Which Sport Makes the Most Sense as a Potential Career Choice?

Ryan Bhandari  |

Have you ever wondered which sport is the most economically sound choice for a child to pick? When comparing the average career earnings in a sport to the probability of breaking into that sport, you can actually find out which sport is the best one, at least from a cold, financial perspective.

To answer that question we here at equities.com decided to examine the percentage chance a high-school senior has to make it to a professional sport and the average career earnings of a player in that sport. When we multiply these two numbers together, we can find the sport that yields the highest expected income in the future. In other words, we find the sport with the best combination of expected future earnings and likelihood of getting to the professional level.

For the purposes of this article, we decided to break down the average career earnings and odds of achieving professional status in the four major sports leagues in America: MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. 

Football (NFL)

Professional football has taken the country by storm in the last decade, surging in popularity to become the nation’s most popular sport. But with this newfound popularity and attention, the NFL has also had to deal with a myriad of health issues brought forth by current and former players that hold the league responsible for their ill-fated sicknesses.

Parents are reluctant to start their young children in peewee football for this reason alone. But perhaps the future expected income can parents to reconsider. The average NFL player only has a career that lasts 3.5 seasons. The average salary of an NFL player is $1.9 million. This means that the average player will make $6.65 million over the course of his career.

This is certainly a lot of money, but not a lot when compared to the other sports. However, 0.2% of all high school senior football players will make it to the NFL. That certainly sounds small, but it’s actually pretty good when compared to the other 3 professional sports.

Therefore, the expected value of an NFL career for a high school senior is $12,540.

Baseball (MLB)

America’s pastime is always a favorite among parents. It seems like almost everyone played little league baseball as a child. There’s just something uniquely American about the sport of baseball. But it’s very difficult to break into.  

First off, only 0.5% of high school seniors playing baseball get drafted into the MLB. And that’s only the beginning. Once drafted by the MLB, besides a handful of exceptions all players have to go through the minor leagues (Single A, Double A, Triple A) before they make it to the majors. Minor league players have a roughly 14% chance of making it into the MLB. Put the two numbers together and you get 0.07% of all high school senior baseball players in the MLB.

Baseball players though tend to have longer careers than football players. On average, a baseball player’s career will last 5.6 years and he will earn roughly $3.2 million per year. Therefore, the average player makes $17.92 million dollars in his career.

The expected value of a career in the MLB for a high school senior then is going to be $12,544.

Basketball (NBA)

Basketball has not only surged in popularity in the United States recently, but also around the world. It’s safe to say that basketball has become the third most popular sport in the world (behind cricket and the world’s most popular, soccer).

As basketball grows in popularity though, it becomes increasingly difficult for individuals to make it to the pros. High school seniors playing basketball only have a 0.03% chance of playing in the NBA. Only 3 out of every 10,000 players make it to the pros. This is the lowest probability out of any major professional sport.

The good news is that when they make it, they get paid handsomely.  NBA players make, on average, about $5.15 million per year. Their careers last on average about 4.8 years. Therefore, the average player makes $24,720,000 over the course of his career, the highest number out of any of the four major professional sports.

However, since it is the most difficult to make it to the NBA out of any of the four major sports, the expected value of a career for a high school senior choosing basketball is only $7,416.

Hockey (NHL)

The last major sport to discuss is certainly the least popular out of the four. For whatever reason, the NHL has never achieved the same kind of success in America as it has in Canada.

However, the rewards are still quite good. Hockey players make an average of $2.4 million per year and have an average career length of 5.5 years. Therefore, they make roughly $13.2 million over the course of their careers.

Getting into the NHL is still difficult though. Only 0.4% of all high school hockey players are drafted to the NHL. And hockey has a similar minor league system to baseball so after these players get drafted, not all of them make it onto the ice. Roughly 19% of the players drafted will go on to have a career in the NHL meaning that 0.08% of all high school hockey players will make it to the NHL.

When taking the numbers together, the expected value of choosing hockey for a high school senior is $10,560.

The Verdict

Football and baseball are the winners. Both sports have roughly the same expected value. Despite that the fact that football players make the least amount of money on average, they have a high expected value because of the relatively high odds one has at making to the NFL. On the other hand, despite the fact that the NBA is the most lucrative sport in terms of money, it has the lowest expected value because it so unlikely to make it to the pros.

As we all know though, choosing which sports to place your children in extends way beyond the financial implications of making it to the big leagues. Parents don’t put their children in sports because of possible future earnings. They do it because they want their children to have fun. There may not be a high probability your child makes a professional career out of his or her favorite sport, but there certainly is a high probability he or she will have fun playing it.


DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer


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