Should people make money in professional sports

How professionals turn sport into a profession

Anyone who can call a real hobby their own and even make a living from it can consider themselves lucky. Most people dream in vain all their lives about turning one of their hobbies into a profession and are satisfied with the compromise of pursuing the profession to survive and pursuing the hobby as a balance in their free time.

It is often particularly critical for athletes. In many cases, there is a point in life when the decision must be made between risking the sport as a career, or playing it safe and pursuing a more "ordinary" career. If you are fully ambitious and get the advice from coaches and friends to actually try sports, you have a tough road ahead of you. And even when there is a lot of talent in an athlete, it is not always easy for him. Because the sports industry is tough: Not only does it not infrequently take its toll in the form of physical complaints, even professional athletes often hardly earn enough with pure sport to be able to make a living from it.

The German runner Philipp Pflieger However, one of the few exceptions is - he made it, despite difficult conditions: The young professional sportsman lives from his former hobby and earns his money as a runner. With a marathon best time of 2:12:50 hours, he is one of the best German runners; worldwide, on the other hand, he did not even make it into the top 250 runners in this time. And yet Pflieger can make a living from it without the support of the police or the armed forces.

How exactly life from sport works, what it depends on and what requirements must be met, will be explained in the following.

Earning money with sport - how does it work exactly?

Professional athletes and their meager income

Professional athletes have it all, you might think: they are forced to keep fit and therefore usually look good, are cheered and cheered and often have a lot of fans all over the world who support them. They also make a lot of money too.

With a few exceptions, such as soccer stars, some basketball players and the best boxers in the world, the last point does not apply at all to top athletes. Professional athletes even earn less than € 2,000 gross on average. The medals and flowers and the short-term fame may shine so beautifully, they are not enough for life and therefore do not bring most professional athletes a completely fulfilled life.

In order to be able to continue practicing the sport, many professional athletes even take a part-time job or carry out various activities for often poor pay. A full 40% of the livelihood comes from part-time jobs on average. There is still often support from friends or family; Advertising contracts and sponsorship contracts follow in third place of the most common ancillary income.

Given the meager income of professional athletes, it seems sensible to support high-performance sport with funding systems. However, these are also repeatedly criticized.

Conveyor systems

The largest direct sponsor of German high-performance sport is the state. The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Sport ensures that German athletes are regularly supported - and not too short. It is not uncommon for contributions of up to 200 million euros a year to be contributed. Politicians like to pat each other on the shoulder for this, athletes, on the other hand, are still receiving far too little support and scientists are questioning the entire funding system.

This is what the Federal Interior Minister thinks Thomas de Maizière For reasons of its own, firmly committed to promoting sport: "Top-class sport - despite globalization and despite all marketing agreements and despite everything - is also a piece of patriotism. And a state, even a democratic state, can and may support this. Of course, there are limits. "

These boundaries are apparently drawn at the discretion of the state's benefit of promoting what athletes and coaches like Markus Weise, the former German national coach of hockey women and men, annoys. In his opinion, billions would have to be contributed if one wanted to set it up consistently and systemically. However, "it shouldn't just be about competitive sport [...], but about the entire pyramid. So also grassroots sport, club sport et cetera."

Professor Doctor Arne Güllich, who worked for the German Olympic Sports Confederation for twelve years and is now director of the Institute for Applied Sports Science at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, goes much further with his criticism. He questions funding in general. The way in which the state sponsors does not bring any demonstrable guarantee that the athletes sponsored will develop better.

The Deutsche Sporthilfe Foundation, the second largest direct sponsor of German high-performance sport, seems to be similarly critical of state funding and therefore promotes not only top athletes but also young athletes. The foundation receives almost no state support, but is financed through entrepreneurial activities in fundraising. The Deutsche Sporthilfe Foundation supports around 3800 athletes with donations, grants from curators and sponsors, as well as the proceeds from event and benefit programs (as of 2009).

Earning money with sports and advertising

Since professional athletes can often be not only sporting role models, but also general idols for an entire nation, it makes sense to use them as advertising faces. Just think of Nutella advertisements with German footballers or gym advertisements with famous boxing brothers. The advertising with the athletes is memorable.

If you have no moral concerns, for example, to advertise for companies that are often criticized, such as Nestlé & Co., and thus to drive the sales of their products, you can make a lot of money as an athlete with the right advertising contracts. The practical thing about it is that it doesn't take a lot of talent in modeling: The responsible advertising agencies put even the most clumsy face in the limelight so skillfully that in the end a successful ad or a commercial comes out of it.

In the digital age, the possibility of self-marketing via social platforms is also playing an increasingly important role. In addition to Instagram, Facebook and the like, the video platform YouTube in particular can also be used by many athletes from the fitness and bodybuilding sector to create tips and tutorials for fans and, among other things, to build additional income through product placement or affiliate links in the video descriptions.

The big dream: to win the Olympic Games

The highlight of any sporting career is likely to be participation in the Olympic Games. Winning a medal and, in the best case scenario, standing on the podium is without question a priceless honor. However, there is no big money here either. On the contrary: Without the aforementioned German Sports Aid, there would be nothing. And even this can only provide limited support: athletes up to 8th place are awarded. That 8th place receives 1,500 €, for the 1st place there is at least 20,000 €.

Philipp Pflieger: the young professional and his life as a runner

Have courage and take a risk

Anyone who makes the decision to want to make a living from sport is undeniably taking at least a small risk. Careers often begin before the end of a course of study or even school or an apprenticeship. Catching up on the whole thing is often tedious and costly.

But there is another way, as the example of Philipp Pflieger shows. The 30-year-old German runner says: "All my athletic life I have been looking forward to the moment of taking part in the Olympic Games. Until then, all my big life decisions were influenced by the Olympic dream." And yet he did his Abitur and at least completed a bachelor's degree. Then he took the risk and risked not pursuing a career in politics and media, but one as a professional sportsman. Such a decision is often viewed critically, especially in the social environment. Pflieger's decision has only been socially accepted since he was at the Olympics in Rio.

Turn the hobby "sport" into a profession

Even Pflieger would not have been able to turn his hobby into a career without financial support from various sources. Since he neither wanted to go to a sports promotion group nor to the police, he had to rely on financing his sport himself from the start. On the other hand, he receives support from his association, the LG Telis Finanz Regensburg, as well as other partners such as Adidas and ultraSPORTSwith whom he has entered into advertising contracts.

Pflieger proves like no other that self-initiative is required to develop the person as a brand and face: he himself worked for the well-known advertising and marketing agency Young from Matt reported, was invited to Hamburg for an interview and was able to do so Arne Friedrichs get excited about running and yourself. Since then he has a contract with the Jung von Matt / STARS special department, which also looks after prominent athletes such as Formula 1 drivers Nico Hulkenberg or soccer world champion Benedikt Höwedes cares, and now supports Pflieger in his individual marketing: "The team accompanies me in building a personality brand and achieving my sporting goals. As a professional athlete, I have the opportunity to inspire the public for topics related to running, for example through experts -Interviews, statements on trending topics such as fitness, travel, food and drink, through television appearances [...]. "

The young runner's successes

Pflieger's vita proves that performance also counts and that sporting success increases the chance that agencies and sponsors will pay attention or be convinced. His first national success was in 2009. Here he became German U23 champion over a distance of 5000 m.

This was followed by a win over 10,000 m as German champion in 2012, as German champion in the half marathon in 2015, and as German cross-country champion in 2017. A few other smaller but not insignificant successes have been added since 2009.

The highlight of Pflieger's career, however, was by far the participation in the Olympic Games in Rio 2016: "Rio and the Olympic marathon were an amazing experience. I couldn't have run a second faster that day. I was completely satisfied, but knew afterwards not at first whether I will continue to run at this level. "

Pflieger openly conveys to the outside world that these successes can only be achieved through hard work and the right ingredients. Everyone rightly associates running with four things: health, fitness, success and fun.

The four messages of the professional runner

1. Health

Sports activity and the health of body and mind are mutually dependent. When Pflieger speaks of health as one of the ingredients for a successful life as a runner, he means exactly that. Where a few years ago he would have sacrificed every penny and his health in order to be able to experience the Olympics one day, he thinks differently today and also of what could be in a few years.

This means that sport is extremely important for the cardiovascular system, the metabolism and the muscles and bones, but at some point the point has to come when the brakes have to be pulled. It is not without reason that the world's most famous professional cyclist emphasized Lance Armstrong, that he saw his cancer in retrospect as a drastic sign of his body to shift down a gear in his career.

2. Fitness

No matter what kind of sport it is, most of the time it is not just a specific muscle group but the whole body that is involved in successful exercise. If the musculoskeletal system is generally strengthened, detailed processes of individual muscle groups as well as the effort required with the help of a certain half of the body work better. For this reason, all professional athletes, in addition to their special training, also complete general strength and movement training, or better said: they practice fitness. Runners also regularly complete a strengthening fitness program. The fact that this is now even accepted as an important and independent "sport" in society at large shows, among other things, the increase in members in fitness facilities: McFIT topped the list of fitness providers in Germany as early as 2013 with just under 1.2 million members. In the meantime there are another 200,000 more members, and the trend is still increasing. But what exactly is it that makes training so appealing, or what does the term fitness actually mean?

The sports scientist Dieter Jeschke defined the term in 1991 as follows: Fitness is the "mental and physical performance of a person, which enables him to cope with the diverse mental, spiritual and physical stresses of everyday life, work and leisure time in such a way that not mental and physical fatigue or even exhaustion prevent a further creative way of life. "

Even if Jeschke's definition can still be agreed in principle today, one important thing must be added to the modern concept of fitness, namely the aspect of optimizing the body. While health training is usually aimed at reducing excess weight or compensating for a lack of exercise, fitness training is intended to trim physical and psychological performance to an optimal level (and beyond).

3. Success

General health and fitness, on the other hand, are necessary in order to be able to reap long-term success. With his already mentioned successes, Pflieger serves as the best example of this. But in addition to the sporting successes, this also includes personal successes. Even if Pflieger did not take any of the top places at the Olympic Games, just participating in the competition fulfilled a personal dream. Success is therefore defined at your own discretion and is in turn used as a motivation to continue and try to consolidate sport as a profession.

Of course, success in the search for supporters is also important. If this does not happen for months or even years, it will ultimately be difficult to be able to make a living from sport.

4. fun

The fourth and last point is fun - a not unimportant component. Because if you don't really stand behind the matter with your heart and don't enjoy the hobby all the time, you will experience a drop in performance for better or worse. This often has a particularly severe effect on sport. Because if you doggedly try to provide performance only for money and at some point forget that the whole thing began as a hobby, you will quickly lose the creativity in dealing with new challenges and opportunities, which is essential for this insecure profession.

Running as fulfillment

By turning the hobby of running into a profession, Pflieger seems to have realized himself with it. The life of sport, also financially, is sometimes more decisive than the really big successes in certain competitions. It is more about using voluntary sport as a starting point to find fulfillment in life. Ultimately, this can only be found when health, fitness, financial success and fun come together.

Another example shows that running can also indirectly help people to search for and find fulfillment and self-fulfillment. This is how the Japanese writer, who is also successful in Germany, works Haruki Murakamiin order to be permanently successful in his actual profession, writing. Sport and one's job cannot be separated. And even more - without running, he says, he would probably not be able to carry out his profession as a writer so successfully: "I learned most of myself and writing novels through my daily running training, in a natural, physical, practical. [...] If I hadn't also become a long-distance runner when I became a writer, my works would certainly have been different from my current ones. " (Haruki Murakami: What I mean when I talk about running. Dumont, Cologne 2008, p. 75).

Conclusion: Talent and passion lead to professional success

Philipp Pflieger can serve as a role model not only for all runners, but basically for every single athlete who dreams of turning his hobby into a profession. Because the young German combines the most important characteristics. On the one hand, he has talent and not too little of it - if he weren't one of the best national long-distance runners, he would have even more difficulties making a living from the sport. On the other hand, he knows how to deal with the inevitable, existing difficulties of sport. By running with passion and purposefully pursuing his dream, he automatically embodies the most important qualities that are necessary for successful professional sport.And Pflieger carries this as a message to the outside world by skillfully marketing himself and thus overcoming the difficulties of the funding systems for professional athletes.

If you can muster the courage of Pflieger and have similar skills, are also willing to train hard and sell yourself as a private label, you can try to turn running into a profession. Everyone else should be warned - it will certainly not be an easy and well-rewarded short-distance run.