History of Compensation: Athletes Join the Millionaire's Club

Compensation Data Facts - What's What in Compensation



History of compensation... The introduction of television in the 1950’s, along with lucrative broadcasting deals had begun to change the status of professional athletes and therefore, increase salaries. Audience inflation suddenly went from thousands inside a stadium to millions via the television and it didn’t take long for players to capitalize on this change.

The $100,000 barrier was broken in 1949 by New York Yankee baseball player Joe DiMaggio, who became the first professional athlete to earn six figures. At the time, DiMaggio's salary was thirty times more than the average American earned. Twenty-three years later professional athletes joined the "millionaire's club" after NHL (National Hockey League) player Bobby Hull signed a $2.75 million, 10-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets. Hull's multimillion-dollar contract was soon superseded by MLB (Major League Baseball) player Dave Parker, who in 1978 signed a 5-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $5 million, making him the first professional athlete to earn $1 million per year.

Professional athletes in other leagues quickly followed and that same year Moses Malone was crowned the first NBA (National Basketball Association) million-dollar player, earning $1 million for the 1978-1979 season.

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