Cricket salaries indicate Mayor Ballard’s idea may have merit

My older brother, Tom, probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’m a sports business journalist. He’s been reading me sports statistics since he could read.

Most of the time, I listened as he poured through statistics line by line from The Sporting News, which was the Bible for hardcore sports stats junkies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Though my brother now lives 3,000 miles away, he’s still reading me sports stats. Knowing my affinity for everything related to sports business, he recently read me a clip from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

My brother, who is 3-1/2 years older than I am, has always relished asking me questions about the stats he dug up. The more obscure, the better. I later learned studying psychology in college something I think Tom knew all those years ago. The asker of the questions always appears smarter than the one giving—or trying to come up with—the answers. That’s why Alex Trebek seems so darn smart.

Nevertheless, I was delighted when my brother recently asked, “Which sports league employs the highest-paid athletes?” That’s an easy one for a sports business junkie.

“The NBA,” I answered, then went on to explain about the league's smaller roster sizes and guaranteed contracts and rather favorable collective bargaining agreement. I assumed we were talking stick-and-ball sports here.

I was not surprised to learn that a recent study compiled by concluded that the NBA did in fact have the highest average player salaries, at $4.5 million annually.

Not satisfied, he asked me for the rest of the top 10. Well, I’m good. But I’m not that good. Knowing he’s a big soccer fan, I figured that soccer was going to be up there. And it was. But the English Premier League was No. 4 at  an average of $3.5 million per year.

Then, remembering what I had learned when Mayor Greg Ballard first proposed the World Sports Park on Indianapolis’ east side, I pulled a rabbit out of my hat. “How about cricket?” I asked in reply to his question. I then explained how huge the sport is worldwide (outside the U.S.) and in particular in India, with its huge population and growing middle class.

I knew Major League Baseball was way up there, too. The teams’ rosters aren’t huge and the sheer length of the season and the number of games MLB teams play drive in large sums of money, which can be dolled out in player salaries. The lack of a Major League Baseball salary cap doesn’t hurt either.

Still, something in the deep recesses of my mind told me cricket was higher.

I think my brother was a bit dumbstruck I came up with that answer. But I was right. The average annual salary for a player in the Indians Premier League is $4.2 million. The average MLB player makes $3.9 million.

So, yes, while the concept of making the World Sports Park an Indianapolis-based cricket mecca may seem a little strange, there is proof that in some corners of the world cricket is indeed a very commercially viable sport.

Will Indianapolis one day be one of those corners? I wouldn’t yet argue that, but it’s never a bad idea to plant some seeds in a growing sector. And clearly world-wide cricket is a big-league attraction .

Several important caveats to the list. Clearly, Formula One racing was not included in this list. If it was, it would be No. 1. NASCAR too must have been omitted.

Also of note, America’s 800-pound gorilla—when it comes to sports—the NFL, ranked No. 8 on this list. The NFL’s big rosters, rookie pay-scale and non-guaranteed contracts all work against it. Still with its enormous television contracts and mass U.S. appeal, it may surprise some that American football isn't higher on the list. The NFL ranks behind not one, not two, but three soccer leagues. And just in front of a fourth. Soccer truly does have world-wide appeal.

Instead of boring you with the rest of my conversation with my brother, I’ll just post the list of the top 10 sports by average annual player salary, according to

And yes, I guessed a good many of the sports on the list correctly. But my brother is still smarter than I am. And that’s not just perception.

National Basketball Association, $4.5 million

Indian Premier League (cricket, India), $4.2 million

Major League Baseball, $3.9 million

English Premier League (soccer, England), $3.5 million

National Hockey League, $2.4 million

Bundesliga (soccer, Germany), $2.2 million

Serie A (soccer, Italy), $2 million

National Football League, $2 million

La Liga (soccer, Spain), $1.8 million

Nippon Professional Baseball, (Japan) $600,000

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