Every professional athlete wants to win a championship for their team. It’s the culmination of a season, or career, and the ultimate in glory on the field, court, or diamond. Beyond beating all comers, there are other advantages to winning a title—as in a substantial cash bonus.
On the first Saturday in May, a horse named Justify won the Kentucky Derby did, the first arm in the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing. While Justify won the traditional garland of roses and a future of being one of the most sought after stud horses in the world, he’s a horse, and has no need for the huge sum of money he won. It goes to his handlers—owner, trainers, and jockey. They’ll split, however they see fit, a total of $1.43 million.
In Major League Baseball, a money “pool” is created from the gate receipts—or ticket sales—at postseason games. Half the revenue from wild card games, 60 percent of the revenue from the first three games of the division series, 60 percent from the first four games of the league championship, and 60 percent from the first four World Series games all go into that pool. Its then split up amongst players on the World Series winning team that the team’s players determine played with the team for long enough or who otherwise made a major impact. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs ended a ridiculous 108-year championship drought with a long overdue World Series title, and took home a pool of $27.6 million. All postseason teams get a cut, but the champion gets the most. Those Cubs with full shares each took home about $369,000. That’s not much for the team’s multi-millionaires, but it’s a nice chunk of change for players making the MLB league minimum of $507,500.
The NBA employs a similar “pool” system to reward players whose teams advance far into the annual playoff tournament. In 2018, that totaled around a reported $20 million. Each round a team advances, their potential bonus goes up by 25 percent. This year’s NBA champions will then get about $3.3 million to split amongst themselves. Shared among the team’s roster, that works out to about $222,000 each. Some NBA Finals winners may also have clauses in their player and endorsement contracts that stipulate future pay raises if they win a title. That may bump their future earnings by as much as 50 percent.
The NFL’s system is a little more complex, because its playoff system is a little more complicated than that of other sports. The NFL sends six teams from each conference to the playoffs, with the two teams that earn the best regular-season record earning a first-round playoff “bye,” and then face the winners of the wild-card rounds. If a player on a bye-earner makes it through their first playoff game, the conference finals, and wins the Super Bowl, they stand to take home a total bonus of around $191,000. If their opponent was also a bye team, they bring home about $140,000 in all. A player on a team that loses in that first wild-card round: Their bonus is “just” $26,000.