A number of readers wrote in last week inquiring about my statement that NHL players make salaries comparable to other major professional sports leagues.
The wording attempted to add context to why NHL ticket prices are so high, namely because hockey players earn salaries comparable to NBA, MLB and NFL athletes without the same national television revenues to help pay for them. Several readers questioned NHL wages being comparable, but part of their confusion likely stems from using improper measurements to gauge salaries.
First, comparing salaries of top athletes in every sport isn’t all that helpful. Just because the top 5% of elite players in one league make more than those in another doesn’t mean the same is true for the remaining 95%.
That’s also why comparing average salaries isn’t always best — those again being skewed by extreme highs or lows. Looking at Statista.com, the average salaries in the 2017-18 season had the NBA at $7.7 million, MLB at $4.51 million, the NFL at $2.91 million and NHL at $2.78 million, which, mind you, isn’t all that big a difference for three of the four leagues.
But when using what’s widely considered the most impartial measurement for comparing leagues — the “median” or “middle” salaries — MLB drops to No. 4 and NHL leapfrogs to No. 3. If we calculate the median “cap hit” versions of 2019 salaries across various leagues on Spotrac.com, we’ll see the NBA at $4.46 million, followed by NFL at $3 million, NHL at $2.25 million and MLB at $1.375 million.
The reason MLB fell so much is 40 of its players — about 5% of 860 total roster spots — earned $20 million or more and dramatically inflated average wages beyond what’s normal for most in that circuit.