Which Sport Has the Highest Paid Players?

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In the United States of America, the highest paid sport, according to average player salary, is basketball. It is difficult to determine the highest-paying sport, especially when relying on averages of individual player salaries. The roster numbers vary widely from the National Basketball Association (NBA), with just under 500 players in the league, to the National Football League (NFL) with over 1,500 players. However, on average, basketball is the highest-paid sport in the United States.

The average NBA player makes $4.6 million per year, according to data from 2015. One of the world's highest-paid athletes in 2017 is LeBron James, an NBA player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who made $86.2 million, including salary, bonuses, prize money, endorsements, licensing and appearance fees. American basketball players Kevin Durant ($60.6 million), Stephen Curry ($47.3 million), James Harden ($46.6 million), Russell Westbrook ($38.6 million) and Damian Lillard ($38.4 million) are also in the top 15 highest-paid athletes in the world in 2017, according to Forbes. The wealth in basketball could be attributed to the fact that it is a global sport and global brands can use recognizable players in ad campaigns all over the world. This increases their endorsement earning potential when compared to less-global sports, such as American football players in the NFL and Major League Baseball players. These sports are not played widely across the globe and players are not as recognizable in other countries.

By average player salary, Major League Baseball (MLB) is the second-highest paid sport in America, with an average salary of $4.17 million in 2015. In 2017, the highest-paid baseball player in the United States was Clayton Kershaw, with a salary of $33.3 million. Globally, MLB salaries are not as high as basketball and soccer players. Other baseball players among the highest-paid athletes in the world in 2017 include David Price ($30.6 million), Justin Verlander ($28.8 million), Ryan Howard ($27 million), CC Sabathia ($25.6 million), Buster Posey ($24.6 million) and Prince Fielder ($24.2 million), notes Forbes. By average player salary, the third-highest paid sport in the United States is the National Hockey League (NHL) with $2.62 million, followed by the NFL with $2.11 million.

If sports are measured by their collective earning potential, the 1,500 or so players in the NFL earned $3.6 billion in 2015, much greater than the NBA's collective $2.1 billion. Some individual NFL players also have high-paying contracts. The highest-paid football player in 2017 was Andrew Luck, who earned $50 million, making him the sixth-highest paid athlete in the world. Other NFL football players among the highest paid athletes in the world in 2017 are Drew Brees ($45.3 million), Fletcher Cox ($33.4 million), Antonio Brown ($31.9 million), Eric Berry ($31.1 million) and Stephon Gilmore ($29.3 million), according to Forbes. Globally, the Premier League of soccer teams based in the United Kingdom beat both the NHL and the NFL, with an average player salary of $3.82 million. In 2017, Gareth Bale was the highest-paid player in this league with a salary of $34 million, notes Forbes.