Sports in the 1970s was very big business. Television had reshaped the sports industry in the decade before, and now the businessmen went to work to exploit their market. Football, baseball, basketball, boxing, auto racing, golf, and tennis were where the sports entertainment money was, and by the end of the 1970s top athletes demanded as much as a million dollars a year to perform. But their earning capacity did not come without a fight.
Traditionally in team sports athletes had been considered property whose value lay with a team owner or manager who could market their skills. Base-ball, football, and basketball players belonged to the teams that drafted them, and players could be traded at the owners' discretion. As the stakes increased in the 1960s players began to agitate for some freedom. They realized they were not property, they were commodities, and they should have the right to market themselves to team owners at auctions to realize their highest value. Before 1970 only a handful of athletes made over $100,000 a year. By the end of the decade hundreds did, and the stars made much more because the marketplace for athletes had been opened to the highest bidder. Base-ball player Pete Rose took advantage of free agency to get a contract that reportedly paid him $1 million a year in 1979. The average...
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