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Sports Leagues and Teams Are Starting To Cut Salaries — Here’s Who Stands To Lose the Most

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Sports leagues around the world have been postponed for many weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. With no revenue coming in from paying fans, leagues are starting to feel a pay crunch. Just like millions of other workers, sports stars are being asked to take a pay cut. The highest-paid players stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars per paycheck or per game missed.

Using Spotrac salary data (except where otherwise noted) combined with reports of frequently evolving financial negotiations, GOBankingRates created a list of athletes from the four major affected sports who stand to forfeit the most cash while stadiums sit empty

Last updated: April 23, 2020

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Salary Cuts in the NBA

On March 11, the NBA became the first major North American sports league to put its season on hold after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Players will be paid their full salaries through May 1. The players and the league recently agreed to a flat 25% salary reduction starting with paychecks delivered on May 15.

Some players are paid in six-month cycles instead of 12-month cycles. To estimate how much the highest-paid stars might forfeit, GOBankingRates simplified the equation by dividing the annual base salary for the league’s top-paid players by 24, presuming two paychecks a month. The “paycheck cut” on the following slides represents 25% of that sum for total wages that will be lost every two weeks. See how much the 10 highest-paid NBA players stand to lose every couple weeks.

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Paul George

  • Annual base salary: $33 million
  • Paycheck cut: $343,808

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Kyle Lowry

  • Annual base salary: $33.29 million
  • Paycheck cut: $346,836

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Blake Griffin

  • Annual base salary: $34.23 million
  • Paycheck cut: $356,614

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Kevin Durant

  • Annual base salary: $37.19 million
  • Paycheck cut: $387,490

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LeBron James

  • Annual base salary: $37.43 million
  • Paycheck cut: $389,967

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James Harden

  • Annual base salary: $38.19 million
  • Paycheck cut: $397,906

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John Wall

  • Annual base salary: $38.19 million
  • Paycheck cut: $397,906

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Russell Westbrook

  • Annual base salary: $38.5 million
  • Paycheck cut: $401,109

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Chris Paul

  • Annual base salary: $38.5 million
  • Paycheck cut: $401,109

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Stephen Curry

  • Annual base salary: $40.21 million
  • Paycheck cut: $419,081

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Salary Cuts in the MLB

The fate of the 2020 baseball season remains unclear, and the league’s contract situation is murky compared to the NBA. CBS Sports reported last month that the MLB and MLB Players Association agreed to a prorated payment schedule based on the percentage of games played. If 81 games are played, for a simple example, each player will receive half his salary. The league forwarded the players union $170 million in advance, which the union keeps even if the season is canceled.

One major complication is the league is still keeping open the possibility of playing in empty stadiums. On April 16, The Athletic reported that if that plan moves forward, the league might ask players to forfeit even more to offset massive stadium ticket and concession losses. The players considered the deal to have already been done. The league’s position is that the contract was written with the understanding that “games played” meant “games played in front of fans.”

On April 20, the Associated Press reported that in the original prorated contract, players agreed to forfeit 1/162 of their base pay for every game not played. Since that figure represents games played divided by 162, salary losses in the following section are represented per game missed. It does not, of course, reflect the still unresolved empty stadium issue. See how much the 10 highest-paid MLB players stand to lose.

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Miguel Cabrera

  • Annual base salary: $30 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $185,185

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Manny Machado

  • Annual base salary: $30 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $185,185

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Chris Sale

  • Annual base salary: $30 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $185,185

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David Price

  • Annual base salary: $32 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $197,531

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Zack Greinke

  • Annual base salary: $32 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $197,531

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Justin Verlander

  • Annual base salary: $33 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $203,704

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Nolan Arenado

  • Annual base salary: $35 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $216,049

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Stephen Strasburg

  • Annual base salary: $35 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $216,049

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Gerrit Cole

  • Annual base salary: $36 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $222,222

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Mike Trout

  • Annual base salary: $36 million
  • Salary lost per game missed: $222,222

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Salary Cuts in Pro Soccer

Salary reductions in soccer have naturally been more arbitrary and piecemeal. Soccer’s global popularity and sprawling, complicated international league system — each with its own representative cities, clubs and championship series — makes a unified salary negotiation impossible. Some pay cuts have been voluntary, some have not. Some have been flat across a team or league, others tiered by income level. See how much some of the highest-paid international soccer stars stand to lose.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic

  • Loss in salary: $3.6 million

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the L.A. Galaxy earned a 2019 salary of $7.2 million, according to ESPN, making him the highest-paid player in the MLS. Another report by ESPN, however, stated that the league is considering drastic pay cuts that will likely require the top-paid players to forfeit half their salaries.

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Cristiano Ronaldo

  • Loss in salary: $4.13 million

At the end of March, a Spanish publication reported that Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo had agreed to a pay cut of $4.13 million out of what Forbes reports as his $65 million salary.

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Antoine Griezmann

  • Loss in salary: $19.39 million

Barcelona’s entire squad recently agreed to a full 70% salary cut, according to USA Today. That means a big hit for Antoine Griezmann, who, according to Forbes, earned a salary of $27.7 million in 2019.

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  • Loss in salary: $37.5 million

As a top-earning player, Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar will likely have to concede to a 50% salary reduction, according to ESPN. Forbes lists his 2019 pay at $75 million.

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Lionel Messi

  • Loss in salary: $64.4 million

The highest-paid athlete in the world, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi agreed to take a 70% pay cut with the rest of his Barcelona teammates, according to CNBC. Forbes lists his 2019 salary at $92 million.

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The NHL suspended its season on March 12, just as the playoff race was really heating up. Two days later, the league announced what is so far the most generous agreement across all major sports.

According to NBC Sports, NHL brass decided to allow players to be paid in full for the remainder of the regular season, despite having a clause that allowed the league to withhold salary in the event of a catastrophe.

Less celebrated employees, however, weren’t so lucky, according to Sporting News. On a team-by-team basis, many NHL franchises that had originally tried to retain hourly employees, front-office staff and everyone in between are now being forced to cut salaries, furlough workers or lay them off altogether.

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