Which are the world's easiest and hardest pro sports leagues to get into?

Considering only the world’s top-tier leagues - Premier League, La Liga, NFL, Bundesliga, NBA, NHL, MLB, etc:

Which is the hardest league to get into, as a professional athlete, and which is comparatively the easiest?

I’d say the NBA. 30 teams only carry 13 players and it is unquestionably the best basketball league in the world.

I still believe that had I dedicated myself to bowling when I was a kid and worked on it all the time, I’d be in the PBA today.

I can’t say that about too many other sports leagues.

I will also go with the NBA, not only because it’s definitely the best in basketball but also because the starting 5 play so many minutes that the backups need to have a skill set to play as backups.

To do it right, you’d have to look at the total player base from childhood upward, and then figure out the likelihood of making it to the big leagues from there.

You’d also have to define “the big leagues” better; in say… pro soccer, there are a LOT of national leagues, and it’s not quite so clear which ones are top flight, and which ones are not. I mean, is Ligue 1 in France considered top tier with say… La Liga or Serie A? What about the Russian league? Is it all of the UEFA leagues? What about say… the Argentinian Primera Division? That sort of thing might make a huge difference.

There’s a lot of wiggle room in what the “top leagues” are, especially in soccer/football. Even with the huge number of youth players, if you define “top leagues” loosely enough, pro soccer might be the easiest. Or maybe something like the PGA, where there are LOTS of PGA pros (~27,000), but few actually compete.

If auto sports count, I’d say Formula One is by far the hardest, with only 20 drivers.

At the very top levels, any sport will have only the most elite players. Unless there is a drastic difference in the numbers of people wanting to get in to one league compared to another, the question is basically which league has the most roster spots. By that standard the NFL is the easiest league to get into. The other option would be soccer as a whole, if you consider all the various leagues put together rather than looking at each one separately.

Well, if you take things literally, professional sumo is extremely easy to get into if you’re serious about joining, and even easier if you’re a Japanese citizen or permanent resident for which there are no restrictions on the number of recruits. They only have to either be successful amateurs or pass a height/weight requirement. The entire organization competes in the same tournament held at the same time, so it is just one league, even if there are 6 divisions.

You probably mean just the top division, but that’s really not that small of a category compared to everyone who is part of the league. There are 600-700 total people in the organization competing, and 42 are in the top division. The 28 more in the second division don’t get paid that much less than the rank-and-file of the top division. If you’re a strong amateur, you probably can make it to those paid ranks. Obviously if you haven’t been training for it for many years you won’t have a chance, but if you haven’t, why are you considering it?

Now, professional sumo’s status as a top-tier league is debatable. It may be Japan’s national sport, but it’s only the 4th most popular there behind baseball, football/soccer and tennis according to https://allabout-japan.com/en/article/4175/. If you want to make as much as an average professional player in the 4 major American leagues, you need to be one of the best ever.

Despite it being the only professional sumo league in the world, the Japan Sumo Association seems to try their best to not let foreign fans watch without showing up and buying a ticket, although recently I think they they’ve realized there might be good money in broadcasting worldwide. The JSA exists as an entity recognized by the Japanese government as preserving a part of Japanese culture, reporting to the Minister of Culture theoretically, and the association is dedicated to keeping the tradition alive the way it’s “always” been, and only has it be a spectator sport because that’s how they pay the bills.

Didn’t we do this about 6 months ago?


Rather, “he” did:

That’s not the same question though. The difference between layman and pro, and the difficulty of getting into a pro league, isn’t the same thing.

The most difficult pro sports league for me personally to enter would be the WNBA.

Nitpicking but I believe each team has a roster of fifteen players. However only thirteen of them can be designated as active for any given game.

In a few years, perhaps not so difficult anymore.

I bet there is though. There are LOTS of kids who play basketball in the US - millions I’d guess, and they’re getting culled at multiple levels- middle school, high school, collegiate sport, and finally the NBA draft. All for just shy of 400 roster spots.

Meanwhile, F1 has 20 drivers, but how many people ACTUALLY competitively race, even as kids? I’d guess the number is much, much lower than basketball. Still extremely difficult to become a F1 driver though. But maybe your odds are a bit better than playing in the NBA.

So maybe the right answer is to look at the percentage of top-tier players vs the player base? Even then, you have to make some judgment calls; lots of playground players never play on organized teams, for example. Things may change pretty dramatically if you only look at organized teams as your player base. Millions of players shuts down real quick to about half a million in high school.

By the way, is it true that for most top-flight soccer leagues (like Bundesliga or Premier League,) there is no formal process for becoming a player other than, simply, being really really good wherever you are in the world?

In other words, if you are an outstanding young soccer player somewhere in Uruguay or Ethiopia, there’s no reason Arsenal or Borussia Dortmund couldn’t sign you to a contract on the spot?

Well, the NBA has the fewest team members I can think of, so that means fewer people can make it.

That is pretty much true, yes. Football (soccer) has a ‘scouting’ system, whereby every professional club employs a team of talent scouts who can potentially travel all over the world. And since this is known, if a tiny village club runs across a young player who is obviously good, someone at the club may well use their contacts to get a scout to watch them. Some clubs will sign up promising talent from very young ages. Doesn’t always work out of course, and there are examples of players breaking through at the top level after spending years at lower levels (Jamie Vardy probably the best recent example) but that’s rare. He too of course would have been talents-spotted at several stages in his career, but he is unusual in only hitting the top tier at nearly age 30. Although of course that holds true for all pro sports.

Beyond that, a lot of lower league teams primarily make their money as what amounts to training teams- they sign promising young players for cheap, and then sell their contracts to higher level teams for a lot. So there are lots of scouts looking at the next levels down to see what promising players there are, as well as the ones from the big teams.

Yes, exactly, thank you - it’s turtles scouts all the way down.

The thing that amazes me about the NBA is how many amazing college players get drafted and then bust out in a few years. A lot of it over the past several years is these players only play one year of college ball then get drafted but still.

Major League Baseball is brutal as well because you can be the greatest fielder, the greatest base runner, the greatest athlete but if you can’t hit a 98 mph breaking ball (or throw one) your aren’t even getting looked at, and unless you are a top pick getting a 7 figure salary the living conditions for minor leaguers is brutal.

How much do minor league players get paid?