NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS & NBA: Which Leagues and Players Make the Most Money?

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NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS & NBA: Which Leagues and Players Make the Most Money?
Harry How/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant & Lebron James - NBA Stars

Which of these league's players has the highest average salary per player?  The logical conclusion would be that NFL players make the most since the league generates the most money, right?  Wrong.

The highest average salaries in professional sports are those of NBA players.  In an article on FoxSports.com the author wrote that.

"Basketball stars get an average of $4.79 million per year or $92,199 per week”  

Compared to the average NFL salary which according to BusinessWeek.com the, “Average NFL player salary is $1.9 million.”  This is an annual difference of nearly $3 million per year, per player in favor of the NBA vs. NFL salaries.

To give one example of just how much money this is, in a 2010 article on 11points.com the author wrote NBA player “Jermaine O'Neal made $21,372,000 and only played 2,027 minutes... meaning he made $10,543.66 per minute.”

How long is the average career of a professional athlete in these sports?

In an article by the  RAM Financial Group, a large financial services group that caters to professional athletes, their website states the average span of professional athletes are: 

  • NFL:  3.5 years 
  • NBA: 4.8 years 
  • MLB: 5.6 years 
  • NHL:  5.5 years  

The data shows that the playing lives of professional athletes are often very short.  Brett FavreCal Ripken and Roger Clemens, players who play for 15 plus years are certainly a rarity and not the rule.  In reality, most professional athletes are back in the general workforce, with the rest of us, within three to five years of being drafted.  

Justification for these types of salaries is up to you, the reader—are they obscene or are they fair given the player's short career spans?

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