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Fifty percent off the top, and another fifty off the bottom.

Your Humble Blogger has a question: for a sporting event, what percentage of ticket money do you think should go to the players on the field (or court or grid or rink or pitch or whatever)? For a symphony, what percentage seems reasonable for the musicians? For a rock concert? A play? A dance performance? An opera? At what level do you start to feel that you are being ripped off, or that the performers are being exploited, or just that somebody is taking too big a cut somewhere?

The answer for me is that I have no idea, and of course that it’s got to be different at different places. Ownership or management has a lot of overhead (the building, advertising, security, backstage/support, etc, etc), and I have no way of knowing what any of those costs are to begin with, let alone relative to the cost of tickets. But at a gut level, I would like to think of something like two-thirds going to the performers. Just as a sense that what I am going to see is the performance (whether it’s an artistic performance or an athletic performance), and that everything else should be feeding in to that. I would be willing to include the writer/composer in the group of performers, certainly, for works that are paying royalties, of course. And I would include in the two-thirds various expenditures on top of salaries that go to the performers: the weight room for the athletes, for instance, is a benefit, as is a health care plan and a pension and so on and so forth. Would I count the pay of the medical care professional in attendance in that two-thirds? Actually, I’m told that in professional dance companies it’s not unusual for a member of the chorus to also be the medical care attendant, getting a bonus rather than a second salary.

Actually, of course, in the two instances where Your Humble Blogger was paid as an actor, I have no idea what the take of the theater was or what the total spent on the performers was. For all the other shows, they were clearly labeled as volunteer community productions, so ticket buyers knew that going in. It makes a difference, there. But for a professional performance, or a professional sports match?

I am bringing it up, of course, because of the end of the NBA Lockout, with the athletes agreeing to reduce their collective take to half. That seems very low to me. But I have been seeing other arts-labor stories recently, at the Philadelphia Orchestra and at MOCA as well.

And, of course, there’s the larger issue in general, where a person might wonder what percentage of the money he spends on, for instance, an mp3 player or a book or a steak go to the people who make the thing—but the question of what we mean by making a thing is really complicated for most things. It’s somewhat less so for a performance of Mahler’s First, or when the Knicks play the Sixers, or at least that’s how it seems to me.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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