Why I Should Have Been an Athlete

10 May 2012

I thought I would take a moment to step back from the political debates and instead discuss a different view of our economy, that of professional athlete salaries. Firstly I must state that they are quite hard to compare as there are multiple viewpoints (minimum guarantee, median or average, endorsements, etc) to ponder. Nonetheless, I decided to go with the blunt approach of purely looking at the average salary for largest five major league sports in the United States.

Starting from the bottom, the lowest paying should not be a surprise to anyone: Major League Soccer (MLS). While Beckham may be making a cool $5mil a year as he enters his retirement, the average player makes just over $110,000. Now remembering that we are discussing the lowest paid professional sport, it is sad to state that the average player are immediately in the top 13% of United State salaries (average salary $47,000). Additionally, MLS players are the only sport where the average salary is less than that of the President of the United States.

Next we move to the second lowest paid sport, the National Football League (NFL) at $1.9mil. This may come as a major shock seeing that the NFL is the most watched and highest grossing sport in the country. While this number has taken a recent jump over the past year (see: new bargaining agreement), this number is held quite low primarily because of two factors. Firstly, NFL contracts are very top heavy with quarterbacks making salaries over 15 times the average, but only making up 4% of payroll players (Occupy NFL?). Secondly, the NFL employes one of the hardest salary caps in world, both creating parity amongst teams and lower salaries to allow for more diverse rosters. Nonetheless, the NFL shocking comes in at 4th even with revenue larger than the GDP of the Bahamas ($9bil).

The middle of the pack with an average salary of $2.4mil is the National Hockey League (NHL). While there are few interesting facts when it comes to the NHL salary, due to the fact that is also very regulated by the use of a salary cap by the league, it too has its quirks. The NHL measures all cap and revenue in US dollars but salaries in local currency; the only league to do so with teams in multiple countries. While this would seem inconsequential, during the 2009-10 season when the US dollar was wilding fluctuating Canadian teams were actually able to “save” money. This is due to the fact that when the US dollar lost $0.07 of value to the Canadian dollar, a $1mil salary would save a Canadian team $30,000 of cap room because of the conversion. You wonder if during the last lockout when they were fighting over sharing of revenue, this interesting quirk ever came up in discussion.

Jumping in at number two is Major League Baseball (MLB) with an average salary of $3.31mil per year. Baseball is one of the hardest sports to peg simply because of the massive disparity between teams, spanning from $6.2mil (Yankees) to $1.9mil (Padres). Every year the argument arises whether or not baseball needs to introduce a salary cap to level the playing field for smaller teams to have a chance to compete. The proponents of a salary cap do have an argument seeing that in the past five years the top-5 salaried teams in MLB have only missed the playoffs 3 times, combined. Nonetheless, seeing that this is “America’s Game”, clearly buying your way to winning is completely legal and shall be deemed ‘appropriate’.

Finally we have reached the crown of profession sports money, rolling in with a smooth average $5.15mil, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is the average highest paid professional athletes. The NBA is full of ridiculous numbers when it comes to salaries, including 5 of the top-10 highest paid athletes in the United States, all making over $20mil a year. Additionally, while the NBA is a salary capped league, it is considered a ‘soft cap’ with over 33 different exception and exemptions that teams can apply for. Because of all of these crazy numbers, it is not surprising this recent season was shortened because of revenue issues. Nor should it be surprising that NBA players are apparently asking to be paid to play in the Olympics. *gag*

So there you have it, the five major sports leagues ranked by average salary. Were any of them surprising to you? If not the order, then it must surprise you of the numbers that are involved. While being a professional athlete does take a large amount of time and skill, do they deserve the millions and millions of dollars. Just think, the average NBA player makes 147 times as much money as the average teacher. Which one is making a bigger impact on our lives?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tracy_olson/61056391/

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