A superstar athlete who constitutes the drawing and earning power of a team, manager, etc; theFRANCHISE: with his meal ticket, the Brown Bomber himself(1905+ Sports)
Any person, skill, part of the body, instrument, etc, that provides one's sustenance: His looks are his meal ticket(1902+)
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D. Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers. Cite This Source
Idioms and Phrases with meal ticket
A person or thing depended on as a source of income, as in Magic Johnson was a real meal ticket for his team, or Her interpersonal skills will be her meal ticket when she goes into sales. This metaphoric expression alludes to the earlier practice of handing out tickets that entitle their holder to a meal.
[ Early 1900s