Average Salaries in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL

These are the average salaries of players in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL. Players in the NBA are the highest paid of the four major sports leagues, while NFL players are the least paid, even though the NFL generates the most amount of money each year of all the sports leagues.

Money pro athletes make
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I've been a fan of all four sports leagues for over four decades now. One of the things that has amazed me over the years is the amount of money professional athletes can now make today. Pro athletes made decent money when I was a kid in the 1970s, but nothing like what they can make in 2011. The average pro athlete in any of the four major sports leagues makes more money in one season, than the average American will make over a lifetime.

Average Salaries in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL

1. NBA - $5.15 million

The average NBA player made $5.15 million in salary in 2010-11. That was easily the highest average salary of the four major sports leagues in the United States. NBA players make the most money, on average, because there are fewer NBA players than NFL players, or NHL players or major league baseball players.

NBA teams can have a maximum of 15 players per team. There are 30 NBA teams. So there only a total of 450 NBA players. NBA teams play 82 regular season games, and the league has a long playoff season too, which generated enough income to pay the players an average of $5.15 million.

The NBA is currently locking out its players, as the league is trying cut salaries in the league. So if the NBA plays in 2011-12, the players will earn a lower average salary, but no matter what the concessions the owners get from the players, NBA players will still be the highest paid in pro sports.

2. MLB - $3.31 million

With an average salary of $3.31 million, major league baseball players are the second highest paid players of the four major sports leagues. There are 25 players on each of the 30 teams in MLB, or a total of 750 players.

MLB teams play 162 games per season, which provides a ton of games for the league to generate income from. In order to generate even more income, MLB is contemplating adding more wild card teams for the playoffs. What hurts baseball is that it is the most regional of all the major sports.

3. NHL - $2.4 million

NHL players make the third most money of the major sports leagues, with an average salary of $2.4 million. There are 23 players on each of the 30 NHL teams, for a total of 690 players.

I'm surprised that NHL players make as much as they do. One of the major papers in New York City used to show the weekly ratings of sports games on TV in the New York market. NHL games were always the lowest rated of any sport, and some of the ratings were incredibly low. A Stanley Cup Finals game on NBC in 2007 was the lowest rated prime time program in NBC history.

4. NFL - $1.9 million

The irony of life. The NFL is easily the most popular of all the sports leagues in the United States, but NFL players make, on average, the least amount of money at $1.9 million a year. That's because of two reasons.

Each NFL team has 53 total players. There are 32 NFL teams, for a total of 1,696 players. That's almost four times the number of players in pro football than in the NBA, over 1,000 more players than the NHL has, and well over twice as many players as MLB has.

NFL teams only play 16 games in the regular season. That's a just a fraction of the number of games each if the other sports leagues play per year. Less games means less opportunity to generate income.

So there are a lot more NFL players than there are NBA, NHL or MLB players, and the teams play far fewer games. The NFL still generates a ton more income than the other leagues do because NFL football is so much more popular. Plus the Super Bowl alone generates incredible income for the NFL.

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Updated Saturday, Nov 12, 2011