Sports stars live a pretty charmed life. Professional athletes like Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tom Brady, and Tiger Woods walk among us as living gods, the physical embodiment of superheroes. As leaders on the field and off, famous athletes enjoy more financial freedom than ever before. Long gone are the days where NFL, MLB, and NBA players had to work second jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. Many current and former sports stars now look to franchising as a viable option to continue raking in millions.
Just How Much Do Sports Stars Make?
With the rise of lucrative television contracts, social media, ticket sales, and numerous sponsorship opportunities, professional sports salaries have grown exponentially in the last few decades.
Major League Baseball’s Exponential Rise Due to the CBA
In 1980, the Houston Astros made Nolan Ryan the first million dollar man in baseball when they offered the legendary pitcher a four-year, $4 million contract. While $1 million is an incredible salary by most measurements, Ryan’s contract pales in comparison to the nine-year, $324 million contract that star pitcher Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees in 2019.
Since MLB players signed the first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in 1968, salaries have risen 20,700 percent (2,832 percent if adjusted for inflation). That first CBA raised the minimum league salary from $6,000 to $10,000. The league minimum for the 2020 season is $563,000.
The rise in baseball salaries dwarfs the rise of salaries among average American workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary in 2019 was $48,672 for a 40 hour work-week, a comparatively smaller 1,325 percent increase in salary since 1968 (101 percent if adjusted for inflation). Therefore, MLB salaries have grown 16 times faster than the average worker’s salary!
NBA Stars Enjoy Massive Salaries and Endorsement Deals
Statistically, the NBA is the best paying professional sports league in the nation. While “The Association” does not come anywhere near the revenue of the NFL, the league boasts an average salary of $4.9 million. This figure represents a more than 7-fold increase over the last 30 years, with centers earning the most out of any position.
The highest paid player in the NBA, Lebron James, made $36 million in salary and $53 million in endorsements in 2019. Warriors guard Steph Curry made just under $80 million in 2019 with $38 million in salary and $42 million in endorsements. The sports star is recognized world-wide for the way he innovated the NBA.
Furthermore, the goal of every NBA player is to obtain a sneaker deal. First popularized by Michael Jordan, sneaker deals are a must-have for any NBA star. NBA stars who partner with established brands like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour can double their annual income.
16 years after he retired, Michael Jordan is still the top earning athlete. Jordan Brand sneakers earned the legend $130 million in 2019. In that same year, Lebron James earned $32 million, and Kevin Durant earned $26 million. All three are partnered with Nike.
NFL Quarterbacks Make the Most of Any Position… And It’s Not Even Close
The NFL is referred to as the “Not For Long League” for a reason. The average career length for an NFL player is only three seasons. The sheer brutality of the league means that most players find it hard to earn truly life-changing money. Any child who does have aspirations to one day play in the NFL better learn how to throw the pigskin. Of the top ten highest paid NFL players of all time, nine are quarterbacks.
Eli Manning tops the list with $252 million in career earnings. While league average salary for all positions was $1.1 million, the average qb earned over $5 million. As the most important player on the field and the leader of the franchise, qb’s reap millions more than any other position. Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan all earn over $30 million per year to throw the football.
International Soccer Players Prove It Pays to Play the World’s Most Popular Sport
It should come as no surprise that soccer players top the list of highest paid athletes in the world. As the most popular sport on planet Earth, Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, and Neymar are beloved by billions. In 2019, Messi earned $127 million through salary and endorsements while Ronaldo earned $109 million and Neymar earned $105 million. In the Barclays Premier League, the highest paying soccer league in the word, players earn an average of $65,777 per week.
Players in this league must be considered among the best in the world. As such, the high demand for players continues to push wages to new levels. Like with many other popular sports leagues, sports stars in the Barclays Premier League have also massively profited from lucrative television deals. In 1992, the Premier League sold television rights for £191 million. In 2019, the league sold television rights for over £5 billion.
Regardless of Growing Salaries, Many Professional Athletes Lose It All
So life is good for professional athletes… right? According to a landmark report by Sports Illustrated in 2009, 78 percent of NFL players and 60 percent of NBA players go broke within five years of retiring.
Andre Collins, Executive Director of the NFLPA explained why, “for a young person it’s tough. There is a window when it can be difficult if he goes from earning a great salary to nothing. Collins continues. “If he goes from earning $450,000 and that goes down to $45,00 a year, there is an adjustment to his lifestyle.
Elite athletes who end their careers early due to nagging injuries or just can’t cut in the professional sports world often lack formal education and have already blown through millions on unnecessary expenses. Mike Tyson reportedly blew through over $400 million in career earnings while Allen Iverson and John Daly mismanaged their money and blew through $150 million and $55 million respectively.
Sports Stars Who Own Franchises
Thankfully, there are many successful entrepreneurs who played or continue to play at the highest levels of professional sports.
QB of the New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees is an all-time great. With a career 67 percent completion record, 77,416 yards, and 547 touchdowns, Brees ranks as one of the greatest players to ever grace the gridiron. Off the field, Brees is also an extraordinary entrepreneur. With investments in Jimmy John’s, Dunkin’, Happy’s Irish Pub, and Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, the legendary Saint will undoubtedly enjoy a lucrative retirement.
The Big Aristotle may be known for being a dominant force on the court, but he’s quickly established himself as a leading entrepreneur off the court. Shaq is the spokesperson for Papa John’s, owns 40 24-Hour Fitness Clubs, 17 Auntie Anne’s, and is sponsored by numerous other franchises. The franchise mogul is now worth over $400 million!
Peyton Manning retired from the NFL in 2016 as one of the greatest American athletes ever. Second only behind his brother in career NFL earnings, Manning has already made millions in the franchise space. The two-time Super Bowl Champion is the spokesperson for Nationwide and owns 21 Papa John’s in Colorado.
The five-time NBA champion is world-renowned for his dynamic personality and electric play-style on the hardwood. Magic is not only a part-owner of the Sparks, Dodgers, and LAFC, but a savy franchise owner as well. The entrepreneurial visionary partnered with Howard Schultz of Starbucks to bring the coffee chain to urban areas before selling his 105 locations for a massive profit. Johnson also owns over a dozen 24-Hour Fitness Clubs and 30 Burger King locations.
Hank Aaron will go down in history as one of the greatest hitters of all time. With a career home run tally of 755, a record amount of RBIs, extra base hits, and total bases, the hall-of-famer could have simply rested on his laurels. Ever the competitor, Aaron launched 755 Restaurant Corporation with his wife in 1995. The duo operates 26 Popeyes and two Krispy Kreme locations.
The Stage is Bright for Sports Stars
Sports stars enjoy more financial freedom and celebrity status than ever before. With the rise of social media, lucrative television deals, shoe contracts, and numerous endorsement opportunities, the time has never been better to be a professional athlete. Although Michael Jordan may be the first billionaire athlete, there will be a numerous more to follow in the next few decades.