Except for the lucky few who have landed endorsement deals, athletes in winter Olympic sports are chronically underpaid, especially compared to their professional peers. A look at how they measure up.
Plenty of glory, not so much cash
Starting Saturday, when competition commences at the Sochi Winter Games, U.S. athletes will spend the next 16 days fighting for Olympic glory … and woefully little prize money. Except for the lucky ones who have landed profitable endorsement deals, the athletes in winter favorites like downhill skiing, figure skating, and luge are chronically underpaid. That’s in part due to monetary bonuses — $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, $10,000 for bronze — that the United States Olympic Committee has not increased in at least a decade. (Wach country’s committee sets its own prize amounts, and payouts vary considerably.) Those sums are measly in their own right, but when compared to other professional athletes, they’re even more pathetic. Here’s how other championship prize money measures up.
National Football League - $92,000
Players on the team that won this year’s Super Bowl — the Seattle Seahawks — will receive $92,000 apiece. It even pays to lose: Players for the runner-up Denver Broncos will get a check for $46,000.
Major League Baseball - $307,000
Last year’s World Series champs, the Boston Red Sox, each earned a bonus of $307,000. That amount is far short of the record $370,000 each San Francisco Giant took home for claiming the title in 2012. The per-player totals vary each year since the prize money pot is generated from playoff game gate receipts.
National Basketball Association - $153,000
The winning team of the NBA Finals receives a pool of money that it can divide however it likes. Last year’s champion, the Miami Heat, won $2.3 million. If that sum was split evenly among the team’s 15 players, each would have received about $153,000. The league also doled out monetary bonuses based on teams’ conference records from its overall $13 million prize pot.
National Hockey League - $150,000
The players left standing at the end of the NHL playoffs get ownership of Lord Stanley’s Cup and a nice chunk of change. Thanks to the NHL Players’ Association’s collective bargaining talks, the bonus pool for 2013 playoff participants doubled to $13 million, with the winning team — the Chicago Blackhawks — collecting $3.75 million. Assuming that’s split evenly for a team of 25, each player would have pocketed $150,000.
Tennis - As much as $2.6 million
Those backhands are bringing in the bucks. Winners of the U.S. Open men and women singles each took home $2.6 million in 2013. Other Grand Slam singles tournaments are just as lucrative. Men’s and women’s winners at Wimbledon and The Australian Open are paid about $2.6 million apiece, while the French Open pays out just over $2 million to its victors.
Golf - As much as $1.8 million
With the PGA Championship prize pool reaching a record $10 million this year, the winner of the 2014 tourney will collect $1.8 million, the highest total for any Grand Slam. The British Open, Masters, and U.S. Open award champions about $1.4 million each.
Bowling - $50,000
That’s right. Even bowlers make more money than Olympians. The payout for the winner of the 2013 Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions was $50,000.