Among the embarrassing revelations in the hacked Sony emails were specific figures regarding salaries of top stars. And the way those numbers are traditionally guarded is interesting, especially if you juxtapose Hollywood’s approach with that of a business which offers significant parallels: the major sports leagues.
Anyone who has paid attention to free-agency signings in pro basketball over recent weeks knows anything and everything about what players are making. LeBron James, who moonlights as an actor (“Trainwreck”) and producer (“Survivor’s Remorse”), opted to stay with Cleveland for $47 million — a strategic two-year pact, giving him flexibility to negotiate a new contract next year. The New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis landed a “max deal” of $145 million over five years, which buys a lot of jambalaya. And so on.
For data-hungry fans and bloviating analysts, all this represents just another part of the game. Player salaries are one more detail to chew over — as in, “They paid that much for that guy, and he turned out to be a stiff?” Or “They have the league’s most expensive bullpen, and they still keep giving up late-inning leads!”
While access to these figures inevitably stokes resentment and criticism among barstool general managers — of management, as well as players — it has done nothing to dampen major sports’ popularity. Indeed, by many key metrics, sports have never been more profitable, with a robust web of ancillary activities built around the tide of free-flowing information, from rotisserie leagues to gambling.
What can Hollywood learn from all this? Not every part of the equation is directly analogous, but quite a lot of it is.
Just as a subset of sports fans hungrily consume any information they can gather, there are entertainment enthusiasts whose curiosity surely extends to the budgets of movies and TV shows, and the fees paid to talent.
Would such viewers derive an extra kick from knowing exactly what HBO is paying for all those big-name “True Detective” stars? Wouldn’t the terms of Ben Affleck’s “Batman v Superman” deal light up an Internet that glows at the mere mention of his name — and thus help amplify the drumbeat for the movie?
There are, obviously, other considerations. Networks and studios have long guarded certain information to prevent being held up for more money — the whole “If Mark Harmon’s getting that, I want this” syndrome. Yet the truth is any agent worth his salt has access to those figures anyway.
Executives don’t want to be embarrassed if an expensive project fails. Some stars, too, would doubtless balk at wanting to see private information published. Yet there’s also a generational component to that, with younger talent in particular already sharing a great deal about their personal lives via social media. Besides, this is an era in which money is often flaunted — where former reality star/mogul Donald Trump can announce, “I’m really rich” as a qualification in his presidential bid.
Like Trump, why be coy? If you’re making “Avatar” sequels, or “John Carter,” why not boast about the gargantuan budget, down to the penny — and say that all of it is going onscreen? After all, you’ll get trashed if it flops regardless, and a hit always looks like a bargain.
As it stands, we know what top executives make — their compensation is detailed in Securities and Exchange Commission filings that outline, for example, the nine-figure bounty Discovery Networks CEO David Zaslav claimed in 2014. But aside from the gee-whiz factor, few people care about suits as much as they do actors, or power forwards.
So maybe Hollywood really can learn something from sports about the game of showbiz — or rather, how to turn entertainment’s version of “Moneyball” into one big game.