Discrepancy in wages between some sports leagues is enormous, but is it fair?
All athletes bleed.
All athletes bruise.
All athletes break eventually.
But not all athletes are paid the same.
While players in the four major North American sports leagues make millions of dollars, professionals in smaller leagues, such as the Canadian Football League and the National Lacrosse League, get paid significantly less.
Infographic by Max Shilleto
Source information: NBA, ESPN, Business Week, CFLDB, NLLCBA
Source logos: NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL, CFL, NLL
According to experts, there’s very little they will be able to do about it — although it seems some players are willing to accept it.
An analysis conducted by the Calgary Journal reveals NLL players earned an average salary that was over 120 times ($19,672 per year) smaller than an average NHL player ($2.4 million per year) in 2012. However, the NHL players play over five times more games than a lacrosse player would in the NLL.
As a result, most professional lacrosse players work a second job in order to pay the bills.
In the CFL, some players need a second source of income as well.
While the league doesn’t disclose salary information, a Global News report in 2012 estimated the average CFL salary is somewhere around $80,000 per year.
In most industries, that is a very respectable income. But in the world of professional sports, it’s peanuts.
A comparison of salaries
NFL players averaged 23 times more income, earning around $1.9 million per year.
To illustrate the gap, the Montreal Gazette reported that the $40 million New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made in 2012 was more than all CFL players combined.
“The actors whose movies get more people in the seats make more than those actors who don’t. The same thing is happening with athletes.”
– Robert Baker, director of Center for Sport Management at George Mason University
Part of the reason why the wage discrepancies won’t change is simply because leagues such as the CFL and NLL just aren’t popular enough.
“You can compare it to Hollywood,” said Robert Baker, director of the Center for Sport Management at George Mason University. “The actors whose movies get more people in the seats make more than those actors who don’t,” Baker said. “The same thing is happening with athletes.”
According to ESPN, the average attendance at an NHL game in 2012 was 17,456. That number is almost double the NLL’s average of 9,469, according to Sports Business Daily.
The same can be said when comparing the CFL with the NFL.
According to an independent CFL database, CFLDB, Canadian stadiums brought in an average of 28,192 fans per game, whereas the NFL draws an average crowd of 67,578 to its stadiums, according to ESPN.
And while getting people in the seats, sponsorship and merchandising revenue are important for professional teams and the salaries, Baker said that sport revenue “begins and ends with television generated revenue.”
Boosting popularity and paycheques
As leagues become more popular, they are broadcast more – meaning bigger pay cheques for the players.
That’s why Calgary Roughnecks’ Geoff Snider encourages players to treat the game more seriously in order to boost the league’s popularity.
“We need people to get out and see how entertaining our sport is,” Snider said. “And conversely, the players need to treat it more professionally.”
“We need people to get out and see how entertaining our sport is. And conversely, the players need to treat it more professionally.”
– Geoff Snider, Calgary Roughnecks
Snider’s second income is generated from ELEV8 Lacrosse, the program he founded for lacrosse development. He said he believes that treating the game more seriously and treating it more professionally will eventually help lacrosse salaries go up.
But there’s a risk that players might push for pay increases too soon.
If too much pressure is put on the owners to raise salaries before revenues go up, they run the risk of the league shutting down all together.
“You need a progressive owner who is dedicated to the sport and very willing to increase their markets and increase their popularity,” Baker said.
He said that the revenue generated by sponsorship and increased exposure on television could lead to television contracts on both the regional and national level — and that’s when the salaries will go up.
Do they deserve it?
Some players don’t see any problem with the way things currently are.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with CFL salaries, and I don’t think anyone’s being exploited because there’s always the opportunity to do something else,” said Mike Abou-Mechrek, 10-year offensive lineman in the CFL.
“If you’re a 23-year-old that has the opportunity to make $45,000 in five months playing football, or making ‘X’ amount of dollars doing something else in an office, that’s your decision to make. No one forces you to play football.”
Abou-Mechrek, who won the 2007 Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, now works as a financial planner for Investors Group in Regina. As a result, he sees the wage gap from a more objective point of view.
“If you play in the NFL, you deserve to make every cent that you’re making, because that’s big business” he said. “If the owners were making billions up in the CFL, you’d see the players adding at least a zero to the end of their salary, but it’s not there yet.”