Should NFL Players Make Less Than NBA, MLB Players?

Tue Aug 23, 2016 17:12:42PM
Packers at Redskins Wildcard Game 01/10/16 By: Keith Allison

Does it make any sense to you that the average salary for NBA and MLB players is ~2 to 3 times more than an average NFL player? Add to that the NFL generates considerably more revenue than either of these two sports (almost combined by below sources), and it makes it even more shocking. Do you think NFL players should be paid more?

The math gets a little complicated, and there are many factors to consider. But this breakdown tells me a story that says 'YES, NFL players' salaries should increase'. By what margin? I would need a TI-84 plus graphing calculator, and for all the sport's execs to completely open up their books to me to fully answer that one. But in the meanwhile, here are some numbers and stats to consider:

More Athletes Equal Lesser Payouts Per Player

One of the main reasons for the inequality across our major sport's contracts is pretty obvious: there are more NFL players on a roster than in the NBA or MLB. So that's more men to pay on average; more contracts to ante up for:

NBA - 13 to 14 active players
MLB - 25 active players (up to 40 contract players)
NFL - 53 active players

Shouldn't surprise anyone then that the average athlete's contracts get paid out in this order, from highest to lowest: NBA, then the MLB, and then the NFL. But then you gotta wonder what each sport generates in revenue, and if the ratios link up.

Here's a Forbes breakdown of earnings, for the top 5 sports in the world, by team revenue:

And then the top paid athletes for the NFL, NBA and MLB:

NFL Highest Paid for 2016
NBA Highest Paid for 2016
MLB Highest Paid for 2016

The Math, Even Further Broken Down

Let's break this down even further. Here's some charts from, on the average payouts for 2015-2016 payouts for all 3 sports:


Number of NFL Players1,696
Total NFL Salary Money$3.6 billion
Average NFL Salary$2,150,000
Median NFL Salary$860,000
Lowest NFL Salary (Rookie Minimum)$435,000
Highest NFL Salary (Drew Brees)$23,800,000


2015$2,335,195,174 (Total NBA Salary)446 (Number of Players in NBA)$5,235,864 (Average NBA Salary)$2,505,720 (Median NBA Salary)


Highest MLB Player Pay Ever (Clayton Kershaw)$34,571,428
Lowest MLB Salary (Minimum wage)$507,500
Highest MLB Salary 2016 (Clayton Kershaw)$34,571,428
Average MLB Salary (so far in 2016 - will drop)$4,155,907
Number of MLB Players (as of early 2016 - will grow to about 1,150)900

And finally, how much in total did each sport generate (in the 2014-15 season for example)?

NFL -- $13 billion

MLB -- $9.5 billion

NBA -- $4.73 billion

Final Thoughts

So by that last metric of consideration, the MLB and NBA combined to earn revenues of $14.23 billion in 2015, compared to the NFL's $13 billion. Meaning that the NFL almost made as much as both combined in a given year. And yet, the average player in the NBA made over $5.2 million in 2015, vs the NFL's average of $2.15 million? That's ~2.5 times as much. A 53-man roster vs a 14-man roster seems to answer the question here. But only sort of.

Baseball doesn't have 1/2 the players of the NFL (1,696 vs 900-1,150), but their average player makes almost exactly TWICE as much as their NFL counterpart. So not half as many players, but twice as much?? There is room for the NFL to pay their players more.

Perhaps the MLB is headed for a financial bubble crash though, as I pointed out in an earlier blog. And that could point to the NFL being better managed for the long haul, over the MLB's wildly high payouts lately. But still this doesn't explain why a scrub backup center on a bad NBA team routinely gets paid more than a majority of NFL starters.

The NBA has a much better and more organized/effective player's union. That could be one of the main factors here as well. So it appears as though the NFL commission is harder to win battles against, and is perhaps better at long term finances. Could that be why they pay their players less across the board, both on averages, minimum salaries, and their top payout performers? I suppose so, but feel I am still missing something.

Math jury is still very much so out for one single blog. But I think all this adds up to a solid question and answer. Should NFL players start making more money? Answer - Yes.

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