Salary distribution, earnings per minute, and career earnings across professional sports leagues

Average/median salary by professional sports league:

In 2016, the average MLB player made nearly $11 million dollars per year in salary alone. This is more than an average NBA ($6.5M) and NFL ($4.2M) player combined, or the equivalent of 34 average MLS players. The median salaries show us a similar trend, with each league’s annual salary shifting slightly lower than the average above; as shown in the distribution of salaries further below, there are a good deal of high earners that skew the average up a bit.

Salary Dist Avg
Salary Dist Median

Salary distribution by league

Here, we can see that the top 25% of MLB players earn more than ~$16M per year (top whisker); this is more than any NHL or MLS player, and more than 99% of EPL, 97% of NFL, and 90% of NBA players.

Salary Dist Boxplot

Earnings per minute played

Below, I split out earnings per minute of regular season game time, both excluding and including stopped clock/interruption time. Here, we can see that NFL players top the list, earning $2,709 per minute of running game time, and $847 per minute of total game time (includes timeouts, halftime, etc). Interestingly, the top earning league MLB falls to 5th on our earnings per minute list due to its 162 regular season games.


Another interesting view (that I don’t have the data for) would be to calculate earnings per minute of total work, including practice/training, press, travel, etc. I imagine this would trend similar to our average annual salary list above, with most athletes putting in 8+ hour days irrespective of how many games they have in a season.

Earnings over length of career

The average professional sports career is by no means a long one, with many exiting the competitive environment due to injury or declining performance. So, when comparing earnings across leagues it’s also worthwhile to factor in the average career length.

Here, we see the divide between MLB players and the rest of the groups grow even wider, as their annual earnings are multiplied by their lengthy careers (only second to the EPL).