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Making it as a professional sportsperson is difficult, but cricket seems to offer the best risk/reward for boys.

My two children love sport. I am also lucky enough that they take after my wife more than me when it comes to sport. I am also lucky enough that my wife is organised and driven enough to get them the coaching for them to both excel in their chosen sports. For me, I think competing and the emotional growth of living and the highs and lows of sport is enough of an incentive to play sport. I think they both learn valuable life lessons. However, I know for many of the other parents they see their child athletes as a future stars and breadwinner for the family. The sports market is very efficient, and once you adjust for the cost and difficulty of making it, is not a sensible decision to try and be a professional athlete. But it seems to me, that the market has not adjusted to the future potential rewards in cricket, making it by far the most attractive sport for a boy to play. Let me explain.

Before we get to cricket, let us go through my thoughts on other major sports. I should say that if your child shows any aptitude towards either tennis or golf, then you should pursue these sports. If your child is not going to be tall, unless they are very gifted, you should steer them towards golf. While short tennis players can do well (see Ash Barty or Andre Agassi), its much harder to excel. Why is golf and tennis so good? Both are non-contact sports, which means professional careers can be long. They are also individual sports, which makes it to develop a personal brand. This increases the likelihood of continuing to earn an endorsement income after ending their playing career. For women in particular, the choice of a sporting career in tennis and golf stands out. In 2022, the highest paid female athletes list is particularly dominated by tennis players, but in 2021 two golfers made the top 10, Jin Young-Ko and Nelly Korda with earnings of USD 7.5m and USD 5.9m respectively. It should be noted that endorsements make up the majority of earnings, and that the non-tennis playing high earners in 2022 both excel individually, rather than in a team sport.

For men, it is noticeable that you can be a high earner in a team sport, as well as an individual sport. Tennis and golf are still great options here, but leading football and basketball players will makes as much if not more. Other sports that pay well included baseball, boxing, cycling, motorsports, American football and ice hockey.

So far, there is little to no evidence that cricket is a potentially high earning sport. However, the Indian Premier League is was only started in 2008, and has become one of the most valuable sports leagues in the world. My analysis suggests it offers great potential for players going forward.

The first thing to say is that sports market tends to be very efficient. Each sports league will need a certain number of new players each year, as older players retire, or injury cuts short a career. NFL needs the most, as the league has nearly 1700 players, but with an average career length of 3 years. NFL recruits mainly from Division 1 College Football - of which there are 254 teams to choose from, or 10,000 players. All the American sports would have similar metrics. For Euro football, most clubs have youth squads that they can choose from, as well as their pick of the best players in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a truly global sport, it is difficult to quantify how many potential European footballer players there are, but making it to the top tier is difficult. For F1, usually new drivers come through F2, so maybe 30 or so drivers are available for every open position. To simplify, IPL has it pick of the best players internationally, so to be selected for the IPL, you should be selected for your national team. To play for England, you typically need to play for your county first, and then get selected to play for England. That is 18 counties, with 15 players in a squad, gives you 270 players, for a potential selection to an England team. Currently there are 11 English players in the IPL, so if you can get picked for England, you have a good shot at the IPL.

However, as noted above, the real kicker in sport comes from endorsements. Working out the potential for endorsements is trickier. The “intensity” of a match will make this far higher in my view. An MLB team plays 162 games a season, and the league has 2430 games in total. Most people are not going to watch most games. NBA suffers a similar problem, with 82 games in a season, and 1324 games for the league. This leads to the problem of most fans only watching the post-season. But NBA only has 5 players on the floor at one time, meaning the opportunity for brand building is very high (most people in Europe know LeBron James, but how many know Shohei Otani?). NFL and Formula 1 offer relatively few matches/races, and most fans will watch at least some of most events. Formula 1 has the edge here as there are only 20 drivers, which probably explains why drivers often pay to be in F1. For me the most interesting league is IPL. Despite cricket being non-contact sport, the number of matches that are played are relatively limited. Revenue per match is quite high, and it would be possible for most fans to watch most matches. Cricket is far less physically demanding than football, so the potential to increase matches and revenue seem quite high. In it current format, it is only played for 2 months of the year. Potential for endorsements and match pay to rise from here is very high.

The key issue is that India is still relatively poor, so it is far easier for children to get access to the facilities and training to make in cricket in countries outside of India. Using the number of Test cricket grounds as a proxy, Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa and West Indies have the infrastructure in place to provide players to a growing IPL.

England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies are the main beneficiaries as the sport is big enough to generate investment in these countries. However with a combined of 130 million compared to 1.4 billion in India, it is clear that India will dominate revenue in cricket. Cricket also benefits from being a difficult sport to master. In another 20 to 30 years, India will likely be producing a huge numbers of world class players as their facilities improve. But right now, for a parent desperate to have their son be a high earning professional athlete, cricket is hard to beat.

Sports related observations, particularly with finance connections
Russell Clark