While the NFL might be America’s game, it can occasionally be as incomprehensible as cricket.
There’s the coded lingo quarterbacks shout at the line of scrimmage. There’s the league’s complex salary cap. There’s Dan Snyder.
But for me the league’s least understandable element is something that ought to be simple to explain but never really has been:
Why does the richest sports entity in the universe have the lowest average salary of any of the four major professional sports leagues?
The NBA’s average salary is $5.15 million. In MLB, it’s $3.2 million, and in the NHL – a niche sport compared to football – it’s $2.4 million.
Yet in the NFL, despite its monster TV ratings, its sold-out stadiums, and its awesome marketing machine, the average player makes $1.9 million a year.
That figure is counterintuitive on so many levels.
Revenue certainly doesn’t explain it. The average NFL team, according to Forbes, pulls in an average of $206 million annually and is worth $1.47 billion.
That annual revenue is more than double what an NHL club makes, $84 million more than the NBA’s average, $12 million better than baseball’s.
And you would think that since pro football’s athletes have the shortest career span in sports, its salary structure would help compensate for that shortcoming.
The average NFL player plays just 3.2 years, while a baseball career lasts 5.6 years, hockey 5.5, and basketball 4.8.
Part of the reason is the relative weakness of the NFL Players Association. Salaries haven’t increased anywhere near as rapidly as the values of the teams.
Take the Eagles as an example.
Jeffrey Lurie bought the team from Norman Braman in 1994 for $195 million. Twenty years later, according to Forbes, the Eagles are worth $1.75 billion. That’s an increase of approximately 900 percent.
Meanwhile, the average NFL salary in 1994 was $628,000, meaning it’s risen only by about 300 percent.
This article was republished with permission from the author, Frank Fitzpatrick. The original article was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.