History of Compensation: Evolution of Professional Athletes

Compensation Data Facts - What's What in Compensation


History of compensation... According to a Forbes 2016 report, the top 100 paid athletes in professional sports will earn a cumulative $3.15 billion, 29% of which comes from endorsements and appearances. But in the early days it was common for only top-tier professional athletes to earn a comfortable living while average players earned so little they usually supplemented their income with off-season jobs. All of that changed with the creation of free agency, sports broadcasting, sponsorships, sports marketing and players’ unions. Now, the "big four" leagues of U.S. professional sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) start players with a six or seven digit salary. In contrast, the wealth and status of athletes in the early 20th century was nowhere near what it is today.

In the late 1800s, fans could follow their favorite sports teams in the press. The 1920s brought sports to a new level after the introduction of the radio, allowing fans to experience the action of live games. But in the 1950s, professional sports became big business due to the dramatic impact of the television. Fans could now see and hear the players and live action of the game. The industry exploded with agents, sportswriters, promoters and media outlets all looking for ways to capitalize on what would become the world's favorite pastime.

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