Whilst the wages of professional football players are subject to detailed scrutiny in the media, the salaries of professional rugby players are not as widely known. As in many sports, earnings can vary greatly from those plying their trade in the lower leagues to international players earning big money at the richest clubs.
The average salary for a rugby union player in the Aviva Premiership is £81,000 per year, with the best paid stars earning in excess of £300,000. This is dependent on which club they play for, their position and how their club has its wage bill structured. In the lower divisions, many players are part-time or university students, and salaries are generally between £1,000 and £7,000 per year. The best paid Academy contracts are worth around £10,000 per annum.
In England, the Rugby Football Union is offering players in the elite international squad an average of £100,000 per year in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup. This is in addition to the salary that these players earn at club level where they are likely to be at the top end of the pay scale. The best know stars will also be earning money from commercial activities which can take their total earnings to around the £500,000 per year mark.
A salary cap is in place for clubs playing in the Aviva Premiership. This limits the amount that a club can spend on salaries and prevents the wealthiest clubs simply attracting all of the best players as is the case in many domestic football leagues. From 2013-14 onwards the salary cap will be linked to the revenue generated by clubs which means that they cannot spend beyond their means and there is an opportunity for all clubs to acquire talent.
Rugby League wages are also governed by a salary cap. Clubs can currently spend £1.8m on wages each season, considerably less than the £4.26m cap in place in the richer Rugby Union game. Salaries are lower as a result with the average Super League player earning around £60,000 per year. Even top stars like Kevin Sinfield, captain of big-spending Leeds Rhino earn a modest £150,000 per year.