, and history buffs, will enjoy the nostalgia, back as early as the late fifties. Being a Georgia girl, enjoyed the connection in Atlanta. 

Readers also learn of McCormack’s childhood; two loves: golf and making money—which I found fascinating. He desired a way to combine them. Using his experience, he could represent a professional golfer the same way as he represented other clients. We learn how this came about with a simple handshake, the legend- and an integral part in changing the history of sports and its players.

We also learn about Roger Staubach, (Henry S. Miller --being from a commercial real estate media background, Staubach, now Jones Lang LaSalle-a former client of mine). A success story-Staubach joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1969 as a 27-year-old rookie with a salary of $25,000. In comparison to a quarterback today making $18 million a year! 

From Palmer and golf to baseball pitcher James “Catfish” Hunter. Where the name meant something. The image sells. From the challenges, the ups and downs, politics to McCormack’s death in 2003. 

Beyond the numbers, the lesson he taught the world’s greatest athletes and the corporations—they represented the essence of sports. They needed to be empowered. By empowering them, he allowed them to transform modern sports. He set into motion, a path which continues today.

From here we shift into baseball, tennis, soccer, basketball and football. From Olympics, endorsements, contracts, media, royalties, Nike, IMG, ESPN, NFL, and networks--to the big business of Major League sports today—from athletes, greed, and power. 

As Futterman reiterates, money in sports isn’t on its own, a bad thing. But when money becomes the motivating goal and main purpose in sports-- a bad thing. When a player whose sneaker contracts is more important than his team’s win total, and therefore bad for an owner or a league whose teams become little than a commodity to be traded for a big-pay television contract. From enablers, handlers, corporate sponsors—anyone in the position of power—exploitation. 

What about the fans who have sustained the industry for a century and a half—the ability to enjoy the games the love and the athletes they admire without getting ripped off, lied to, or insulted by either the athletes, who play the sports or the people who run them. A fan’s love of sports is precious, unique, and not something to be trifled with, or used as a tool. 

PLAYERS A "must read" for all sport enthusiasts, from a writer with the credentials and expertise to tell the "insider (behind the scenes)" story--- from entertainment business, media, historic, financial, economics; interviews, research, to exclusive and engaging content!

"An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head." -Emil Zatopek 1952 Olympic Champion 

 

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Advance Praise 

 

“Could not be more timely . . . No part of the media and entertainment industry has seen a more substantial economic transformation than sports. . . . Mr. Futterman, a sportswriter for The Wall Street Journal, takes us on a half-century tour spanning a variety of widely recognized and lesser-known sports figures and competitions that have played roles in the industry’s development.” 
—New York Times

 

“The business of sports has been completely transformed over the course of my lifetime, and Players is a riveting behind-the-scenes look at the beginnings of that revolution. I couldn’t put it down.” 
—Billy Beane

 

“Finally we have the full story of business and sports, told with a mastery that only a writer of Matthew Futterman’s years of experience in both fields could bring to the table. As I read Players I was reminded of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball because it’s one of those great stories that’s been hiding in plain sight, and it also shows us how the games themselves were changed by the action off the field. Anybody with an interest in money or sports will devour this book.” 
—Jim Nantz

 

“Sports is big business. We all know that today, but how and why did football, baseball, basketball, and the Olympics become so big? And what does that mean to athletes and fans? Matthew Futterman provides the answers in this revealing and wonderfully readable book. Players is a winner.”
—David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered, Clemente, and Rome 1960 

 

“The magnitude by which athletes have become bigger, faster, and stronger is dwarfed by the degree to which they have become richer. Players is a deeply reported expose of the forces that have so often morphed sports from pure fun into pure business. It’s a fascinating read whether you’re interested in big time sports, big time business, or the intersection of the two.” 
—David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene

 

“A smart, rollicking read about the business of sports, with fresh insight into the breathtaking financial boom that has revolutionized every sport we love and every game we watch. Populated with the boldest pioneers, from Mark McCormack and Arnold Palmer to George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller, Players is a landmark book that will be consulted, and cherished, for years.” 
—Don Van Natta Jr., ESPN investigative reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner, and New York Times bestselling author of First Off the Tee, Wonder Girl and coauthor of Her Way

 

“Fascinating . . . Insightful . . . Despite the multiple sports explored and the large cast of characters, Futterman develops his theme seamlessly in a book that will appeal to casual fans as well as those who live and die according to the accomplishments of athletes.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 

“An indispensable volume . . . Smart, insightful, and pleasantly opinionated.” 
—Publishers Weekly

 

“An insightful, reader-friendly study of the economic transformation of pro sports in America and beyond.” 
—Booklist

 

 

About the Author

 

Matthew Futterman is a senior special writer for sports with The Wall Street Journal. He has previously worked for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Star-Ledger of New Jersey, where he was a part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News in 2005. He lives in New York with his wife and children.  Read More    Twitter 

 

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