What Factors Affect Professional Athlete Salaries?

In football, as with most sports, the skilled position players usually earn more than those in utility positions.
Cricket players might be payed well in countries where the sport is particularly popular.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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Professional athlete salaries can depend on a number of factors, including sport, performance, and name recognition. The popular perception of professional athletes is often that they are overpaid, but in fact extremely high salaries are reserved for a relatively small group. Most make much more modest salaries and because their careers are short, they may have limited time to plan for retirement after they are forced to stop working due to injuries and other issues. Compilations of the highest paid athletes can be found in sports magazines and online, for those interested in the going rates in their regions.

One contributing factor is the sport itself. In the United States, for example, basketball tends to be extremely popular, and star performers in this field can make substantial salaries, by contrast with soccer, which is less popular. In other regions, sports like soccer or cricket might be more popular, and thus entitle talented athletes to higher wages for their work. Different sports have their own conventions about whether people should be paid per game or on an annual contract, which can also make a difference in professional athlete salaries.


Performance-based pay can be seen with some professional athlete salaries. This is common in golf, where athletes tend to be compensated on the basis of how well they do. Likewise, jockeys are sometimes paid a percentage of the purse in their races, as an incentive to win or place. Performance can also have an impact on whether a contract is renewed or an athlete is wooed by a rival team that might offer more money.

Name recognition can be an important factor as well. Athletes who are well known may qualify for endorsements and appearances, which boost their overall earnings. Even if these aren’t directly part of their salaries, they do boost take-home pay, and create leverage for negotiating professional athlete salaries. Someone can argue that simply appearing with the team increases public interest and sells tickets, making a high salary worth it to retain an athlete with the name recognition and popularity to attract fans.

Another consideration is that athletic careers tend to be relatively short, depending on the sport. For aggressive sports like football, people may only be able to compete on the professional level for a few years. Each athletic appearance also creates considerable risk, as an injury could take an athlete out of competition for life. People may demand high professional athlete salaries to ensure that they are able to put money aside to prepare for retirement, so they can care for themselves and their families after injuries and other adverse events.


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