The sporting life is a multi-billion dollar business. It’s no wonder that so many millions of U.S. parents expend tremendous resources — time, money, personal anguish — to get their kids involved in youth sports. Though the odds are stacked against any individual kid, a lucky few do make it to the big time. And, if they choose the right sport, make it they do.
If a shot at eye-popping compensation is the goal, which sport should you steer your kid toward? Actually, it’s more accurate to ask which league you should steer your kid toward, as team revenues and player compensation varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Here’s a look at the 10 most lucrative sports leagues in the world. Hey, no one said your kid would be able to stay close to home!
1. American Football (National Football League)
The National Football League needs no introduction, though the jury’s still out on whether that’s a good or bad thing. After decades of steadily growing popularity, professional American football took its current form in the 1960s. It hasn’t looked back — and now it’s looking for other countries, notably the U.K., to conquer. According to the most recently available statistics, the NFL takes in some $13 billion per year, more than most publicly traded private companies.
2. Major League Baseball (U.S. & Canada)
For better or worse, American football has usurped baseball as America’s national pastime, but Major League Baseball is still a big business in the land of the free. During the 2015 season, MLB took in nearly $10 billion, and rumors are swirling that the league is eyeing an expansion — possibly into Mexico, which would be its third market.
3. Premier League (U.K.)
Soccer — plain old “football” in most of the rest of the world — is the planet’s most popular sport, and the English Premier League is its most popular league. Yes, the EPL is home to the cream of football’s crop, and it brings home the bacon to match: more than $6 billion during the 2013-14 season.
4. National Basketball Association (U.S. & Canada)
The NBA is to basketball — the world’s second most popular sport — what the EPL is to football. No wonder it took in learn $5 billion during its most recent season.
5. National Hockey League (U.S. & Canada)
The NHL might be the runt of North America’s “big four” sports leagues, but it’s still the envy of the rest of the sporting world. With substantial help from a roster of ever-popular Canadian teams, the NHL pulled in a cool $3.7 billion last season.
6. Bundesliga (Germany)
From here on out, it’s (mostly) all football, all the time. First up: Germany’s Bundesliga, the world’s second most popular football league. It earned about 2.6 billion euros, or roughly $3 billion, last year.
7. La Liga (Spain)
Spain’s economy isn’t doing so hot, but don’t tell its sports fans. La Liga earned about 2 billion euros last year.
8. Serie A (Italy)
Serie A is on its A-game these days, to the tune of a cool 1.7 billion euros per annum.
9. Ligue 1 (France)
France’s top football league attracts some of the world’s best players, so it’s no surprise it earns some 1.5 billion euros each year.
10. Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan)
Last, but certainly not least: Nippon Professional Baseball. Japan loves its baseball — but it’s not exactly the same baseball we know and love here in the United States. Nippon Professional Baseball uses a slightly smaller, more tightly wound baseball that’s theoretically easier to hit. However, the strike zone is smaller, negating any advantage to the batter. Also, some Nippon ballparks are smaller than their MLB counterparts. And Nippon games can end in ties if no winner emerges after 12 innings.
What’s Next for the Business of Sports?
It’s worth remembering that, this time last century, the National Football League was still 50 years away from existing in its current form. Most of today’s sports cognoscenti would be surprised, 50 years hence, if the NFL didn’t look radically different than it does today.
Sad? Sure. Shocking? Hardly. Change is the only true constant in life. And the sports world has more than its fair share of change. So don’t get too excited about Junior’s soccer game or swim meet. Chances are good that, by the time he or she is old enough to retire from whatever pro sport he or she chooses to dominate, the athletic landscape will look very different indeed.
What’s your favorite big-time sport? Any niche contenders you’d like to see make a bigger economic impact?