For many, sports careers are the stuff of dreams, with countless kids and adults alike aspiring to a career as a professional athlete. Though the physical demands of professional athleticism are intense, so too are the rewards, with players in many disciplines averaging extremely high salaries.
Which sports leagues get paid the most? While the term “professional athlete” often evokes ideas of basketball, football, hockey and soccer players, leading athletes in individual sports such as golf, horse racing, tennis, track and field, gymnastics, and auto racing can also generate large incomes and lucrative endorsement deals.
However, there are many high-earning careers off the field, court or rink too, such as working in sports management or as a sports marketer, agent, doctor, broadcaster, and more. Here is a list of some of the best paying jobs in the sports industry.
Here are my Top 10 Best Paid Sports Careers:
1. Professional Basketball Player
According to Business Insider, NBA players earned an average salary of 4.58 million dollars in 2015, making them the highest paid athletes. NBA rosters include fewer players than baseball and football teams, allowing franchises to devote more resources to recruiting players. Players typically sign guaranteed contracts so that even if they become injured or are cut from a team, they still receive their compensation.
2. Professional Baseball Player
MLB players averaged an annual salary of 4.17 million in 2015. Backed by a strong union, players are afforded the security of guaranteed contracts and a generous pension program. Most of the professional baseball players in the United States play for one of over 240 minor league teams.
3. Professional Hockey Player
National Hockey League (NHL) players earned an average salary of 2.62 million in 2015, in part due to the relatively small roster size of 23 players and a 50-50 split in revenue between owners and players.
4. Professional Football Player
Although the NFL is America’s most popular and lucrative sport, NFL players are compensated at a much lower level than other major sports, an average of about $2.11 million dollars per year (2015).
5. Sports Broadcaster
Sports broadcasters announce live sporting events and provide commentary and analysis of teams and athletes. They prepare for broadcasts by researching and studying the performance of athletes, as well as stories of personal interest.
The emergence of sports television and radio networks like ESPN, Fox Sports, and NBC Sports has created opportunities for hosts on sports talk shows as well as sports highlights and news broadcasts. Successful hosts develop interesting takes on current sporting trends and personalities, and often introduce an element of humor into their broadcasts.
The top 10 leading sportscasters earn an average of over 5 million dollars (2017). The vast majority of sportscasters receive more modest compensation while working in less prominent positions, earning an average of $82,730 in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Roles and compensation for coaches vary greatly by the level of competition (e.g., high school, college, minor league, professional) and the particular sport. Coaches organize practice sessions to develop or strengthen skills and strategies. They also analyze the strengths and weaknesses of opponents and how they match up with their team, and devise game plans to optimize performance.
They motivate players and encourage sportsmanship and academic achievement. Head coaches select, train and supervise assistant coaches. College coaches travel to recruit high school prospects to improve the talent on their team.
The top 25 college coaches earn an average of 5 million dollars and often have lucrative endorsement deals on the side. Even the 100th highest paid NCAA coach earns over $500,000. Top pro coaches often earned in more than 5 million dollars in 2016.
Coaches in smaller colleges and high schools earn considerably less. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, coaches and scouts earn an average of $59,730 in 2015.
7. Professional Soccer Player
Soccer has gained popularity in the United States with the emergence of the MLS. Soccer players must maintain high levels of aerobic conditioning to cope with the constant motion and fast pace of their sport. Regular practice is required to maintain and upgrade ball handling and passing skills and to execute game plans.
The average salary in the MLS rose to $316,777 in 2016, still a far cry from the average salary for players in European leagues like England’s Premier League — 3.82 million dollars. There is also a huge differential between what professional male and female soccer players earn in the US, with the women trailing the men by a significant amount.
Umpires and referees must study the rules of their sports and apply them instantly to game situations. Officials in basketball and hockey must maintain excellent physical fitness to run or skate up and down the court or rink.
Professional umpires and referees travel constantly during the season, moving from one city to another to cover games. Concentration, excellent vision, quick reactions and sound judgment are vital to success. Emotional control to remain calm despite criticism from players, coaches, and fans is essential.
Major league umpires have beginning salaries of $120,000 with eventual increases to as high as $350,000. NFL referees receive salaries of about $200,000. NHL officials receive salaries between $110,000 and $360,000. NBA referees earn between $150,000 and $550,000.
9. Sports Marketer
Sports marketers promote teams, leagues, players, stadiums, media outlets, and other products and services related to sports. They analyze markets and develop strategies to expand attendance, endorsements, consumer sales, readership, and viewership. Sports marketers negotiate agreements to set prices and terms for products, services, endorsements and advertisements. They compose profiles and content for social and traditional media to spotlight players, teams and other sports-related entities.
Marketing professionals within spectator sports earned between $117,000 and $122,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015.
10. Sports Agent
Sports agents represent the interests of athletes, coaches, managers, and other talent in the sports industry. They analyze data and statistics to prepare presentations about the value added by players to their teams.
Agents negotiate contracts, and propose contract language. Sports agents advise clients about opportunities for endorsements and ways to enhance or repair their public image. They pitch the services of their clients to prospective employers. Many sports agents help clients to manage their finances.
Agents earned an average of $103,370 in 2015 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Forbes Magazine reported that the top 10 sports agents earned over 30 million dollars a year.
The Bottom Line
While you may not be able to run a like the wind, or hit a tennis ball, you can still turn your passion for your game into a money maker. All it takes is the will to mold that passion into a business.