How does the NBA outgrow the Premier League?

Player pay in the NBA has risen sharply, a clear signal of the growth of the association compared to the progression of the Premier League

The Sport Review staff
By The Sport Review staff
arsene wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger Photo: The Sport Review

A recent study revealed that the NBA has completely taken over as the league with the highest average pay for its players.

This development took place in a year, supplanting most of the Premier League teams which ranked in the top ten. Player pay rising so sharply represents a clear signal in terms of the growth of the association compared to the progression of the EPL.

The best NBA odds for a championship often result in a huge bill for the top contenders in the sport, similar to the most expensive Premier League teams, which rise to the top of the table more often than not. Despite the fact that football is the most popular sport in the world, the NBA has managed to outpace the Premier League in terms of growth and influence due to challenges faced by the EPL.

NBA pay skyrockets while EPL salaries dip

There was a time when the National Basketball Association had their championship finals played on tape delay because of the perceived lack of interest. Ever since that low point in the mid-1980s, the NBA has flourished, partly because of the influence of superstars like Magic, Bird, Jordan, Shaq, Kobe and LeBron. More than any other sports league, the association seems to have leveraged the rivalries and storylines of worldwide celebrities to great effect.

International stars, like Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili, have spread the gospel of basketball across Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, aiding in the global popularity growth of basketball. There’s no doubt that football remains the most popular sport in the world, but the wild success of the NBA has created an economic shift that has boosted basketball pros into the highest echelon of compensation.

Last year, the majority of the highest paid sports teams in the world were from the Premier League. The NBA has washed away most of the football teams in the listings, resulting in seven pro basketball teams landing in the top ten for highest average pay. The Cleveland Cavaliers jumped from 23rd rank to the top paid team in the world, compensating players with an average salary of £6,545,934, or £125,883 per week. LeBron James accounts for much of the total, earning £24.5m per year, tops in the NBA. Paul Pogba, best paid player in the Premier League, would rank 30th on the NBA’s list of biggest salaries with a meagre haul of £15.1m.

As a whole, the average pay for a Premier League player hovers around £2.4m while the annual average for an NBA baller is around £4.8m. One in four NBA players earn £7.9m or more, compared to one in 26 EPL players who make that figure. True, the salaries that Messi, Bale and Ronaldo receive are more than Pogba’s pay, but these outliers don’t affect the overall trend of NBA players earning a higher salary on average than football players, particularly in the EPL.

NBA advantages over the Premier League:

Globalisation and protectionism

The Premier League and the NBA attract elite talent from all over the globe, increasing the overall quality of the product while spreading the word across all corners of the Earth. Few sports fans aren’t aware of the NBA and the EPL, even if they’re not avid followers of either athletic pursuit. Kids from around the world dream of playing in the NBA and the Premier League, lured by the promise of cash, fame and glory.

Despite the similarities of their global approach, the NBA isn’t subject to the same rules of international competition as the EPL. The association doesn’t transfer top players to other leagues, instead poaching all the best talent from around the world to North America. There isn’t another comparable league for pro basketball players, unlike the EPL, which deals with a greater level of talent drainage into competing brands. The EPL doesn’t even contain the highest paid footballer in the world. Put simply, the NBA has managed to enjoy worldwide growth while protecting its most precious resource: elite basketball talent.

With a near-complete monopoly of all the best basketball players on the planet, the National Basketball Association hasn’t even bothered to develop a traditional feeder system until the recent bolstering of the D-League. Since five players are allowed on the court at one time, the impact of each individual player is magnified, making the NBA a star-oriented league more than most team sports. The top level of basketball features extreme requirements in terms of athletic build and ability, with the smallest deviations resulting in a lopsided competition. Scarcity drives up price and demand, benefitting basketball players and the NBA.

Monopoly leads to easy growth

The Premier League has competed against La Liga, Bundesliga and similar leagues around the world for decades. Two of the best in the world, Messi and Ronaldo, took their talents to La Liga rather than play for English sides, a scenario which is impossible in the basketball world. Even worse, the Chinese Super League and Major League Soccer have been enjoying their own rapid growth, siphoning talent good enough to contribute at the top level of English football.

In addition to holding nearly all the best basketball talent in the world, the NBA doesn’t have any competing leagues which offer anything close to the money and prestige available in the United States. Turkish, Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and other leagues may feature high-quality basketball, but they aren’t even in the same solar system in terms of influence. Without competing leagues, the NBA effectively holds a near-monopoly on elite pro basketball around the world.

Television contracts and marketability

EPL viewership has dipped somewhat while the NBA recently enjoyed its largest audience in 18 years during game seven of the championship finals, hearkening back to the Jordan era. The new contract that the NBA has arranged with various media networks reflects the broad marketability of this pro league. The previous deal with ESPN and Turner was a $930m per year contract, which represented a 21 increase in 2007. In 2016, the new contract increased the annual pay to approximately $2.6bn, a whopping 180 per cent rise in cash flow from this revenue stream.

This type of extra cash will help the NBA expand its presence further, compared to the Premier League, which must compete against elite international leagues for growth. Expect the NBA and its employees to continue trending upwards in wealth and worldwide influence, much faster than the EPL.

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