Dear Sports Fan,
What do football players earn from winning the Super Bowl? From the looks of abject despair on the faces of the losers and joy on the faces of the winners, it’s hard for me to imagine that they’re playing just for love of the game.
You sound awfully cynical about the motives of professional football players! You’re right that the players in the Super Bowl were not just playing for love of the game but my guess is that the joy and excitement or despair and anger you saw in the final moments of the Super Bowl were more purely motivated by a desire to win than you expect. There’s a long argument to be had there but instead, let’s focus on the other aspect of your question: what do football players earn from winning the Super Bowl? As with many questions of money, the truth is surprisingly elusive. There are lots of hard-to-know or define details about the potential financial benefit of winning a Super Bowl. There are also some very well known parts of the equation. We’ll start with those.
The National Football League (NFL) itself has a set group of financial rewards that go to players who play in each round of the playoffs, including the Super Bowl. Here are those figures:
- Wild Card round – $22,000 for members of wild card teams and $24,000 for members of division winning teams.
- Divisional round – $24,000
- Championship round – $44,000
- Super Bowl – $49,000 for members of the losing team and $97,000 for members of the winning team.
There are a complicated set of rules about which players are eligible to receive playoff money. Although the National Football Post has a detailed explanation of how it works here, probably all we need to know is that some amount is given to players who were injured during the season. Even a player who was traded away from a playoff team during the season, like former member of the Seahawks, Percy Harvin, might collect some money. In addition to the amounts above, the NFL sets aside $5,000 per player for a Super Bowl ring. This may not seem like a lot, but the rings are not an insubstantial financial reward, although most players probably regard theirs as mementos rather than an investment. According to Brad Tuttle in his Time article on the topic:
Then we must add in the fact that each of the 150 or so players and coaches on the winning team gets a blingy Super Bowl ring. The NFL allocates $5,000 per ring, but the winning teams are known to spend much more on them. Given how rare and collectible they are, a Super Bowl ring is easily valued at $50,000 to $75,000 and sometimes is worth in the hundreds of thousands if it’s owned by a notable player or coach.
Players do not generally earn salary during the playoffs. At first, it seems awful to ask players to risk their bodies and minds in playoff games without being paid for it, but if you look at it another way, it seems reasonable. Only 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. If I were an NFL player, I would be far more angry if my salary was only paid to me in full if my team made the playoffs. Whether it’s literally paid during the 17-week regular season or over the 22-week season with the playoffs, or even in even chunks across the entire year would not matter as much. Still, this split between regular season salaries and playoff payouts from the NFL does lead to some curious differences. Bloomberg has a beautifully illustrated article by David Ingold and Adam Pearce that points out the absurdity of the Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is still on his relatively limited rookie contract, being able to make up to 20% extra during the playoffs while New England Quarterback Tom Brady capping out at only an additional 1.1% because his normal salary is so big. If it were really all about the NFL payouts, Brady wouldn’t care nearly as much as Wilson about winning the Super Bowl.
There are many other financial factors though. Players can negotiate for performance-based incentives in their contract. Some of these may be playoff or even Super Bowl incentives. It’s hard to know what all of these are for the players on the Patriots and Seahawks, but you can get a hint by looking into each player’s contract history in a tool like Spotrac. Take a look at Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski. The last time the team made the Super Bowl, in 2011, he got a $800,000 incentive bonus. I don’t know specifically what that was for, but he didn’t get anything like that much in any other year. Spotrac lists out the performance incentives for Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork for 2014 and they included a $2.5 million bonus for playing 70% of the team’s snaps and making the divisional playoffs. We don’t know the particulars of every player contract but it’s safe to say that some have significant playoff or Super Bowl bonuses worked into them.
The last piece of financial reward is the hardest to quantify. Winning a Super Bowl makes you more famous and well-regarded. Fame can easily transform into endorsement or advertising deals, at least for players in visible positions or who made extraordinary plays. Being regarded helps players get more money during their next contract negotiations. Teams value players who have had the experience of going to and winning a Super Bowl and are sometimes willing to pay extra for a player who has done that.
Put all together, the NFL playoff payouts, the Super Bowl rings, the various possible performance incentives, and the hard to quantify but significant benefit that being a Super Bowl lends a player in future football or business contracts, there is a large amount of money riding on the outcome of the Super Bowl. I still don’t think that’s what players are thinking about in the weeks leading up to the game or even the weeks following it, but it is possible.
Thanks for your question,