Why Are NHL Players Paid Less Than NFL, NBA, MLB? (Read First!)

Did you hear how much LeBron James got paid last year?

$41 million USD.

Not bad!

So, how does the best NHL player’s salary stack up to LeBron’s?

Well, in 2022, Connor McDavid got paid $12 million USD.

That’s basically a QUARTER of LeBron James’ salary.

And… McDavid is the highest paid hockey player in the NHL.

So, why are NHL players paid so little compared to other professional athletes in the NFL, NBA, and MLB?

Well, in this article, we’ll show you exactly why hockey players are paid pennies compared to other athletes in North American professional sports.

And, if you’re wondering what hockey leagues pay the best, check out this article I wrote!

Let’s dive right in.

Here’s Why NHL Players Are Paid Less Than NFL, NBA, MLB:

The main reason NHL players are paid less than other North American pro sports is because the NHL earns less revenue. There’s less money available for players.

Is Hockey the Lowest Paid Sport?

When comparing NHL salaries to the likes of the NBA, MLB, and NFL, you’d imagine that hockey is the lowest paying sport.

Well, the reality is that it certainly pays less than football, baseball, and basketball.

But… hockey isn’t the lowest paying sport in North America.

Of all major North American sports leagues, the NHL only beats out one sport: soccer.

The MLS—or Major League Soccer—doesn’t have as much nationwide support as hockey. The league pays the average player $1 million USD per year.

Compared to the MLS, the NHL pays an average of $2.69 million USD per year to their players—nearly 3 times as much as soccer players.

Why Are NBA Salaries Higher Than NHL?

Sports teams are limited to pay players an amount lower than the revenue they bring in.

Each professional sports team is a business. They bring in certain levels of money as income through various revenue streams.

This means they can pay players only so much money.

The primary reason NBA teams pay their players more money than NHL teams pay their players is due to revenue.

The main two sources of revenue for pro sports teams are broadcasting rights for television and game ticket sales.

The NHL receives a much smaller share of revenue from the different TV broadcasting networks.

Ultimately, because more people watch basketball, baseball, and football, the broadcasters will pay sports teams in those leagues more money. Higher viewership leads to higher revenue.

If hockey were to become more popular and attract more TV viewers, then broadcasters will earn more money which they can pay to NHL teams, leading to higher salaries.

What Sport Has the Highest Paid Athletes?

Have you ever wondered what sport has the highest paid athletes?

Well, it certainly isn’t the NHL.

Here’s a list of the average salaries across the different North American sports leagues:

Sports LeagueAverage Salary
1. NBA$8.32 million USD
2. MLB$4.03 million USD
3. NFL$3.26 million USD
4. NHL$2.69 million USD
5. MLS$410,000 USD

The NBA is the highest-paying sports league in North America by a long shot. It is $8.32 million USD per average player salary. Compared to MLB, it more than doubles their $4.03 million USD average player salary.

Are NHL Players Underpaid?

So, are NHL players underpaid? Well, this is a difficult question to answer since the definition of “underpaid” is quite subjective.

When the base salary of NHL players is $775,000 USD, it’s difficult to consider that an underpayment as most “regular” people will never see anything close to that in terms of annual salary.

However, looking at the NHL salaries compared to other leagues, you might assume that they’re being underpaid (relatively-speaking).

Connor McDavid’s $12 million USD may seem like a lot. But, compared to the NBA, for instance, it’s very low.

$12 million might be what the typical NBA role player might get each year. 

Since NHL players play 82 games per season (and then playoffs for half the league), and they don’t rest players for games unless they’re injured, it could seem like an underpayment.

However, it’s important to look at the numbers when figuring out whether they deserve  more money or not.

The reality is that the NHL makes far less revenue overall than the NBA.

Billions less.

The NBA revenue from the 2021-22 was $10 billion USD.

The NHL? It only brought in revenue of $5.3 billion USD. 

With revenues of half the size, it’s understandable that NBA players will get paid more.

However, NBA players make over 3 times as much as NHL players, on average.

Sports LeagueAverage Salary
NBA$8.32 million USD
NHL$2.69 million USD

So, how can we explain the extra money for NBA players?

Well, NBA rosters are smaller than NHL rosters.

NBA teams only have 15 players on their roster throughout the season, while NHL teams have a 23-man active roster. While only 20 players can dress in each NHL game, they have to pay 3 extra guys.

So, NHL teams have to spread out their player salary budget more than NBA teams do.

All in all, are NHL players really underpaid? 

When compared to other leagues, they’re really not.

And, compared to us, regular folk, they’re certainly not.

I’m sure most of us would trade our salaries for an NHL minimum salary of $775,000 USD any day.

I’d dream of making even a quarter of that!

Who Gets Paid More: MLB or NHL?

Major League Baseball (MLB) players get paid more than NHL players, on average.

Sports LeagueAverage Salary
MLB$4.03 million USD
NHL$2.69 million USD

The average salary for an MLB player is just over $4 million USD, while the average salary for an NHL player is $2.69 million USD.

Who Are the Highest Paid Athletes?

Curious who the highest paid athletes are in the world?

Well, we’ve got Forbes’ list of the highest paid athletes from May 2021 to May 2022.

If you guessed that there won’t be any hockey players on this list… you guessed right!

AthleteSportSalary + Other Income
1. Lionel MessiSoccer$130 million USD
2. LeBron JamesBasketball (NBA)$121.2 million USD
3. Christiano RonaldoSoccer$115 million USD
4. Neymar (da Silva Santos Júnior)Soccer$95 million USD
5. Stephen CurryBasketball (NBA)$92.8 million USD
6. Kevin DurantBasketball (NBA)$92.1 million USD
7. Roger FedererTennis $90.7 million USD
8. Canelo Alvaraez Boxing$90 million USD
9. Tom BradyFootball (NFL)$83.9 million USD
10. Giannis AntetokounmpoBasketball (NBA)$80.9 million USD

Pssst… You’ll notice LeBron James’ salary below is listed much higher than his salary above $41 million USD. This is because, along with his salary, we’ve also included his various deals, endorsements, and other sources for his total income. 

Curious to know more answers to the most common hockey questions? Be sure to check out our other popular blog posts: What Hockey League Pays the Most, How Do Shifts Work in Hockey, and What Are the Top 10 Ice Hockey Countries?






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