The sports headlines are often dominated with details of footballer transfers and signings. Included in these news articles is usually an insight into the cost for such players.
There is, without a doubt, big money in the world of professional football. But figures such as that got us wondering about the income that sportspeople make. It may be obvious that different sportsmen and women get different salaries.
A top-grade footballer is likely to earn more than a volleyball player, for example. But what exactly are the sports that are the highest earning? And which ones are at the lower end of the scale for earnings?
Here, we’re going to take a look at the different professional sports and see which ones fall in line where. Sports isn’t all about money for many people. Could you see a cricketer adjusting to playing rugby because of a higher potential pay? It’s not very likely. But for others, it could be the difference maker.
Highest Paid Sports in the World
|Highest Paid Sports||Average Salary||Highest Paid Player (Per Year)|
|Basketball||£4.2 million||Stephen Curry – £43.1 million|
|Baseball||£3.3 million||Max Scherzer – £37.3 million|
|Ice Hockey||£2.22 million||Connor McDavid – £12.5 million|
|American Football||£1.7 million||Aaron Rodgers – £50.3 million|
|Football||£1.37 million||Cristiano Ronaldo – £26.8 million|
Professional athletes make significant sums from playing sports. Yet they also garner income from sponsorship deals that they take part in.
Their sporting contracts can often be multimillion pound deals over several years. And while they likely don’t sign on the dotted line just because of the salary, it is no doubt considered. If the pay they will receive isn’t good enough, then it’s going to be a deciding factor.
Here are some of the highest paid sports in the world today:
Premier League Football
England’s Premier League serves as one of, if not the, most popular football league in the world. And while referenced here, the top-tier leagues from many countries are the same. Thus, you can consider La Liga of Spain, Ligue 1 from France, the Bundesliga in Germany, and so on as similar entities. You only need to consider Premier League team Manchester United for confirmation. The team’s yearly revenue has increased little by little in recent times. Today, it is the most valuable football club around the globe. It generated more than £715 million in revenue in 2018.
Last season, Manchester United spent £232 million on player wages. That’s the highest within the Premier League. The team let go some big names and signed some new footballers to contracts. Even before last season came to an end, the team manager was making big bucks. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s weekly wage was around £177,000. Not bad for the man who stands a the side of the pitch looking nervous and yelling insightful tactics.
Before the 2019-20 season, Manchester United created a new deal for David de Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper managed to secure a four-year contract for £300,000 per week. The 2022-23 payroll for the team features these high earners:
- Cristiano Ronaldo –Weekly Salary: £515,385 (Annual Salary: £26,800,000)
- David de Gea – Weekly Salary: £375,000 (Annual Salary: £19,500,000)
- Jadon Sancho – Weekly Salary: £350,000 (Annual Salary: 18,200,000)
- Raphael Varane – Weekly Salary: £340,000 (Annual Salary: £17,680,000)
- Carlos Casimiro – Weekly Salary: £300,000 (Annual Salary: £15,600,000)
- Anthony Martial – Weekly Salary: £250,000 (Annual Salary: £13,000,000)
- Bruno Fernandes – Weekly Salary: £240,000 (Annual Salary: £12,480,000)
- Marcus Rashford – Weekly Salary: £200,000 (Annual Salary: £10,400,000)
While Premier League football may be the most popular in the world, there is more money in the NFL. American football has been garnering more interest from people. And the salaries of players reflect this. If it had a bigger geographic spread, then the amount of money in the sport would likely be even higher. Wider global popularity means bigger sponsorship deals in most instances. More teams exist in the NFL than in many other sports. And with 11 players on a team, this can affect the average salary.
A large part of the money involved in American football is set aside for player salaries. Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans signed a four-year deal in 2020 for $118 million (£102 million). He was number 70 on The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list in 2020. His base salary per year is $29 million (£25 million). And that’s before you consider any kind of income from sponsorship deals.
The top 5 American football players in relation to base salary for 2022 are:
- Ryan Tannehill – Quarterback, Tennessee Titans: $29,000,000 (£25,000,000)
- T.J. Watt – Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers: $24,000,000 (£20,500,000)
- Lamar Jackson – Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens: $23,016,000 (£19,800,000)
- Carson Wentz – Quarterback, Washington Commanders: $22,000,001 (£18,950,000)
- Joey Bosa – Outside Linebacker, Los Angeles Chargers: $21,250,000 (£18,305,000)
The average salary of players in the National Hockey League (NHL) is £2.58 million (£2.22 million). The sport is popular across the United States and Canada. But it also drafts players in from various European countries, too. And this assists in raising the profile of the NHL and its games. It may seem odd to be quite so high on this list, as it does not generate as much revenue as the NFL. But the difference is the number of hockey players.
Fewer teams exist within the NHL, and the same goes for the number of players. Thus, the average salary of an ice hockey player sits higher than both the Premier League and NFL. You only need to consider the income of Tyler Seguin from the Dallas Stars. He entered into an eight-year deal with the team for $78.8 million (£67.9 million). That included a signing bonus of $55 million (£47.4 million) and an annual average salary of $9.85 million (£8.49 million). That contract will run until the 2026-27 season, with the potential for renewal.
One of the more recent high-profile signings was Shea Weber. He signed into a contract with the Nashville Predators for a reputed $14 million (£12 million) per year.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
Again, you may not expect baseball to be that high on the list of biggest earning sports stars. Yet it is another popular sport in the United States and a few other countries. Even Japan has its own baseball league in operation. As well as securing big-money contracts, baseball players often receive sponsorship deals. Coupling those up with endorsements from big-name brands also helps.
Major League Baseball (MLB) is the biggest division of this sport in the world. Its revenue has been on the up and up every year over the past 13 years. And with an increase in sport revenue comes an increase in player salaries, too. In a few years’ time, it could become the sport with the highest earning players in the world.
The highest paid MLB player in 2022 is pitcher Max Scherzer. He is on the books for three years with the New York Mets. From that contract, he is set to earn $43,333,333 (£37,364,895) this year. His three-year deal sits at $130,000,000 (£112,100,000). Also incorporated into that deal is a player opt-out clause after two years. It goes above and beyond the previous record set for average annual value (AAV). Gerrit Cole held this as part of the New York Yankees for $36 million (£31 million).
The average salary equated to basketball players is $4.9 million (£4.2 million). Not only do these players get huge contract deals, but they secure many endorsements, too. More so than in any other sport in the world. Basketball players always come out on top of any Forbes list of highest paid sportsmen. And it’s only the average salary we’ve mentioned so far. Top players can go on to earn way more than the almost $5 million noted.
Look at Kobe Bryant, who played for the LA Lakers. In the 2013-14 season, he was on the books for $30 million. And that’s only for a single season of basketball! Back in the 1991-92 season, Larry Bird became the first basketball player to earn over $5 million. A few seasons later, Magic Johnson went above and beyond this, securing a $10 million+ deal. Other big names to enjoy high salaries include Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Today, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is the highest paid player. If his contract continues beyond the 2022 season, he will likely eclipse the $50 million (£43.1 million) mark.
Lowest Paid Sports in the World
While it is all quite overwhelming to read about sportsmen with big salaries, not all have such. Some sportspeople don’t quite get the luxurious lifestyle that NBA or MLB players do. Minor league sports division players within those fields don’t. Some of them are living in tiny apartments and sleeping on air mattresses.
Even some athletes considered to be pros make very little from their chosen sport. Less than what you would imagine at any rate.
Take a look at some of the lowest paid sports in existence today:
There is a high chance that you haven’t considered frisbee playing to be an actual sport. And that’s most likely because most countries don’t have divisions and leagues for it. Yet the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) does exist. Founded in 2010 with eight teams, it provides regular season games between April to July. It’s a semi-professional league, so players don’t receive a regular paycheck for competing. Instead, they get a part of the gate receipts. Alongside this, they get an ownership interest in their team.
A player’s general income from playing ultimate frisbee is between $350 – $700 (£300 – £600) per season. Generally speaking, participants will also have full-time day jobs. Ben Ivers served as captain of the New York Empire team. By day, he was a marketing consultant. In the 2014 season of AUDL, he earned 0.5% as part of the team and nothing from gate receipts. But he was happy playing the game he loved. Speaking of his decision to play ultimate frisbee, he said:
“There are some nice fringe benefits. I’m not expecting to make a lot of money right now”.
Today, most people think of sparrers like Floyd Mayweather when they think of boxing. He retired in 2017 as a professional but was making top-end money. That saw him on the receiving end of over $73 million (£63 million) per year. And even today, he likely still makes a lot of money. But that’s not the case for most people in the boxing world.
Small club fighters don’t get ahead as well as Mayweather does. They may manage to get their hands on a couple of hundred pounds per fight. And this is all done while they try to build up their name. Doubtless, Mayweather himself had to do this at some point, too. Someone challenging Mayweather at the top of his game could also be in line to receive millions. Yet for the many, income from boxing is peanuts at the bottom.
Ten-pin bowling is an entertaining pastime for many people to involve themselves in. Usually, it provides ample entertainment for people at parties and other events. But it is also a professional sport for some. The Pro Bowlers Association (PBA) is the major sanctioning body in the U.S. The rule that this organisation invokes with regard to pay is a simple one. If you don’t win, you don’t get paid. Simple!
Not only that, but bowlers first have to pay an entry fee of about $200 (£170). This allows them to play in regional tournaments. Those events give them the chance to win up to $5,000 (£4,300).
If you’re a rookie entering into the world of the National Lacrosse League, you will start out at the bottom. This pays a flat salary of $9,200 (£7,900). Of course, the aim is to become a major player in the sport. At which point, they could earn up to $34,000 (£29,000). But it’s not an uncommon practice for teams to use unscrupulous methods to keep payroll down. This sees them signing many younger players and doing away with proven ones. At the same time, local players will often come on board. This reduces the cost for travel for the nine teams in the league.
Major League Lacrosse (MLL) provides salaries of between $10,000 and $25,000 (£8,500 and £21,500) per season. Due to this being the case, many players within have day jobs, too. Around 200 sportsmen are a part of the MLL.