With unemployment near record levels and the jobs outlook grim, millions are struggling to pay bills, stay in their homes and afford basic necessities.

So it might be hard to comprehend the salaries of professional athletes when you break it down to pay vs. hours worked. But as it's been discussed before, player salaries aren't so much about hard work, sweat and tears as they are about the bottom line - namely, revenue. How much can those star players generate for the owners and corporate sponsors, and how much credibility do they offer to their respective leagues and sports organizations?

TUTORIAL: Stock Basics

Here's a look at five sports and a few of their "hardest working" athletes. (For related reading, see When Celebrity Endorsements Don't Work.)

Football
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was the highest paid NFL player for the 2010-11 season with $30.8 million ($15.8 million in salary and $15 million for product endorsements). During the off-season, though, Patriots' QB Tom Brady inked a four-year deal worth $72 million, so the battle for the league's highest paid is on - providing, of course, there is a season. In any case, Manning's contract last year breaks down to just slightly under $1 million per regular-season game.

Players whose teams make the post-season earn additional bonus money. For example, the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, whose highest paid player was wide receiver Greg Jennings ($7 million), paid each player $19,000 each for the wildcard game, $21,000 each for winning the divisional playoff game and $38,000 for the title game. Their Super Bowl win earned each player an added $83,000 for a total of $161,000 for their playoff run. Break that down by game and it comes to $40,250 per game, not too shabby for an extra few days' work. (When an old NFL team wins, the market will end the year higher. For more, see Making Sense Of Market Anomalies.)

Baseball
Alex Rodriguez's salary has been making news since he signed that $252 million, 10-year deal in 2001. When that contract expired, he signed a one-year deal worth nearly $32 million with the Yankees. Still, A-Rod's astronomical salary didn't guarantee a World Series win. The Yankees, who finished second in the American League East and needed a wildcard to get to the post-season, lost in six games to the Texas Rangers for the AL pennant.

For argument's sake, however, pretend he played every regular season game (162) and every possible playoff game (17) for a total of 189. That would mean he earned $184,357 per game, or $20,484 per inning. With approximately four at-bats per game, that's $46,064 every time he stepped up to the plate. Not bad for a summer job. (For related reading, see A History Of Baseball Economics.)

Basketball
Imagine it's 2003 and you're a teenager in Akron, Ohio, scrambling for a summer job after graduation. Now imagine you're Lebron James and your first paycheck from your first job out of high school is $12.96 million for three years to play professional hoops. That's $4.32 million a year, $52,682 a game or nearly $1,100 per minute. Fast forward to 2010 and a contract with the Miami Heat worth $14.5 million. For each game appearance, King James earned more than triple his original pay, a cool $192,437 per game, whether he suited up or not. But according to Bloomberg.com, those numbers are far below the NBA's top earner, Kobe Bryant, whose contract with the L.A. Lakers earned him $24.8 million this season. Hey, you do the math. (For more, see The Numbers Behind Shaquille O'Neal.)

Hockey
The average hockey player in the NHL makes approximately $2.4 million, a relatively small chunk of change compared to their other sports brethren but still substantial.

To put things in perspective, consider this: the average brain surgeon makes $450,000 a year. A social worker makes around $46,000. A teacher in Connecticut, the highest paying state, only makes an average of $63,000.

The Vancouver Canucks, who are looking for their first-ever Stanley Cup win, are paying star goaltender Roberto Luongo $10 million for this season. His earnings - which are about $170,000 for each of the 60 regular-season games played, could increase substantially if the team ends up taking the big prize against the Boston Bruins. Luongo is a rarity, however. When it comes to big payoffs, the top earners in the NHL are the ones who put the puck in the back of the net. For instance, Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier, who also made $10 million for this season, is one of eight wings or centers who surpassed the $8 million mark. (For related reading, see The Most Expensive Kids' Sports.)

Soccer
The world's most popular sport yielded enormous salaries for some of its global stars. Americans thought David Beckham's $250 million, 5-year contract (salary and endorsements) with the Los Angeles Galaxy was out of this world - after all, Major League Soccer was struggling to stay afloat. But Beckham's big payday was designed to do a few things - open the door for teams who hoped to woo other international stars, and increase visibility and credibility for the MLS, which desperately needed a boost.

But Beckham's payday doesn't even crack the list of the top 20 highest-paid soccer stars in the world, whose salaries averaged $14.7 million a year with clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan.

However, despite his enormous fan appeal, through 2010 Beckham played in only 48 games of the Galaxy's 120 regular-season games since signing his contract in 2007. That's 40% work for 100% pay. Not bad.

TUTORIAL: Economic Basics

The Bottom Line
Enormous salaries are now the norm for professional athletes. When you break down the pay per-game, per-inning, per at-bat numbers, it's staggering. But as long as teams are willing to dish out giant paychecks, players are going to accept them. Meanwhile, the rest of us can only look on as we struggle to earn a living. (For related reading, see The Professional Sports Portfolio.)

Related Articles
  1. Investing News

    How 'Honesty' Could Pay off for Jessica Alba

    Is it possible that Jessica Alba is one of the savviest businesswomen on the planet?
  2. Fundamental Analysis

    The Economics of FanDuel

    Part of fantasy sports’ success lies in one-day and week-long contests serving as an alternative to season-long games. FanDuel, a leader in this space, has recently surpassed a $1 billion valuation.
  3. Personal Finance

    The Future Outlook of the Golf Industry

    The popularity of golf peaked in 2003. To regain popularity and survive, the industry is adapting to appeal to a younger generation of players.
  4. Investing News

    Famous Celebrities Who Love Investing

    Celebrities have a bit of a bad reputation these days. These five celebrities, though, have used their fame and their money to invest successfully instead of spending it on looking good.
  5. Professionals

    The Top 5 Richest Restaurateurs

    The top five richest restaurateurs have proven that it is possible to not only turn a profit in the restaurant business but to become multi-millionaires!
  6. Professionals

    The Top Six Richest Supermodels

    Through excellent investing, brand management and high earnings, these six supermodels have cultivated multi-million dollar net worths.
  7. Stock Analysis

    How Nike (NKE) Continues to 'Do It'

    Other than style, do sneakers from any maker really differ that much? That's debatable. But this is certain: Nike sets the standard for selling an image.
  8. Entrepreneurship

    Nike and the NBA, a Perfect Duo?

    What does Nike's recent eight-year contract partnership with the NBA entail for its largest competitor Under Armor?
  9. Personal Finance

    How The NBA Makes Money

    The National Basketball Association has moved past Major League Baseball to represent the second most popular sport in the United States. How does the NBA make money?
  10. Economics

    The NBA’s Business Model

    Drawing interest domestically and abroad, the NBA has seen its popularity and revenue streams rapidly increase over the past few years.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Hole-In-One Insurance

    A product that offers financial protection to golf tournament ...
  2. Merchandising

    Merchandising is any act of promoting goods or services for retail ...
  3. Rothschild

    A prominent family of German bankers that established banking ...
  4. Tycoon

    A prominent figure in a particular industry who has built up ...
  5. High-Speed Data Feed

    A data stream that transmits information at a faster pace than ...
  6. Bowie Bond

    An asset-backed security;which uses the current and future revenue ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. Why is Manchester United (MANU) carrying so much debt?

    The takeover of Manchester United by the Glazer family beginning in 2005 saddled the historic club with substantial amounts ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are Manchester United's (MANU) largest revenue sources?

    Manchester United is one of the most popular U.K. soccer teams. Its principal stadium is Old Trafford, located in the heart ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Does Manchester United (MANU) own Old Trafford stadium?

    Old Trafford Stadium was built for and is currently still owned by Manchester United Football Club (Man Utd.). This means ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What's the biggest sports endorsement deal ever signed?

    According to Forbes, basketball player Derrick Rose holds the largest endorsement deal as of 2014; the deal is for more than ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are the biggest stadium naming rights deals of all time?

    The top three stadium naming rights deals of all time were all for stadiums hosting New York City teams. The largest was ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between a mutual fund and money market fund?

    The Herfindahl-Hirschman index can be used to determine competitive balance in sports. Competitive balance is desired in ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!