Most people probably dreamed of being rich and famous professional athletes at one point or another. For all but a talented, driven and lucky few, though, the dream remains a dream. But even those who weren’t blessed with world-class athletic talent can still have exciting careers in sports that put them close to the games they love.
From sports administration jobs to physical therapy, non-athletes earn their livings every day with a front-row seat to the games that drive their passions. Here’s a look at what they usually earn — and what they might earn if they make it to the tippy-top of the pyramid.
Referee, Umpire or Other Official
Median pay: $17.49 an hour
NBA referees– who are among the best-compensated across all pro sports — start at around $250,000 a year, according to Career Trend. Those selected to call playoff games can expect to add an extra $800-$5,000 per game, depending on the referee’s rank and the level of playoff contention. With only about 60 spots available, however, that’s a tough job to break into. If you’re looking to wear the stripes and blow the whistle but don’t make the cut for the pros, it’s more likely that you’ll make something closer to $17.49 an hour, which is the median pay for referees, umpires and other officials across all sports at all levels.
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Sports Massage Therapist
Median pay: $27 an hour
If you’re looking for a truly hands-on occupation, you can land a job soothing athletes’ battered bodies as a sports massage therapist. Working as a massage therapist is also a way you can make extra money in your spare time. Like all sports-related jobs, the pay swings wildly depending on a range of factors, not the least of which is the league that hires you. Major League Baseball therapists likely make much more than those who spend their days kneading away on AA ballplayers in the minors. Hourly wages can range from less than $18 all the way up to more than $60 an hour, for annual salaries starting at about $45,000.
Median annual salary: $37,705 a year
Does getting paid to go to games and write down what you see while hobnobbing with the stars in the locker room sound like one of the greatest sports jobs on earth? You probably won’t get rich in a career as a sports reporter, but all that excitement can earn you an honest living. The median salary is a little more than $37,700 a year, with those in the higher pay ranges earning nearly double that.
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Median annual salary: $46,494
All great athletes have to eat right if they want to perform, so teams hire nutritionists to counsel both individuals and groups about the dietary requirements specific to their sports. The jobs are wide-ranging, from monitoring what kind of food the team’s facilities serve to work with outside physicians to assess athletes’ nutritional needs so they can develop diet plans. Salaries range from around $31,000 a year to roughly $78,000. Working as a nutritionist can also be a high-paying part-time job.
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Median annual salary: $51,400
The three top-earning agents in sports each took in nine-figure commissions in 2019 alone, according to Forbes. Like coaching positions, however, a few dozen top dogs tend to hoard the lion’s share of the earnings. The reality for the sports agent who earns the median salary is a fair but far less royal $51,400.
Median annual salary: $57,288
The biggest sports broadcasters on the air are often richer and more famous than many of the athletes who play in the games they call. For example, CelebrityNetWorth.com reports that Bob Costas is worth $50 million and earns an annual salary of $7 million. But if you land a broadcasting gig, it’s more likely you’ll take home in the neighborhood of $57,288, which is the median salary for broadcasters across all sports at all levels.
Median annual salary: $58,379
So you think you’ve got an eye for talent? Or maybe you’ve developed the next can’t-lose “Moneyball”-style scouting formula? Sizing up the next generation of sports superstars is one of the coolest sports management jobs available, and it can pay upwards of $215,000 a year — but only for those earning the biggest salaries at the most well-heeled clubs. The median pay is less than $60,000, but bonuses are often part of the package.
Median annual salary: $61,361
The average salary for an NFL head coach is more than $6 million, according to Forbes. The highest-earning college football head coach, the University of Alabama’s Nick Saban, earned $9.3 million last year, according to Sports Illustrated. Those examples, of course, are the superstars — and they’re merely outliers. The median-earning head coach makes a middle-class salary.
Median annual salary: $72,000
An article from the American Psychological Association explained why this career is in such heavy demand: “From Olympic champions to weekend warriors, athletes of all levels are hiring sport psychologists to give them a mental edge.” Those in the lowest percentile earn just short of $50,000 and the top earners pull in six figures.
Average annual salary: $89,240
If you’re hired as general manager, you can expect to land a contract that pays between $30 million and $35 million over five years — provided your team is the Denver Broncos and you’re two-time Super Bowl champion, nine-time NFL Pro Bowler, Hall of Fame legend and Denver golden child John Elway. If you’re a mere mortal whose number isn’t hanging up in an NFL stadium — and you don’t go to work every day in an NFL stadium — you’re more likely to earn a salary approaching $90,000.
Sports Medicine Doctor
Median annual salary: $183,625
Sports-specific physicians specialize in diagnosing, treating, and recommending specialized care for athletes with sports-related injuries. They might also help create programs designed to prevent injuries and increase player durability. Surgeons who operate on athletes can make much more than a general sports medicine practitioner, but even they can earn well over $200,000 a year.
Median annual salary: N/A
Team owners don’t have median salaries — they gobble up vast sums of cash through multiple revenue streams that range from stadium naming rights and ticket sales to television contracts. According to Forbes, professional team owners all have one thing in common: They’re among the richest people in the world. Microsoft’s 30th employee was Steve Ballmer, who bought the L.A. Clippers in 2014 after retiring from the software giant. He has a net worth of $69 billion and tops the list of the richest owners in sports for six years straight. All told, the 43 professional sports franchise owners who made it onto the most recent Forbes 400 list combine for a collective net worth of $276 billion.
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Information was sourced from BLS.gov, Glassdoor.com and Payscale.com, and is accurate as of Nov. 20, 2020.