Trivia

Hard

In 1960s America, Players In Which Sport Were Radically Better Paid Than Football And Baseball Players?

Bowling
Horse Racing
Soccer
Tennis
A wooden storage rack with bowling balls in it.
Alexsh/Wikimedia

Answer: Bowling

Every year we’re treated to news articles about how much money a promising new baseball rookie will be paid or which country’s GDP the salary of a top earning football player is equal to. Football and baseball are huge American institutions with huge sums of money invested in both.

But it wasn’t so far back in American history that both football and baseball players alike were overshadowed by a sport of a different sort: bowling. In the 1960s heyday of professional bowling, the players working an incredibly competitive circuit were rewarded handsomely. So handsomely in fact that in 1963, Harry Smith, the most compensated bowler in the country, took home the equivalent of a little over half a million dollars, adjusted for inflation, and out earned the National Football League’s MVP player (Y.A. Tittle) and Major League Baseball’s MVP player (Sandy Koufax), combined.

The next year, in 1964, Don Carter—perhaps the best known player in the sport at the time—became the first athlete in any sport to earn a million dollar endorsement when the bowling manufacturer Ebonite bought the rights to produce the bowler’s signature model ball. That endorsement would be worth 8.68 million dollars in today’s money and was hundreds of times higher than the endorsement contracts big names in other fields (like Arnold Palmer in golf and Joe Namath in football) were pulling in.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, however, the broad appeal of bowling diminished and public attention waned. By the 1990s, many of the bowling lanes built during the mid 20th century were shuttered and the days of million dollar endorsements were long gone.

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