The mega-million-dollar contracts of professional athletes have been well documented, and the debate on whether or not these athletes deserve such large wages seems to have no end. If you fall on the side of the argument that's angered by the wages professional athletes collect for "playing a game," then you'll certainly be surprised by the salaries paid to some prominent sportscasters for simply talking about a game. But if you believe that professional sports provides an important outlet for society, then you're likely to also appreciate the importance of having a competent and entertaining sportscaster who can build excitement in a sport and become as much of a draw for fans as the athletes are. Television networks understand the difference a sportscaster can make in the ratings, and that's why these sportscasters can draw million-dollar contracts that exceed the earnings of many of the players they comment on. (For more on pro sports, read Top 4 TV Sports Deals Of 2011.)
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Maybe the most famous sports commentator of all time, Howard Cosell had the ability to captivate, titillate and infuriate his audience. By 1954, Cosell had built an established law practice that earned him $30,000 a year. But when an opportunity to do interviews for ABC Radio came about that same year, Cosell seized the chance to work in sportscasting and gave up his practice in favor of a below-scale wage of $250 per week. While that initial pay cut was substantial, Cosell more than made up for the income later in his career. By 1985, ABC was paying Cosell $20,000 for each baseball game he broadcast, or just over $42,000 in 2011 dollars. Cosell solidified his status as an American icon by doing the play-by-play for ABC's Monday Night Football from 1970 to 1983, but his infamous arrogance and controversial opinions on the Vietnam War and the corruption in boxing made him despised by many. In the late 1970s, TV Guide conducted a poll to find America's most and least loved sportscasters … Cosell won both titles. Clearly, public opinion was divided on Cosell, but his self-esteem remained intact, as evidenced in his testimony to a Senate Subcommittee in 1986, "I'm a unique personality who has had more impact upon sports broadcasting in America than any person who has yet lived." At least he left the possibility of being usurped one day.
He's loud, passionate, politically incorrect and one look at his flashy suits lets everyone know he has either immense confidence or severe insanity. Either way, Canadians still voted him in as the seventh-greatest Canadian of all time, beating out Wayne Gretzky and Alexander Graham Bell in the voting. The former coach of the Boston Bruins became a national icon as a commentator on the "Hockey Night In Canada" intermission-segment, "Coach's Corner," in which Cherry passionately opines on all things hockey and Canada, while his co-host/moderator, Ron MacLean, works to keep Cherry's rants on track and provide cogent counter-points to Cherry's antagonistic views. Despite (or maybe because of) his knack for offending many viewers, the "Coach's Corner" segment is an anomaly in the sports world, as it is the only intermission/half-time show that receives higher ratings than the game does. Cherry truly is larger than hockey and the NHL, and The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation pays steeply to keep his services. Although the terms of Cherry's latest contract were not disclosed, it's believed that he received a raise over his previous $700,000 per year contract. (To learn more about sports, see Which Pro Athletes Work The Hardest?)
One of the most recognized voices in basketball, Marv Albert has been broadcasting NBA games for over four decades. In addition to his work for the NBA, Marv was also the voice of the New York Rangers for 39 years. Most recently, Marv has been hired by CBS sports to broadcast football. With the exception of a "biting" sex scandal, Albert may be best known for his signature catch phrase – "YESSS!" Albert reportedly earned about $1 million per year for doing local broadcasts of the New York Knicks, so it's safe to assume he's making much more than that for nationally broadcasting America's most popular league – the NFL.
As a former NFL coach - and the namesake of one of the most popular video games of all time – John Madden's opinion is well-respected by football fans. His big voice and bigger persona make him a valuable commodity for marketing the NFL. Video game maker EA Sports paid Madden $150 million to use his name and likeness to sell its popular football game. In 2003, Madden accepted a $5-million-per-year contract to call "Monday Night Football" games with ABC. That salary is enough to put Madden up at the top end of his pay scale for his profession, but that contract doesn't compare to the $15-million-per-year contract extension that he turned down from FOX in favor of the ABC gig. As a veteran sportscaster, Madden was more eager to call the NFL's premiere matchup each week than he was to give a jolt to his $200 million net worth. Madden retired from the broadcast booth in 2009, but EA Sports continues to brand its football franchise with the "Madden" name.
The Bottom Line
Doctors save lives, teachers shape our society's future, soldiers defend our freedom, and they're all paid less than John Madden was to tell us how the Cowboy's defense stacks up against the Giant's offense. But, until a colonoscopy exam, trigonometry lesson or boot camp can sell out Cowboy Stadium, we have to accept that professional sports have the unique ability to generate tremendous revenues, and the people tasked with announcing and analyzing the top sports have a right to an enviable share of those profits. (For more on non-athlete related contracts in pro sports, read 5 Top-Paid Sports Commissioners.)