Overpaid or under-worked?

Although salaries of athletes have and will continue to rise every time another free agent “franchise” player hits the market, the 2019 Forbes highest paid athlete list perfectly illustrates some of the issues that I would like to review. 

Sometimes I feel like these players are spoiled brats that get paid ridiculous sums of money for playing games because they won the genetic lottery. Being both a realist and capitalist at heart, I also respect the fact that they are only paid what the market will allow. Good for them.

In boxing, MMA, golf, auto racing, and tennis just to name a few sports, athletes are paid based on their performance each time they compete (endorsements are always higher when they win). 

This seems like a much more justified system to me, but there is no way it will ever happen in the “big four” sports in the USA. The player’s unions are too strong, and the owners are too spineless.

Forbes reported that Floyd Mayweather was the highest paid athlete in 2018/19 earning $285 million. Who says that boxing is dead? 

Soccer’s Lionel Messi was next at $111 million, followed by soccer rival Cristiano Ronaldo at $108 million. I loved playing football, basketball, and baseball as a kid but soccer was not an option in my little town, if it was maybe I’d be super rich right now.

Conor McGregor earned $99 million pummeling and getting pummeled, while Neymar garnered $90 million playing the beautiful game. 

LeBron James topped all other basketball players with $85.5 million, while tennis legend Roger Federer aced $77.2 million. 

Steph Curry scored $76.9 million, and NFL quarterbacks Matt Ryan ($67.3 million), and Matthew Stafford ($59.5 million) rounded out the top ten. Ryan made it to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, but what is Stafford doing in the top ten? 

I am all for professional athletes being rewarded for a lifetime of training and practicing and making sacrifices to get to the top of their sport, but Matthew Stafford? Really?

Not all of this money comes from their salaries of course; Curry, Federer, Lebron and Ronaldo make much more in endorsements than they do playing their respective sports.

Another note of interest to me was that there were no women in the top ten highest compensated athletes. 

The United States Women’s World Cup Soccer team may have some influence in that direction for the 2020 list.

And what about College and Olympic athletes? They make a ton of money for their respective institutions and some get free room and board and if they are lucky (and motivated) some kind of an education for their efforts. It seems to me that they are a little under-compensated based on their contributions. 

Zip Recruiter reported that as of May 30, 2019, the average annual pay for a professional athlete in the United States is $46,528 a year, which is a decent annual salary for most parts of the country and most folks. 

However, the average annual player salary in the sports industry by league in 2018/19 (in million U.S. dollars) according to statista.com paints an entirely different picture, and was a real eye opener for me. 

With each player taking home a handsome $7.77 million every year, the NBA is the professional sports league with the highest average player wages worldwide, yet they only have two players in the top 10. 

It may surprise you that although NBA players take home sky-high wages, there is actually a salary cap in place in the league. This cap limits the total money that teams can spend on their players in order to keep the playing field as level as possible. The salary cap in the 2018/19 season reached almost $102 million per team, a considerable increase from the cap of just over $58 million in the 2012/13 season. Of course the cap can be exceeded by any team, as long as they are willing to pay the “Luxury Tax” that the league imposes on overspending. 

In second place is the Indian Premier League (IPL), an annual cricket competition contested each year between eight franchises representing eight different Indian cities. They pay their players an average of $5.06 million annually. Wow, who knew cricket could be so profitable?

MLB ($4.51 million) is third, the EPL (English Premier League) soccer ($3.94 million) is fourth, and the NFL ($2.91 million) is fifth. La Liga Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División ($2.9 million), commonly known as La Liga is ranked sixth. They are the men’s top professional football (soccer) division of the Spanish football league system.

The NHL ($2.78 million) rounds out the top seven highest average player wage sports.

In hockey, basketball, and baseball most contracts are guaranteed, regardless of player performance.  The only exception is if a player gets cut for cause (violation of team or league rules, not keeping in shape, etc).

NFL players are far more likely to sustain injuries than those in MLB, the NBA, and the NHL combined, yet their contracts are not typically guaranteed.

The average length of an NFL career, according to the Wall Street Journal, is now less than three years. Given football’s inherent violence, the immense physical toll it inflicts, and the ever-shrinking career spans of its participants, the NFL players would seem to be the pro athletes most in need of guaranteed contracts. 

There is absolutely nothing to prevent an agent from negotiating a fully guaranteed salary for an NFL player. It just never happens. NFL players do however get “signing bonuses” which are guaranteed money, as they are “earned” upon signing the contract.  

These bonuses aren’t always paid out in full immediately, but they are the player’s property, and the team must pay out except in very narrow circumstances.

It is fun to talk about all the other aspects of sports besides the scores sometimes. Thanks for letting me vent. 

Contact Charlie Roome at c.roome@winnemuccapublishing.net.