Number-crunching US sport

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The 2016-2017 NBA season gets under way next week. Here AFP crunches the numbers behind the world's most popular basketball league and its rival sports:

- Money, money money -

Top salaries in the National Basketball Association are among the highest across the world of team sports, with LeBron James due to pocket just under $31 million this season after negotiating a new three-year deal in August worth $100 million. James' salary compares favorably with the National Football League, the most-watched sport in the United States, where Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has the highest average salary at $24.6 million.

According to the Spotrac website, which gathers data on players contracts and salaries, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw draws the highest salary in Major League Baseball, earning $34.5 million in 2016.

Ice Hockey continues to lag behind the big three of American sport, with the game's biggest star, Pittsburgh's Canadian international Sidney Crosby, earning around $10.9 million per year.

Elite NBA stars, meanwhile, remain the kings for generating endorsement dollars, with James signing a lifetime sponsorship deal with Nike in December 2015 that is expected to see him become a billionaire. Forbes magazine estimates James' 2016 endorsement earnings at $54 million, although his total earnings were still reported to be less than the world's highest paid football players -- Cristiano Ronaldo ($88 million) and Lionel Messi ($81.4 million).

- Drawing a crowd -

With a staggering 2,430 matches in the regular season, Major League Baseball attracted around 73.1 million through the turnstiles in 2016, an average of 30,168 per match. But in terms of average attendance, the National Football League continues to rule. With each team playing only 16 regular-season games, crowds average out at around 68,400 per game.

The NBA meanwhile, played in smaller, indoor venues, attracted an average crowd of 17,481 a game in 2015-2016, a total of around 21.5 million fans.

By comparison, the leading football leagues of Europe hold up well, with England's Premier League attracting 13.8 million spectators in 2015-2016, an average of 36,451 per match.

- Pulling power -

The National Football League remains the juggernaut of television viewing figures in the United States, with average audiences of 16.6 million per game against 7.3 million per NBA game.

The gulf in viewing figures is even more stark when contrasting the numbers for the two sport's showpiece occasions -- the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals.

Last year's NBA Finals thriller between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors drew an average of 20.3 million viewers, with a peak audience of 31 million for the seventh and final match in the series won by the Cavs.

This year's Super Bowl -- a fixture in the US sporting landscape which is akin to a national holiday -- attracted 111.9 million viewers.

The difference in viewing numbers is reflected in the sums each sport is able to demand for television rights. The NFL earns around $7.2 billion a year through to 2022 while the NBA will earn $2.7 billion a season until 2025 -- a massive increase on its previous deal of $930 million a year.

Major League Baseball is a distant third at 1.5 billion a year (four million viewers per match) with the NHL gleaning $633 million (1.8 million viewers on average).

- Billionaire's club -

With its cavernous stadiums, giant television contract and the global pulling power of the Super Bowl, the NFL remains the most valuable league in American sport, according to Forbes.

The league is worth an estimated $74.8 billion in 2016, with each franchise worth an estimated $2.3 billion. Major League Baseball is just ahead of the NBA in terms of overall value, at $38.6 billion ($1.3 billion per franchise) against $37.4 billion ($1.2 billion per team).

The NHL is dwarfed by its three rivals, with a total value estimated at $15.2 billion, $500 million per team.

According to Forbers, the Dallas Cowboys are the most valuable team in world sport at $4.2 billion, ahead of Real Madrid ($3.65 billion) and FC Barcelona ($3.55 billion), the two titans of European football. The New York Yankees baseball team weigh in at $3.4 billion with Manchester United, another commercial juggernaut, fifth at $3.32 billion. The New York Knicks are ranked the most valuable NBA team at $3 billion.