Indeed, the average professional athlete in the United States earns near-record sums, so it’s hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes. But a look at the data reveals that their slice of the sports revenue pie is actually shrinking relative to owners, and their minor league counterparts continue to earn very little.
To be clear, major league salaries have skyrocketed over the past three decades. Take a look at MLB, NBA and NFL – consider all of these approximations because sometimes sports contracts are complex.
NFL players earn and earn the least: $790,000 in 1990 for about $3.3 million, or about four times higher — for the average annual value at the end of last season.
In total, the average player in these sports earns three to five times more than three decades ago, even taking inflation into account.
The average, however, masks to some extent the increase in top earners. No one in any of the three major sports earned more than $10 million a year in 1990.
Many Americans work incredibly hard and can only dream of the salaries these players earn.
To quantify the gap between the average major league player and the average American, let’s look at personal disposable income per capita nationally over the same period; it has not increased by the same degree as average major league salaries. We’re talking about an increase from about $40,000 to just over $55,000 with inflation taken into account – about a 1.4 times increase.
It can be said that players are not getting their fair share. What do I mean by that?
That’s at least twice the increase in salaries in these given sports since 1990. The players are getting richer because the owners are – but even so, they’re not getting richer at the same rate.
It’s also worth noting that while the owners have become increasingly wealthy, the same cannot be said for the players. There have been some clear bumps in the roads for the main attractions in these leagues.
Now you can argue that Jordan was the greatest player of all time, so it makes sense that he’s the highest paid player of all time.
Of course, all this talk of rich players versus even richer owners misses an important point: it takes a lot to make it to the big leagues. There are a ton of professional basketball, baseball, and soccer players who don’t play in the major leagues.
All of these minor league minimums are below the US average in a year. It can be difficult for these players to get by. Many minor league baseball players would live in poverty.
The truth is that we often focus on major league players because they are the most famous. But for all the wealthy major leaguers out there, there are plenty of minor leaguers living paycheck after paycheck.
And in this way, the story of professional athlete salaries is often the story of the entire American economic system. Yes, there are the rich, but there are a lot less fortunate.
Either way, landlords dominate them all, as they make more and more of them — and that’s something a lot of Americans can relate to.