The life of a pro athlete is not what meets the eye.
There are the high-pressure games where every home run, goal, and foul shot can be the difference between a league championship and the end of a multi-million-dollar contract.
There are the 35+ hours spent at the field, court, or gym each week as they keep their bodies in tip-top shape to earn a starting position in the national spotlight.
But their Instagram pages tell a different story.
Between the flashy jewelry, luxury sports cars, and Hollywood mansions, it seems like professional athletes always seem to be “living the good life.”
So how much do professional athletes make each year? Is it as much as it seems?
Well, let’s review 19 professional athletes’ salaries statistics.
Table of Contents
Statistics on Professional Athlete Salaries
- In 2016, the average professional athlete had an annual salary of $2.1-6.5 million, while the average household brought in just $57,617.
- Over the last two decades, the top 40 American athletes saw an average salary increase of 7.1%, while the average worker only earned 3.7% more in the same period.
- Between memorabilia, appearances, and endorsements, the top 100 athletes earned $877 million in income in 2018.
- Of the top 25 athletes, 8 are NBA players, 4 are golfers, 4 are soccer players, 3 are racecar drivers, 2 are NFL players, 2 are tennis players, 1 is a runner, and 1 is a fighter.
The average professional athlete will earn at least 36 times more than the typical U.S. household, though it could be as much as 113.
To make at least $2.1 million a year (like the average pro athlete) while earning the average hourly wage for someone making $57,617 a year, you’d have to work 1,458 hours a week—equivalent to nearly 61 days.
To put it directly: It’s impossible.
The problem here, however, isn’t that professional athletes are paid too much.
After all, taking into account the earnings each team (or player) makes from endorsements, ads, and ticket revenue, pro athletes earn their fair share.
When the salary growth from year to year for athletes is near twice as much as the average worker, the problem isn’t their salary.
It’s the economy and cost of living in America.
Average Pay for Professional Athletes
- The typical professional athlete earns just $14.46 an hour in America.
- The average professional athlete in America has a salary of $51,929.
- Professional athlete salaries usually range between $19,000 and $96,000, but most pro athletes report $34,500 to $71,000.
When we think of professional athletes, we normally think of the big-name stars who are flaunting Lamborghinis, gold chains, and 10,000-square foot estates.
So the cash values you see in the stats above may take you by surprise.
But you have to realize that pro athletes aren’t only NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS players.
They’re any athletes who earn money to play the game—whether they play for the majors, minors, or even club teams.
For reference, Triple-A players for Major League Baseball make just $700 a week, and they only get paid in-season.
Similarly, CrossFit athletes only earn money when they win competitions. Mat Fraser earned $322,000 by placing first in the 2019 CrossFit games.
However, these athletes try to diversify their income streams by owning gyms, providing coaching, and endorsing branded products like CrossFit shoes.
While you may think that NFL and NBA stars earn an insane amount of money, there are plenty of pro athletes earning below a living wage and not receiving accolades for their talents.
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Statistics on Professional Basketball Players
- NBA players earn the highest salaries among all professional sports leagues, with players locking down an average salary of $8.32 million a year.
- During his last season with the NBA, Michael Jordan’s salary was a whopping $36 million.
- Since the 2015-16 NBA season, the average annual salary increase in NBA players was $3.72 million.
- Some of the highest paying NBA teams in 2019 were the Oklahoma City Thunder ($8.82 million), Portland Trail Blazers ($9.41 million), and the Golden State Warriors ($9.29 million).
- The average NBA player earns $6.2 million per season.
Only 15 million people watch the NBA Finals during any given season, so earning over $8 million a season sounds insane.
You may even go as far as to say that NBA stars are overpaid!
But look at what NBA players are capable of and expected to do.
In addition to mastering plays, sinking over 60% of shots they make, and lacing up their shoes for 82 games a season (five times more than NFL players), they also bring great fanfare.
Having the likes of Lebron James, Anthony Davis, or Steph Curry on an NBA team draws in millions in revenue through ticket sales, jersey purchases, and endorsements.
It’s a fantastic business deal, and they’re on the right end of it!
Statistics on Professional Soccer (Futbol) Players
- During the 2019-20 season, the average first-team soccer player cashed in on nearly $11.6 million.
- Soccer phenomenon Lionel Messi is this generation’s highest-paid athlete, earning a cool $127 million.
- Of the top-paid athletes globally, three are soccer players: Cristiano Ronaldo was #2 with a $109 million payout, and Neymar was #3 with a $105 million salary.
- Cristiano Ronaldo, the modern-day soccer legend, earned $107 million in 2018.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the entire world.
But $127 million in earnings for a single season in soccer may seem outlandish to you if you’re native to the U.S. You’ve never seen Ronaldo, Neymar, or Messi playing in a game on any major sports network.
Interestingly, most of the highest-paid soccer stars hail from European countries (not the U.S.) and play on club teams instead of what we see as “pro” teams.
If you want to catch the best soccer players in the world as they hit the turf and lace up their cleats, the World Cup or Summer Olympics will shine a spotlight on the best of the best.
When you see the pros net goals from half a field away, dodge defenders with ease, and block insane shots on goal, you’ll see why they pocket $100 million or more a season.
Statistics on Athlete Salaries by Gender
- Naomi Osaka, the 22-year-old winner of the 2018 U.S. Open, was the world’s highest-paid female athlete. In just one year, Osaka banked $37.4 million between endorsements and prize money.
- The gender gap in professional sports is undeniable. Female tennis pros make just a third of what their male counterparts earn, and the top-paid male soccer player earns 182 times more than the highest-paid female player.
- Between 2013 and 2016, male soccer players would earn an average season salary of $263,320, while female players saw just $99,000 in earnings across 20 games.
The gender gap in sports is an issue that’s easy to explain financially, but that’s it.
Many proponents of equal pay in sports have a winning season and championships to back up the requests.
For example, the U.S. Women’s National Team (soccer) is the best team globally and has four Olympic gold medals and four World Cup championships to its name.
Yet, the Men’s National Team, with zero championships in the World Cup and no gold medals in the Olympics, still earns more.
Unfair and unjust? Absolutely.
However, the major counterpoint is team revenue.
Fans loyally buy tickets and merchandise to support men’s teams regardless of their performance or season records. A women’s team can go undefeated and not sell out the bleachers.
Men and women should be paid equally or justly compensated for their performance on the field or court, but this won’t be the case as long as “money speaks.”
The NBA Finals may not attract 100 million viewers like the Super Bowl. But of all professional sports in America, basketball players reel in the highest salaries: Averaging $7,422,823 a season.
Lebron James holds the title for being one of the highest-paid basketball players of our generation.
He currently rakes in over $92 million a year between his lofty NBA salary and well-known endorsements—including Nike, Beats by Dr. Dre, and Dunkin Donuts.
An average of 16.5 million viewers tune in to regular-season NFL games to catch their favorite teams on the gridiron. But despite the massive popularity of American football, it also happens to be the lowest-paid sport.
NFL players average just $2 million in salary each year.
Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, recently signed the highest-paying NFL contract of all time. Over the next ten years, he’ll earn a total of $503 million.
Many people think about the likes of Steph Curry or Cristiano Ronaldo when they envision the richest athletes of all time. However, that title belongs to Ion Tiriac, whose total wealth exceeds $2 billion.
Tiriac is an International Tennis Hall of Famer with professional sports experience on the ice as a hockey player and on the clay as a tennis player.
The “Brașov Bulldozer” is now the richest athlete of all time and one of Romania’s wealthiest businessmen.
Some professional athletes earn more in a single game than the average person will make in a lifetime. Which, understandably, can be a bit frustrating.
But remember that not every athlete can go pro.
It’s actually extremely rare.
To put this into perspective…
Over 1 million teens play football in high school, nearly 74,000 will make an NCAA team, and a mere 254 will see the NFL draft.
We did the math: That’s a 0.0254% chance of becoming an NFL player if you play football in high school.
Remember that these players have proven themselves to have the skill, strategy, and fitness to go pro and get higher paying contracts year after year.
So sit back, turn on the game, and appreciate their talents.
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