It is widely acknowledged that NHL players earn substantial salaries, with even the lowest-paid players making considerable sums. However, compared to the salaries of athletes in other major sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada, it appears that even the top-earning NHL players fall short in compensation.
Salaries For Major Leagues
If one were to peruse a list of the world’s top 100 highest-paid athletes, it would become evident that no hockey players are represented. Despite numerous soccer, tennis, golf, basketball, football, and baseball players, no hockey players make the cut.
However, to understand why hockey falls behind in salaries, it’s essential to examine the compensation within the four major North American leagues: NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB.
Players’ salaries vary considerably in the four major North American sports leagues. For example, in the NHL, the lowest-paid player earns $750,000, the average salary is $3 million, and the highest-paid player, Connor McDavid, earns $12.5 million. In the NBA, the lowest-paid player earns $582,000, the average salary is $7 million, and the highest-paid player, LeBron James, earns $37.44 million.
The NFL has a similar salary structure, with the lowest-paid player earning $495,000, the average salary being $2.1 million, and the highest-paid player, Russell Wilson, earning $35 million. The MLB has the lowest minimum salary at $550,000 but also has the highest average salary at $4.36 million, with the highest-paid player, Mike Trout, earning $37.7 million.
With these salary figures in mind, let’s examine the sources of revenue for each league.
The primary sources of income for all the sports leagues are television rights (both national and local) and ticket revenue. The NFL secures the highest television contract as the most popular league. However, it is limited to selling tickets for only 16 games per season (17 games once the new CBA is implemented). Meanwhile, the MLB generates substantial revenue from ticket sales due to the number of games played (162) and the large stadiums they utilize.
On the other hand, the NHL performs well in terms of ticket revenue and additional sponsorships, mainly due to its fervent fans who consistently support their team and are willing to pay premium ticket prices. The area where the NHL lags behind other leagues is in the realm of television revenue, specifically, national television revenue from the United States.
The NFL, which generates the most revenue among the leagues, also boasts the most extensive rosters, leading to a larger pool of income divided among more players. Conversely, the NBA has the smallest roster, resulting in a higher average salary per player.
In the NHL, the maximum roster size is 23 players, and the low-end players are compensated relatively well compared to other sports. The NHL Players Association has effectively ensured that even the bottom-tier players are well paid, with the NHL having the highest minimum salary of $750,000 among the four major leagues. Unlike the NFL, NHL contracts are also guaranteed, where organizations can cut loose players.
Interestingly, other leagues do not prioritize the compensation of lower-end players as much as the NHL does. For example, in baseball, the focus seems to be on players who have reached free agency, and the incoming players receive the remaining earnings.
Are Higher Salaries Possible?
One suggestion for the NHL to pay their players more could be negotiating a higher national television contract. While the NHL does well with ticket revenue and other sponsorships, it falls behind other leagues in terms of television revenue, especially from the U.S. national television contract.
By negotiating a higher national television contract, the NHL could increase the overall revenue and distribute it among the players, leading to higher athlete salaries. Another avenue could be to explore alternative sources of revenue, such as international broadcast rights, digital media, and corporate sponsorships. By diversifying their sources of income, the NHL could secure a stable financial future for their players and increase their salaries.
In conclusion, the NHL lags behind other major sports leagues in North America, such as the NBA, NFL, and MLB, in terms of player salaries, with the highest-paid NHL player earning $12.5 million compared to the highest-paid player in other leagues who make upwards of $35 million.
This discrepancy can be attributed to the lower television revenue generated by the NHL and the division of the league’s revenue between a smaller roster of players. However, the NHLPA has ensured that players at the lower end of the roster receive a higher minimum salary than other leagues. Combined with guaranteed contracts, this takes care of the players at the bottom better than other leagues.