Why do NHL Players get paid less than NBA, NFL, MLB?

No one feels bad for NHL players and their salaries–they still make millions. But, the highest-paid players in the NHL seem to make significantly less than the other major sports leagues in the United States and Canada.

On average, NHL players get paid lower salaries as compared to the NBA, NFL, and MLB teams. Why do NHL players get paid less?

Apparently, broadcasting rights for television and ticket sales remains the major sources of revenue for professional sports teams.

Sadly, the NHL only receives a much smaller amount of revenue from its TV deal compared to the percentage received by the NFL, MLB, or NBA. Hence, they make less money to pay their players.

Let’s break down these figures and give you a clearer view of the average of these sports.

The Salary Break Down for each Sports League:

There isn’t the name of any hockey players on the list of the top 100 paid athletes in the world. Funny enough, players from sports like soccer, basketball, tennis, golf, baseball, and football made the list.

But, no hockey players were found among the first 100 most paid players. Let’s look into the four major leagues in North America and see the minimum, average and maximum Salary players could make from the sports.

League Low Average High Highest
Paid Player
NHL $750,000 $3 million $12.5 million Connor McDavid
NBA $582,000 $7 million $37.44 million LeBron James
NFL $495,000 $2.1 million $35 million Russell Wilson
MLB $550,000 $4.36 million $37.7 million Mike Trout

Now that we have a picture of the salaries of players in each sport, let’s look at how the sports get their revenue.

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Sources of Revenue For Various Sports:

The two most significant sources of income for all sports are ticket revenue and television (national and local rights).

Interestingly, the NFL, which is the most popular league in the United States, gets the highest television contract. However, they can only sell tickets to 16 games per season.

Welcome to the home of sports
Welcome to the home of sports

MLB, on the other hand, gets the most out of ticket revenue because of the sheer number of games (162) plus the huge stadiums they play in.

While the NHL actually performs fairly with ticket revenue and other sponsorships. This is because they have passionate fans who devotedly follow their team and willingly pay high ticket prices.

The NHL falls behind these other leagues in television revenue – especially TV revenue from the U.S. national television contract. Let’s elaborate more on this aspect.

Revenue from TV Deals:

The table below outlines the national TV revenue that each league makes:

League National TV Revenue $/year
NHL $700 Million (Canada + U.S.)
NBA $2.66 Billion
NFL $4.95 Billion
MLB $3.6 Billion

The $700 million allocated to the NHL is the addition of the $500 million per year made from Canada and $200 million per year made from the U.S.

Certainly, the $200 million per year from the United States is an extremely small amount compared to the NFL deal.

The NHL only gets saved on its tv deal because the NHL Canadian deal props it up.

The fact that the NHL is able to generate so much money with a U.S. broadcast contract that is so much less expensive than its competitors honestly amazes me.

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This demonstrates how the league has successfully maximized the revenue generated internally through ticket sales, sponsorships, and licensing deals.

In my opinion, the NHL’s upcoming American television contract should be significantly more expensive. In the 1970s and the first part of the 1980s, the NHL enjoyed greater popularity in the United States than the NBA.

Will it recur in any way? Maybe not, but it does demonstrate that there is still a lot of opportunity for improvement.

Size of Roster:

The number of players on a team has an impact on how much an NHL player makes in comparison to other professional sports.

For instance, the NFL has the largest roster among the leagues but also the highest revenue generation. They have a bigger pie as a result, but it is split up among more players.

The NBA has the smallest rosters, so each player receives a larger share of the prize money. The average salary for an NBA player is the highest of the four sports.

The maximum roster size for the NHL is 23 players. And among those players, the lower end of the roster performs admirably in contrast to other sports.

Making sure the guys at the bottom get paid well is something I believe the NHLPA (NHL Player’s Association) has done well for the players.

The NHL has the highest minimum salary ($750,000) when you compare all the leagues’ minimum wages (that is a bit of a tongue twister). On the other hand, the NFL has the lowest minimum wage at $495,000.

Additionally, keep in mind that, unlike the NFL, NHL contracts are guaranteed and cannot be terminated by an organization. It always surprises me how little the other leagues do to support the guys at the bottom.

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For instance, it seems as though everything in baseball is geared toward the players who have reached free agency, while the players just breaking into the league receive the crumbs.

Therefore, the NHL players at the bottom receive better care than those in other leagues, despite the fact that the top players are paid less.

Interesting NHL Facts:

1. What Does AAV Mean In Hockey? (And Why The NHL Use It)

3. What Is A Power Play In Ice Hockey?