How Much Money Does A Professional Make In These Sports?

We love to glamorize the life of a professional athlete and, in many cases, rightfully so. They are the best in the world at what they do. We hear about multimillion-dollar contracts for the superstars, but how much money are professional athletes making across the board?

Every superstar has a supporting cast of teammates, and owners must run their teams as a business. Roster sizes are much smaller in the NBA, meaning players receive a greater percentage of their team’s salary cap. The MLB has no salary cap. NFL teams have 53-man rosters.

The NFL generates the most revenue of any league globally, increasing annually as each state legalizes sports betting. On March 11, North Carolina sports betting went live.

Which sports league has the highest-paid athletes in the world playing? What about the lowest-paid athletes?

average salary data for major league sports teams in the US

Salary, by sport

While the NFL is the most significant moneymaker, athletes in other sports have higher salaries, both average and absolute. Either way, let’s start with the No. 1 sports league in the world.

NFL salaries

The average NFL salary is around $2.8 million per year. Quarterbacks inflate this number and are the highest-paid players in the league, accounting for the top 15 salaries in 2023.

Minnesota Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, whose $35 million contract is now void, was 15th on that list. Four players’ salaries topped $50 million:

  • Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals: $55 million
  • Justin Herbert, LA Chargers: $52.5 million
  • Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens: $52 million
  • Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles: $51 million

Meanwhile, rookies earned $750,000 in 2023. Veterans on their rookie contracts made more each year spent in the league ($825,000 for second-year players, $895,000 for third-year players, and so on).

Of the highest-paid athletes on the Carolina Panthers, only two have average salaries above $10 million, and five have cap hits above that total.

  • Taylor Moton (RT): $17.8 million; $29.7 million cap hit
  • Donte Jackson (CB): $11.7 million; $15.7 million cap hit
  • Derrick Brown (DT): $11.7 million; $11.7 million cap hit
  • Vonn Bell (FS): $7.5 million; $10.9 million cap hit
  • Austin Corbett (G): $8.3 million; $10.1 million cap hit

Based on the average salary, Moton ($17.8 million) ranks 83rd in the NFL as the highest-paid Panther. Second-year quarterback Bryce Young’s average salary stands fourth on the team at $9.4 million after bonuses despite having a $915,000 salary.

As for the lowest-paid Panthers, the team has the following number of rookie contracts:

  • Nine players have average salaries between $750,000-$899,000.
  • 14 players have average salaries between $900,000-$1 million.
  • 12 players have salaries between $1 million-$1.5 million.
  • Three players have salaries between $2 million-$2.8 million league average.
  • The top 17 players’ salaries exceed the league average.

That said, low-salary players have a comparatively better cost of living than most NFL markets. According to data from the Pew Research Center, Charlotte, NC, ranks 23rd in cost of living among metropolitan areas for the NFL’s 30 cities.

NBA salaries (highest average)

The NBA boasts the highest average salary of any professional sports league. The average for the 2023-24 season was $9.7 million.

Furthermore, no position on the court earned disproportionately more than another. Point guards make the most, averaging $11.8 million, and small forwards make the least, averaging $8.5 million.

That said, only two point guards fall in the top 10 of average NBA salaries. As for the highest-paid athletes in the NBA, four players have average salaries above $50 million.

  • Nikola Jokic (C, DEN): $55.2 million
  • Stephen Curry (PG, GSW): $53.8 million
  • Joel Embiid (C, PHI): $53.3 million
  • Bradley Beal (SG, PHX): $50.2 million

LeBron James (PF, LAL) has the fifth-highest average salary at $49.5 million. The top 17 average salaries in the league are at least $40 million.

Impressively, 156 NBA have average salaries above $9.7 million. The lowest-paid athletes in the NBA all have average salaries above $1 million.

The Charlotte Hornets’ salary cap ranks 26th in the NBA out of 30 teams at $143 million. Its highest-paid athletes are as follows, with their overall rank in parentheses.

  • Davis Bertans (PF): $16 million average salary (100)
  • Grant Williams (PF): $13.3 million average salary (115)
  • Brandon Miller (SF): $12.4 million average salary (126)

Only two Hornets have average salaries below $3 million, making them the lowest-paid athletes on the team: Bryce McGowens (SG; $1.75 million) and JT Thor (PF; $1.66 million).

MLB salaries (highest overall)

North Carolina doesn’t have an MLBl team, but that could change soon. However, the state is home to 10 minor league teams across the A and AAA levels.

The average Major League Baseball salary was $4.5 million in 2023, roughly one-and-a-half times the NFL’s. But MLB has 10 times more games in its regular season.

Baseball also has an insane discrepancy between MLB salaries and those in its minor leagues. Average salaries for the following leagues are as follows (Some players receive extra benefits such as living stipends or housing.):

  • AAA: $35,800
  • AA: $30,250
  • High A: $27,300
  • Low A: $26,200
  • Rookie: $19,800

Of course, MLB also has the highest overall contracts, like Shohei Ohtani’s recent $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the next 10 years. That puts his average salary at $70 million, making him the highest-paid athlete in the major leagues.

Nobody else’s average salary comes close to that. Three more players’ average salaries sit at or above $40 million: Justin Verlander (Houston Astros) and Max Scherzer (Texas Rangers) at $43.33 million each, and Aaron Judge at $40 million.

More than 300 pro baseball players have average salaries at or above $4.5 million. The lowest-paid athletes in MLB have a minimum salary of $700,000. Minor league call-ups receive a pro-rata minimum salary for each day they spend in the big leagues.

NHL salaries

The average NHL salary is $3.5 million per year. And, much like baseball, more than 300 players have above-average salaries.

The league’s minimum salary is $775,000, slightly larger than the MLB and NFL. Roughly one of every seven NHL players makes that amount, while the highest-paid athletes in hockey average eight figures a year.

In total, 15 players have average salaries of $10 million or more in the 2023-24 season. Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon (C, COL) and Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (C, EDM) top the charts with $12.6 million and $12.5 million, respectively.

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Carey Price is among those 15, tied for 10th with a $10.5 million average salary this season.

Other top salaries of Hurricanes’ players include:

  • Sebastian Aho (LW): $8.454 million
  • Brent Burns (D): $8 million
  • Andrei Svechnikov (RW) and Dmitry Orlov (D): $7.75 million each

The lowest-paid athletes on the team include Spencer Martin (G), Stefan Noesen (RW) and Jalen Chatfield (D), all of whom have minimum-salary contracts.

Other things to consider

We must remember some essential information when talking about significant dollar figures.

Firstly, athletes’ publicized contracts represent their salaries before agent fees and taxes. After accounting for those, most athletes earn about 50% to 60% of that total.

Next, remember that sports serve as entertainment for billions of people worldwide. Thus, professional athletes are not only the best of the best at their sport, they are also entertainers.

Sports leagues represent the pinnacle of competition. As hard as it is to make it to that level, staying there is even harder. For example, they say that the NFL stands for “Not For Long,” as many players retire from the league in their 20s.

For every athlete that signs a huge contract, there are dozens, if not more, scraping by in the minor leagues or getting cut from rosters.

Lastly, even those who do make it for some time do not guarantee themselves lifelong success. According to a 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research study, around 16% of retired NFL players are bankrupt within 12 years of retiring.

Women are the lowest-paid athletes in sports

Lastly, we only looked at men’s professional sports. The pay discrepancy for male and female professional athletes is much greater than the American average of 83%.

Average salaries in sports with major followings for both men and women:

  • Basketball (NBA and WNBA): $9.4 million for men; $147,700 for women
  • Golf (PGA and LPGA): $1.5 million for men; $141,400 for women
  • Soccer (MLS and NWSL): $438,700 for men; $54,000 for women

Tennis has less of a gap, though one remains. Five of the highest-paid athletes in tennis in 2023 were women.

  • Iga Swiatek: $22.4 million
  • Emma Raducanu: $15.3 million
  • Coco Gauff: $15.2 million
  • Naomi Osaka: $12.1 million
  • Jessica Pegula: $10.9 million

graphic of top 10 salaries of pro athletes in North Carolina

NC gambling partnerships

Sports betting has increased revenue sharing across all sports. The Tar Heel State requires all prospective sportsbooks to forge North Carolina gambling partnerships with the state’s five professional sports teams, two PGA golf courses, two racetracks, the PGA and NASCAR.

Since the March 11 launch date, seven partnerships exist:

  • Carolina Hurricanes: Fanatics
  • Charlotte Hornets: bet365
  • Charlotte Motor Speedway: BetMGM
  • NASCAR: DraftKings
  • PGA Tour: FanDuel
  • Quail Hollow Club: ESPN Bet
  • Sedgefield Country Club: Underdog

In addition, Caesars Sportsbook has partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which owns two Harrah’s casinos in the state.

The final four are yet to forge a partnership:

  • Carolina Panthers
  • Charlotte FC
  • North Wilkesboro Speedway
  • NC Courage

data of top 10 highest paid athletes in the world

Top 50 highest-paid athletes

Each year, Forbes publishes a list of the 50 highest-paid athletes in the world. Its most recent list came in May 2023, providing data from players’ careers through 2022.

As of last May, eight athletes had earned over $100 million in their lifetime in on-the-field earnings, endorsements, licensing, other business opportunities, etc.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer): $136 million
  • Lionel Messi (soccer): $130 million
  • Kylian Mbappé (soccer): $120 million
  • LeBron James (basketball): $119.5 million
  • Canelo Alvarez (boxing): $110 million
  • Dustin Johnson (golf): $107 million
  • Phil Mickelson (golf): $106 million
  • Stephen Curry (basketball): $100.4 million

Number of athletes by sport:

This list had 11 first-timers and two icons who recently retired from their sports, Serena Williams and Tom Brady. Williams ($45.3 million) and Brady ($45.2 million) were 49th and 50th on that list.

Will both stay on that list in 2024, or will two more first-timers bump them off it?

About the Author

Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting in North Carolina, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.