Sportswriters at ESPN have concocted all kinds of silly theories that could only come from sports writers as to why NFL players earn less. Alas, sportswriters are not men of commerce.
The NFL gets about $8 billion a year for TV. There are 32 teams and rosters have 53 players. That comes to $4,422,169.81 a player.
The NBA gets about $3 billion a year for TV. There are 30 teams and rosters have 14 players on average (13 is the minimum). That comes to $7,142,857.14 a player.
In the other major pro sports, (NBA, NHL, MLB), players work full-time, playing both offense and defense. NFL players are highly-specialized part-time workers (e.g. long-snapper, quarterback).
If NFL players could play both offense and defense and thus if rosters were cut in half, NFL players would earn more than NBA players. With NFL rosters cut in half and thus NFL players doing full-time work, there would be $8,844,339.62 an NFL player vs $7,142,857.14 an NBA player. That comes to $1,701,482.48 more for each NFL player.
A wage is a price and as a price conforms to the Law of Prices— the winning bid of purchases and sales in the face of what is on offer sets the price. All wages get set in a double auction. Buyers of work bid up wages while sellers of work bid down wages.
Likely, many NBA players could play other pro sports such as the NFL or MLB. To keep them from defecting, their wages must be high enough. Yet, so few NFL players could play in other pro sports. And those who could likely only could play in the minor leagues.
Also the pool of potential NFL players is much higher than the pool for NBA players. There are so few who stand 6'5" or taller on earth let alone 6'8" and who are coordinated. The larger NFL pool of players bids down wages.
What happens when we compare work?
An NBA game runs 48 minutes. An NBA season runs 82 games. There are 3,936 minutes to an NBA season.
An NFL game runs 60 minutes. An NFL season runs 16 games. There are 960 minutes to an NFL season.
If every player in each league were paid equally from their respective TV income pools,
an NFL player would be paid $4,606.43 a minute while an NBA player would get paid $1,814.75 a minute. So on a per minute basis, an NFL player earns 2.54 times as much as an NBA player.
On a full-time, 40-hour work week, an NBA player would earn the equivalent of $226.5 million while the NFL player would earn $574.9 million! When you consider that an NFL player typically plays half a game, at an equalized pay rate, an NFL player would earn the equivalent of over one billion dollars a year, US$1.15 billion!
Of course, the foregoing fails to account for practice time and workout time.