12 July, 2010

Are Sports Players' Salaries Inversely Proportional to Playing Time?

I saw a quick breakdown picture from the other day. What struck me is the highest/lowest pay, the average pay and the sports in which those salaries are paid. Here's the short and skinny of it (based in conjunction with playing time stats per game according to

1) The average shift for a hockey player in the NHL is 30-90secs. In a typical 60 minute game (3- 20min periods) there are 17.5 line changes (averaged). That means a typical hockey player is on the ice for 17.5 minutes per game. Their average salary is $2 mil/yr with a high of $10 million a year earned by Vincent LeCavalier. There are 82 games in a typical season, so the average player is making $1393.73/minute of playing time per game.

2) The most talented players on a NBA team average about 35mins/game. Most will play only 5-6 minutes. We'll average the 2 numbers to ~20mins. The average salary of a NBA player is $5.36 million. The high is Kobe Bryant at $23mil/year (although the Celtics stupidly paid Jermaine O'Neal $23mil as well but that's another story). With 82 games in a typical NBA season, that averages to $3268.29/minute of playing time per game.

3) The typical NFL player plays about 30-50 minutes if they are a 1st team player (we'll average that to 40mins). They also only play 16 regular season games (although I'll also figure in the preseason's 4 games in a separate breakdown for all the people arguing over semantics). An average NFL player makes $990,000/year. So, that'll break down to $1546.88/minute not including the preseason, and and $1237.50/minute with preseason. Despite this, we see many first team players regularly signing contracts in excess of $20 millions dollars over the life of the contract.

4) The average MLS player plays 38 minutes (90 minutes of field time between 26 players on an MLS roster). There are 30 games in a MLS season. Additionally, the current average salary is $148,000. That breaks down to a paltry $129.82/minute of playing time.

5) MLB is a little harder to breakdown in minutes played, but with an average game lasting about 2hrs 30mins and there being typically only 9 innings, that breaks down to about 8.33 minutes per inning (150 minutes/9 innings/2 for being on the field for only half the inning). Ever notice how long it takes for them to get on the field between innings, the 7th inning stretch, etc? The average salary of a MLB player is $2.99 million/year. With a MLB season lasting 162 games, that is $18,456.79/game but only $246.09/minute of actual playing time. It is interesting to see that disparity of number and I'm sure that explains why they get paid so much per game.

Of note is the fact that while all these sports require a player to be in shape, each gives players time to cool down or relax except for soccer. One can argue for each sport's time to relax, but they must admit that each inning in baseball allows MLB players to sit in the dugout for half the game and their running and throwing is usually limited to only when the ball is hit to them. NFL is limited to 2-10 second plays that stop and allow 45 second breaks after each not including stoppage by refs, penalties, etc. NBA is a little less forgiving in that players are usually running or at least jogging the court with only timeouts and points allowing for subs. NHL relies on changing players on the fly as the only time the puck stops is a penalty, it going out of the rink, being stopped by a goalie or a goal itself. That said of the NHL, they still get bench time as does the NBA. In soccer, when you are off, you are off for the game so it requires fitness to be able to run/jog for that 90 minutes to even be on the field.

Thanks again to the people at for putting the stats into an easily read picture.



  1. Problem. They are comparing the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, the best players and teams in the world, to MLS. MLS. Not the best. Not even close. Surprise, MLS doesn't have much money to pay anyone. And, pro athletes make much more money from endorsements than their salary. Look at Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Roger Federer, LeBron James, and yes, even David Beckham. They make ten times more in endorsements than in playing salary or winnings, as did Michael Jordan. The real money is in endorsements.

  2. Either way, it points out what we are paying these guys to play a game... a game. Are you really willing to fork over $150 to watch someone make your annual salary in less than a game, in person? That's why I've been sticking to tv as of late and going to the bigger games less frequently. Salary and cost are way out of control.

  3. Other problem is you're using average on a stat that is more like house prices. You have a very small number (Kobe, McMansion across from trailer park, etc.) that skew the numbers significantly. A huge % of NFL playeers make close to minimum. Use median income (which tends to chop off the tails) and you'll have something slightly more accurate.

    Also were do you think they get all that money. It's not from ticket prices. It's from you watching your T.V. - Network $$ is the juice that runs American sports. Just ask MLS. It's your local government and owner that benedfits most from you attending in person. Remember it's your tax dollars that paid for most of that stadium.

  4. Your logic is flawed actually, not only is the MLS a very poor league to be comparing salaries with, but should you split the number of lpayers in a football team against the number of minutes played you would get a very much lower number. If you're gonna apply one reasoning, make sure to use it equally for all the parts.


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