The Commercialization of Amateur Sports


Jared Weidner, Sports Editor

Professional sports are all about the game and the thrill of competition, but make no mistake–it is also a business which has always been about the money. Companies and teams use the star power of their athletes to sell products, while pro players make millions of dollars through endorsements. However, commercialization has moved down the food chain into the college, high school, and amateur levels.

So the question is: should non-professional sports be so heavily commercialized?

In 2014, players on Northwestern University’s football team called for the creation of a union that would allow them to have a say on policies involving safety issues, revenue sharing, and scholarships. Many of their supporters believed that college sports players were making millions of dollars for their schools, getting little to no compensation in return. The National Labor Relations Board, which manages relations between companies and their employees, decided the case.

In 2015, the NLRB decided that the football players could not form a union because they are students of the university before they are athletes. The NLRB also justified their decision by stating that they can’t enforce the decision on the numerous public universities who are not within the jurisdiction of the NLRB.

However, this decision was criticized by some who believed that the NCAA was simply trying to protect its monetary interests from the possible threat of a union.

The changes that occurred in the NCAA during the 1980s profoundly affected the current problems involving commercialization along with the Northwestern decision. The NCAA began to lose power over the enforcement of amateurism due to calls for less regulations from many sports teams, specifically the college football teams who were threatening to sign a contract with NBC so that they could gain revenue for themselves instead of receiving their money through the NCAA.

When the NCAA threatened sanctions, the schools responded with an antitrust suit. The schools won out, winning the right to sell their games freely with no restrictions. Big teams no longer had to split their earned revenue with smaller schools. This opened the door for commercialization in college sports.

With the football teams able to freely market and sell what they wanted, companies could now easily make deals with teams. This decision also changed the NCAA in a profound way. Seeing that their authority was not valid, the NCAA now attempted to mediate network and sponsorship deals in order to keep their own revenue streams. These two major actions are a big reason so much commercialization is so prevalent in college sports nowadays.

Even in professional sports where athletes are paid to excel, there is an influx of commercialization. Sports games, such as football and basketball, have drawn out the length of their games with commercial breaks throughout the game and advertisements surrounding the stadium.

The business of sports continues down to the high school and competitive level, with schools and competitive teams seen wearing specific uniforms in exchange for a sponsorship.

Athletes themselves are not spared from being commercialized, either. Their likeness becomes a tool for companies to advertise and gain revenue. They become celebrities in their own right, more well-known for their brands and commercials than their actual playing ability, with their marketability and brands outlasting the careers of said players.

Overall, the problems that affect the NCAA today are byproducts of past decisions that lead to a change in the regulation of amateurism. These changes, brought on by protests from college teams that wished for greater wealth, simultaneously allowed corporations to funnel money through the less-regulated programs. This has arguably led to greater wealth for the companies and schools at the possible cost of the student-athlete.