How Do the Professional Athlete Salaries Compare among the Major US Sports Leagues?

Though salaries vary within sports leagues themselves, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is the U.S. sports league that had the highest average salary in 2011, with each player making an average of $5.15 million US Dollars (USD) a year — more than the average salary of Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Football League (NFL) players combined. The average salary for MLB players was about $3.1 million USD a year, and the average salary for NFL players was about $1.9 million USD a year. Players in the National Hockey League (NHL) made an average of about $2.4 million USD per year.

More facts about professional athletes' salaries:

  • A league's average salary can seem misleadingly high because a few players per team often make much more than the others. In terms of median salary, NBA players still came out on top in 2011, though, with a median salary of about $2.3 million USD. MLB players had a median salary of $1.15 million USD; NHL players had a median salary of approximately $1.1 million USD, and NFL players had the lowest median salary, about $770,000 USD per year.

  • One of the reasons salaries vary so widely among sports leagues has to do with how many players there are per team. There are far fewer players on NBA teams than there are on NFL teams, so there is more money per player.

  • Salaries vary among leagues, too. For instance, in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees had an average salary of about $6.75 million USD per player, and the Kansas City Royals had an average salary of about $1.33 million USD per player.

  • To put professional athletes' salaries in perspective, as of the 2004 census, the average household income in the United States was about $60,500 USD a year. The median household income was about $44,300 USD per year.

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