With Fans Like These…

by Russ Roberts on March 27, 2006

in Sports

Bjorn Borg was going to auction off his five Wimbledon trophies but has changed his mind. The Associated Press, via ESPN reports:

   The Swedish great, the only player to win five straight
Wimbledon titles, changed his mind after pleas from his fans,
London auction house Bonhams said Monday.

   Borg had announced earlier this month he would sell his trophies
and two of his title-winning wood rackets in order to achieve
"financial security."

   "After great consideration and reasoning, I have decided that I
will never sell my Wimbledon trophies and rackets and I have
withdrawn them from sale," Borg said in a statement.

   "Trophies of this kind have a meaning that goes beyond my
comprehension of the victories, as they emphasize the bond between
me as a player and all the people, family, friends and fans that
have stood behind me through the years — people that have my love
and respect," he added.

   Andre Agassi and other players urged Borg not to sell the
trophies.

Do the fans really care whether Borg has the trophies rather than some collector? It’s hard to understand. Wouldn’t a fan prefer that Borg be financially comfortable? Maybe there’s another explanation:

   Borg won all of his Wimbledon titles between 1976 and 1980. The
silver gilt trophies had been expected to fetch anywhere from
$350,000 to $525,000.

   Since his career ended, Borg has had several failed financial
ventures. He fought hard to avoid bankruptcy after a company that
marketed clothing bearing his name ran into deep financial trouble
in 1990 and was restructured.

Would the bond between Borg and his fans really be severed if someone else had his trophies? My guess is that the actual amounts the trophies would have fetched turned out to be dramatically smaller than originally anticipated. Better to be poor and proud than poor and ashamed that no one values your trophies.

Or maybe Borg was shamed into withdrawing the trophies after Andre Agassi spoke of trying to put together a "consortium" (a fancy word that simply means that Agassi didn’t want to come up with all the money himself) to buy the trophies:

"I think there’s a lot of people who could step up to help for sure — Wimbledon being one and myself another."

In
a statement, the 50-year-old Borg said he had decided to put the items
up for auction because he and his family need long-term financial
security.

Agassi, who won the 1992 Wimbledon title, was saddened by the news.

"It’s
not right," he said. "The only way you should have a Wimbledon trophy
is if you win it, not buy one. I can’t make any judgements on Bjorn,
but I can say that the thought of a Wimbledon trophy being in the hands
of somebody who has a lot of money is upsetting. Wimbledon is the
greatest tournament in the world."

Agassi said he wants to ensure
the trophies stay in tennis. The 35-year-old wouldn’t reveal who he is
working with, but did say he’d like to see them put in a museum.

"I
think it would be amazing for the fans of tennis to be able to see
them," Agassi said. "But first things first. I’d like to see the sport
come together to figure out a way to make sure they don’t get into the
wrong hands."

I don’t understand this at all. Why would anyone care who has the trophies? Its not like anyone is going to think that the highest bidder actually won them rather than bought them.

So now the trophies stay in the "right hands"—Borg’s. They’re just poorer hands than they otherwise might have been.

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{ 7 comments }

Aaron Krowne March 27, 2006 at 5:23 pm

Value is a slippery thing.

The trophy, being rare, has value to collectors. But it also has sentimental value to the person who won it.

I think the latter kind of value is key to what Agassi is saying when he says it should stay with the victor, or at least, with the sport. It has maximal sentimental value when its winner keeps it–as if the value is based on some (winner, trophy) pair. Failing that, if it stays in the sport, it will have higher value than if it just ends up in some collector's curio case.

I'm not saying I agree, but I postuate that such sentimental value exists, as does an "altruistic" recognition of it by fans and other players of the sport–which explains their actions.

liberty March 27, 2006 at 6:38 pm

Europeans are just too poor to do the right thing – make sure that the winner of the trophy doesn't *need* to sell it.

Ever heard of a NFL football player needing to sell his Superbowl rings? Sure, some squander their millions especially if they only had a few seasons, but this guy sounds *really poor*, like he never made millions – and the clothing company couldn't even stay above water… yet Wimbledon is their NFL, almost. Between their "football" and tennis, most sports fans are satisfied.

Yet, they actually complain that we over-pay our atheletes. They probably have salary caps, to keep the sport "honest" and make it about the game not the pay. Then, because the salary cap was s low, the atheletes try to sell the trophy – and then they are put to shame for that.

For some people money is nothing – but its usually that way for those who already have plenty.

Barbar March 27, 2006 at 6:52 pm

Is liberty's comment a parody? Hilarious. "They probably have salary caps"? In America, professional basketball, football, and hockey all have salary caps — unfairly IMO, but Europe-bashing based on the fact that Bjorn Borg has lost a lot of money in business is simply bizarre. Did you know that JR Richards was homeless in the 1990's, or that Mike Tyson filed for bankruptcy? Clearly boxing and baseball have been ruined by socialism.

When Borg retired, he had won more prize money than other tennis player ever.

sourav March 28, 2006 at 3:10 am

This is much ado about nothing. It's not that the fans would rather Borg remain broke, but simply that it's a shame that the only way to raise money is by selling something of such great sentimental value. Not just to Borg, but to the fans who want the symbols of victory to remain with the champ.

liberty March 28, 2006 at 6:46 pm

Barbar, the salary caps (which should not exist) in American football are in the multi-millions. Mike Tyson (and yes, I did point out that they have gone broke when I said "some squander their millions") and others who went bankrupt did so out of stupidity. Did this tennis guy make millions and lose it, or did they set low price caps? Giving athletes prizes without the money lends itself to athletes who sell their prizes.

Todd March 29, 2006 at 10:17 am

>Do the fans really care whether Borg has the trophies rather than some collector?
>It's hard to understand. Wouldn't a fan prefer that Borg be financially comfortable?

You seem to think the point of awarding a prize to the Wimbledon champion is to provide financial comfort. In that case, why do they bother offering a trophy at all? They could just raise the cash prize by the amount it costs to procure the trophies.

The trophy acts as a symbol of the significance of the achievement. The players, the tournament organizers, and the fans have invested large portions of their lives in the sport of tennis. One reward for that investment is a relationship to a meaningful event. When the champion decides to sell the embodiment of that meaning, it appears to diminish the worth of the time, money, and passion that we have all spent on tennis. It's not surprising at all that the fans, players, and financial backers would want to preserve the value of their investment.

Barbar March 31, 2006 at 7:01 pm

liberty, Bjorn Borg won $3.6 million during his playing career, more than any other tennis player before him. He retired at age 26, and then attempted an unsuccessful comeback in his late 30s. This is not classified information, it is available to anyone with an internet connection. Have you heard of Google and Wikipedia, they are great cutting-edge resources.

Whether or not there are salary limitations in tennis is an easily researched empirical question. If you really wondered about it, it would take about three seconds to find out the truth. Instead, you say that Europeans "probably have salary caps" and then give them a lecture as if they actually do. Ridiculous.

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