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Better Looking Athletes Get Better Pay?

Monday, 15 Sep 2008 | 10:49 AM ET
Wages of Wins
Wages of Wins

Sports economist David Berri, author of the blog “Wages of Wins”and a book by the same name, had an interesting article in the New York Times’ Play Magazine this weekend.

Berri and two other economists essentially discovered that better-looking quarterbacks make more money. The idea isn’t new. For years, economists have been saying that better looking people make more money with as much as a 15 percent difference in pay between the best looking and worse looking person doing essentially the same job.

Berri and his cohorts looked at all the usual factors that determine player pay and used a computer program to determine symmetry of face. Berri told me that these types of programs are used by plastic surgeons to quantify what they can do to make people more attractive – the idea being that the more symmetrical a player’s face is, the more attractive he is deemed to be.

In his article, Berri mentioned Kerry Collins and Charlie Frye as having earned more because of their good looks, while Jeff George and Neil O’Donnell got paid less because they were, to put it nicely, less symmetrical.

Berri told me that the impact of being good looking is small compared to overall pay. “A substantial change in symmetry only leads to about a $300,000 change in salary,” Berri said. “Performance is still the biggest factor in determining play. If you look good, but can’t play, you’re not going to get much money. But if you have two quarterbacks who are equally effective, the better looking quarterback will get a bit more pay.”

I asked Berri to give me more names. He didn’t want to give me the "ugly" ones out of respect for them, but he did say that Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Hasselback, Vince Young and Ben Roethlisberger all scored high on symmetry.

Berri noted that being good looking has a larger impact on pay on the lowest paid quarterbacks, like backups, who might get a bigger bump from their looks.

But I’m interested in looking at the starters.

There might be some inequality in the workplace if a better-looking person is making, say, 10 percent more than a person doing the same job who isn’t attractive. But I think that paying a better-looking quarterback a couple hundred thousand dollars more might actually be justified in the sports landscape.

If a better looking quarterback is more likely, assuming all else is equal, to get more endorsement deals, don’t you think there’s a value to the guy under the helmet looking like Tom Brady instead of Cyclops? The NFL says that more than 40 percent of the league is made up of fans that are women. Not to say that all women care about a quarterback’s attractiveness, there are many that don't, but there is proof that attractiveness does have value.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselback was deemed by Berri’s team as the seventh most attractive quarterback out of the 191 quarterbacks they analyzed. Hasselback was the 20th best selling women’s jersey on NFLShop.com from April 1-Aug. 31. But he was not in the top 25 on the regular jersey (men’s) list.

The biggest disparity between the men’s and women’s jersey list was Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor. Berri’s team did not analyze Taylor’s looks, but he was named to People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People this year. Taylor ranked No. 7 on the women’s jersey list, while he ranked No. 25 on the men’s list.

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So although a good looking player could cost a bit more that player might actually be worth it.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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