After Game 3 of the World Series on Monday night, Rob Manfred said that MLB revenues had reached pre-pandemic levels this season at a total just shy of $11 billion. This information is important with regards to the health of the sport, which is what I think it was meant to convey, but it is also important with respect to this being the first year under the new CBA. How much of the money in a sport flows back to the players has implications for the likelihood of future work stoppages and the relationship between the player’s union and ownership among other things. If you want the sport to be viable in the long-term, these sorts of relationships are vital.
According to Spotrac, the aggregate payrolls for baseball this season amounted to $4.9 billion. That is 44.5% of the $11 billion that Manfred cited Monday. If you adjust downward since he said they were “just shy” of $11 billion, every hundred million below 11 billion bumps that percent up by a little over 0.4%, so 45% give or take went to the players as movements downward can’t change the number too much. What I wanted to know was how that number compares to the NFL and NBA, which I think most people would contend are the two healthiest pro sports in America currently, at least from a business perspective.
The three leagues are shockingly similar in size according to revenues. In 2021 the NFL generated roughly $11 billion as well, though they will likely generate more this year. If they reach their pre-pandemic level of $16 billion this year, it would put them quite a bit ahead of MLB. Their most recent CBA was set to give the players in 2021 a bump up from 47% of revenues to 48% of revenues, so roughly 3.5% more than what the baseball players are getting. That would be equivalent to $385 million dollars currently or $560 million on their pre-pandemic revenue amount, so it is a significant amount of money. This is also a league with many more players, which you can see in the average player salaries. The average NFL salary is $2.7 million while in MLB the average is $4.41 million.
As for the NBA, they made just over $10 billion last year according to Adam Silver. Their CBA has player revenue share in a band between 49% and 51% of league revenues. That means their players receive 4.5% to 6.5% more of league revenues than MLB players did this season. It is a slightly smaller over league revenue number, but roster sizes are much smaller. I found multiple places with different average salary numbers for the NBA ranging from $5.15 million to a little over $9 million, so I am not sure who to trust or cite. Suffice it to say the average is significantly more than the NFL or MLB number.
Is there any big takeaway from this? I think that is a big maybe. I would like to see one more year under the current CBA in baseball, especially since the lockout and late start complicated how this season played out. Next year should run more smoothly, and maybe it will be more indicative of the revenue split we should expect to see between now and the next agreement.
For now, I think we should assume that more of the revenue is going to owners than players in baseball relative to the other major sports, but not an egregious amount more. Also, since the MLB agreement does not specify the percent due to players, it might be more volatile year to year. There are some other bits of money that are not included in payroll, like the bonus pool they created for pre-arbitration players, so the all-in number for money to players could be slightly higher. Another factor is that running minor leagues and front office differences relative to other sports might have an affect on baseball that shifts how the overall pie is split.
My read is that the players should probably be getting a little more, but not enough that it will cause massive problems and time soon.