Just how lucrative is the world of professional volleyball? What does the financial reality look like for most pro volleyballers?
Are they mostly struggling to make ends meet, or are they making big bucks playing only 8 months out of the year?
Entry level professional volleyball players can expect to make between $12k-$55k per year, whereas seasoned professionals usually field salaries over $100k. The best players in the world earn north of $1m per year.
As you can see, there is huge variance in what professional volleyballers get paid.
It all depends on where in the world you’re playing – which is largely determined by the position you play and just how good you are.
Let’s start with some easier questions to answer…
Is There A Professional Volleyball League?
Yes, there absolutely is. Several, in fact.
There is north of 20 professional volleyball leagues throughout the world, most of which are in Europe, Asia, and South America.
Typically, there is 1 professional grade league per country, France being the exception having 2 pro leagues.
Each league attracts a different level of competition and as such, the top athletes are able to earn considerably more money by playing in the top tier leagues.
What Factors Influence How Much Professional Volleyball Players Make?
Asking how much professional volleyballers earn is like asking ‘how long is a piece of string’. The answer is always, it depends and salaries vary massively based on a few factors.
These factors include the foreigner quota of the league, how skilled or valuable the player is, and what position they play.
For the rest of this section of the article, we’ll be looking at how this stuff works for indoor volleyball. Professional beach volleyball is a little different which we’ll get to later on.
1. Foreigner Quota
This is by far the biggest influencing factor on how much a volleyball player can earn.
Each league allows only a certain number of foreigners to play on contract for a club. The fewer foreigners clubs are allowed to sign, the higher these players are paid on average.
For example, the foreigner quota in Russia is 2 players per team and in Poland it’s 3. Whereas in France the quota is 6 and in Germany there is no quota…
This is the primary reason athletes will earn more money on average in Russia or Poland as opposed to France or Germany.
The exception of course being if you’re Russian or Polish and playing in your home league, in which case you’re not foreign.
Foreigner Quota By Country
|Poland, Turkey, Greece||3|
These numbers vary quite a bit between men’s and women’s volleyball and certain federations have maximums based on number of foreigners ‘on court at one time’, as opposed to on the roster.
In Italy age plays a role in the foreigner quota. But you get the idea.
2. Skill Level
Obviously, how good you are at volleyball will play a big role in determining how much money your contract will be worth.
More accurately, your skill level will determine which leagues, coaches, and agents will be interested in signing you.
In Europe, the various leagues are broken down into 4 tiers based on skill level.
The Tier 1 leagues (Italy, Russia, Poland) have the highest level of competition in the world. They also tend to have lower foreigner caps which means teams have to recruit international talent sparingly. And that means they look for the best players and pay them the big bucks!
European League Skill Tiers
|Italy, Russia, Brazil, Poland||1|
|Argentina, France, Turkey||2|
|Belgium, France B, Germany, Greece||3|
|Austria, England, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland||4|
It’s also common to include the Brazilian league as a Tier 1 league because of the level of play, even though they’re not in Europe.
From a strictly financial perspective, you could include the Asian leagues as Tier 1 because of the big money paid to foreign superstars, but the level of play is considerably lower.
We’ll discuss more about the influence of foreigner quotas and these league tiers later on.
3. Volleyball Position
What position you play on court will have a pretty big influence on how much money you earn. The simple reality is that some positions are harder to find talent for than others.
Outside & Opposite Hitters Get The Big Bucks
If you take a look at the Korean and Japanese leagues which have a foreigner quota of just 1, they almost always look to sign big time scorers.
We’re talking outside hitters and opposites primarily.
Giants like Gavin Schmitt, Thomas Edgar, and Robertlandy Simón who tower over the local talent, once signed are tasked with becoming the primary point scorers for their respective teams.
Liberos Are The Least Valued Position
Setters and middle blockers are the next most desirable positions, followed by liberos right down the bottom of the pile.
The unfortunate reality is if you’re a libero looking to make it as a professional volleyballer, you’re going to have to work really hard.
Most leagues do a decent job of filling libero positions with local talent.
Finding a decent defensive specialist is a lot easier than finding a 2.08m opposite who can block and hit well!
Having said all that, there is definitely still demand for exceptional liberos and the best athletes will still earn some really good money. There’s just more competition and you have to be willing to work really hard to get into Tier 1 leagues.
How Much Do Professional Volleyball Players Make In Asia?
There’s actually some pretty impressive money being made in the Asian volleyball leagues, although they’re very difficult to get into for foreigners.
In Asia, entry level local professional men’s volleyball players earn between $15.5k and $55k, while top local players may earn closer to $530k. International superstar volleyball players will often earn north of $1m per season playing in Asia.
As you can see, there’s some pretty massive money being made in the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese leagues. The reason for this is due to the very tight foreigner quotas.
How Much Do Professional Volleyball Players Make In Japan?
This number will vary a lot based on how good the player is, what position they’re playing, and what sort of sponsorships are available at the time.
Local entry level players can expect a starting salary somewhere in the neighborhood of $15.5k.
This might not seem like a ton of money, but the players are typically looked after fairly well and have a lot of expenses like accommodation and amenities taken care of.
In the Asian leagues, for both men and women, it’s common for teams to have team dorms that house players.
Top Japanese Players Make A Lot More Money
The top Japanese players can expect to make low six figures each year, again largely dependent on sponsorships.
Japanese superstar Yuji Nishida signed with Asics in 2020 and while the amount isn’t public, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s earning 7 figures per year.
Of course with the foreigner cap of just 1 in Japan, international signings are worth a huge amount of money, likely 7 figures for some (if not all) of them.
How Much Do Professional Volleyball Players Make In Korea?
Korea is by far the most lucrative volleyball nation in Asia, often drawing many of the world’s superstar volleyballers with huge contracts.
It was recently revealed that the average salary for a professional volleyball player in Korea is the equivalent of $141k.
The below graph shows the wage growth for pro men’s Korean volleyball from the 2015/16 season through til 2021/22 in Korean won.
As expected, the women’s wages were lower, although I wasn’t able to see by just how much.
However it would appear that the top women earn only a little less than the top level men.
Top Earning Korean Women’s Volleyballers (2021/22)
Top Earning Korean Men’s Volleyballers (2021/22)
|Hwang Taek-Eui||KB Stars||$578,000|
These numbers also don’t account for the salaries of the international signings which would easily top these lists.
How Much Do Professional Volleyball Players Make In China?
The Chinese Volleyball Super League is not quite as established as the Korean or Japanese leagues, but it’s quickly growing in popularity.
Salary numbers are really difficult to find in this particular league, but as I understand it, foreign talent still gets paid decently well due to the low foreigner quota.
How much local Chinese players earn is a mystery to me but I would expect it to be considerably less than the Korean and Japanese V-Leagues as volleyball is less popular in China.
How Much Do Professional Volleyball Players Make In Europe?
For most professional volleyball players, Europe is the place to be. Where exactly you end up in Europe will largely determine how much you’re paid.
In Europe, entry level professional volleyball players earn between $13k and $100k, while some superstar players in Tier 1 leagues have a salary north of $1m.
This is obviously a huge range, but that’s because of the huge differences in the quality of play between various leagues in Europe.
European Professional Volleyball Salaries By Country
|Russia||1||$100k – $1m+|
|Italy||1||$100k – $1m|
|Poland||1||$30k – $800k|
|Turkey||2||$30k – $600k|
|France||2||$30k – $500k|
|Argentina||2||$10k – $100k|
|Germany||3||$15k – $250k|
|Belgium, France, Greece||3||$15k – $150k|
|Austria, England, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland||4||$12k – $60k|
Of course, these numbers are just estimates based on the information I’ve received from professional volleyball players as well as several days of my own research.
The above breakdown is for men’s volleyball. I’ll discuss women’s professional volleyball a bit later on.
What Is The Typical Entry Level Salary?
Again it depends largely on who’s interested in signing you. And who’s interested in you is largely determined by how skilled you are and what position you play.
Most first year volleyball pros come straight out of college. The athletes who performed extremely well in college may be able to immediately land a contract to a top tier club in Italy earning a bit over $100k.
This is rare however and most athletes go from college to the Tier 4 leagues and work their way up. Most entry level athletes in their first couple seasons can expect to make $12k-$20k.
As A Young Pro, Gaining Experience Is Key
After landing your first contract, whatever the number is, you should be concerned with proving your worth, getting better, and working hard.
In some regards, it’s better to start as a strong Tier 4 player than it is to warm the bench on a Tier 1 team for 10x the salary.
You’ll get more experience, more opportunities to display your skills, and you’ll develop as a volleyballer quicker than lurking in the shadows on a Tier 1 team as a back up.
Athletes Are Looked After Quite Well
Even though a pro might earn only $15k in their first season, they often have the opportunity to save most of that.
Most clubs will pay for athletes’ accommodation, amenities, most of their food, and sometimes even provide them with a car.
Depending on where the club’s situated, there might not be a lot to do outside of volleyball, and so younger athletes typically have very few expenses.
How Much Do Pro Volleyball Players Make In Italy?
The Italian Superlega unquestionably produces the highest level of volleyball in the world.
The best professional volleyball players in Italy can earn around $1m per year. Entry level players can expect to make closer to $100k.
Italy is considered the holy grail of professional indoor volleyball. The competition is fierce and so clubs fork out a lot of money for talented players.
How Much Do Pro Volleyball Players Make In Russia?
The Russian Volleyball Super League is well known as the most financially lucrative European volleyball league.
Professional volleyballers can expect to make at least $100k per season in Russia and some clubs have been known to offer contracts between $1-2m.
Part of the reason Russia is able to pay so well is because of their very low foreigner limit of 2 per team. On top of that, superstar players often prefer settling for less money but better weather elsewhere in Europe or Asia.
How Much Do Pro Volleyball Players Make In Germany?
The German Bundesliga is one of the better Tier 3 leagues and certain teams have pretty substantial budgets to spend on talent.
Professional volleyball players in the German Bundesliga can expect to make anywhere from $15k-$250k per season.
Part of the reason for this huge salary range is that the top teams are on a completely different level to the bottom teams in terms of skill and budget.
The bottom half of the league simply aren’t able to compete.
How Much Do Pro Volleyball Players Make In Turkey?
The Turkish Efe League is another really lucrative Tier 2 European league where players can negotiate some big contracts.
Professional volleyball players in the Turkish Efe Ligi can make anywhere from $30k-$600k per season depending on the skill level of the player.
Part of the reason skilled foreign volleyballers can earn such big money in Turkey is due to the relatively low level of local talent and the foreigner quota of 3.
Turkey also has one of the best paying women’s leagues in the world, which we’ll discuss more later on.
How Much Do Professional Volleyball Players Make In USA?
The USA is home to a lot of talented professional indoor volleyball players, but until recently, there was no way for these players to earn a living playing on home soil.
Does The USA Have Professional Volleyball Teams?
The USA has recently started a women’s professional volleyball league known as Athletes Unlimited.
How Much Do Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Players Make?
The structure of competition within the Athletes Unlimited league is different to most professional volleyball leagues with players belonging to the league itself and unique teams being drafted each round.
With the season lasting only 5 weeks, the Athletes Unlimited volleyball players are paid a $10,000 salary with the ability to earn up to $35,000 more for high performing athletes.
There is unfortunately no opportunities for men’s professional volleyball within the united states.
Check out this article for more information on Athletes Unlimited Volleyball salaries and bonuses.
Why Doesn’t The USA Have More Pro Volleyball?
This is largely due to volleyball not being able to compete on television networks over the NBA, NFL, and NHL.
That said, the USA is home to the top collegiate volleyballers in the world, many of whom are able to earn professional contracts in Europe immediately after finishing college.
How Much Do Team USA Volleyball Players Make?
Team USA is an extremely talented volleyball team with some of the highest earning athletes in volleyball.
Most members of the US national team play on professional contracts overseas, usually in Europe.
Some of the younger players on the team earn $15k-$50k per year as entry level pros, whereas some of the more senior Team USA members earn over $500k per year.
What Is Matt Anderson’s Volleyball Salary?
World renowned outside hitter and Team USA member, Matt Anderson played for Zenit Kazan in Russia for seven years.
This particular club is very well known for signing some of the most lucrative contracts in the history of indoor volleyball, with several being well over US$1m.
It’s tough to say exactly how much Matt Anderson earned over those seven years, but he’d probably have earnt between $500k and $1m per year and possibly more!
How Much Do Professional Women’s Volleyball Players Make?
The salary for women’s professional volleyball players varies greatly also depending on the league, skill level, and player position.
Most entry level women’s professional volleyball players could expect to earn between $10-$25k per year, and more experienced athletes can earn well over $100k per year.
As always, there’s no easy way to answer this question.
We’ve already looked at the ridiculously large salaries of the top Korean women volleyballers but there’s also the likes of China’s Zhu Ting making over a million dollars a year, so it’s evident that the best women in the world can earn similar salaries to the top men’s players.
At the same time, you can expect the average salaries to be considerably lower than in men’s volleyball as there’s less demand for television rights and endorsements.
While some female entry level professional volleyballers may struggle to make ends meet, for the most part athletes have a lot of their expenses taken care of and can focus on graduating to a higher paying league.
The Turkish Women’s Volleyball League Is Where The Money’s At!
Turkey is undoubtedly the place to be for women’s indoor volleyball.
In 2017, China’s Zhu Ting signed a US$1.43m contract with Turkish club VakıfBank making her the highest paid women’s volleyballer in the world.
As you might expect, the Turkish league has attracted some the top women’s volleyball talent in the world for over a decade now.
How Much Do Professional Beach Volleyball Players Make?
Beach volleyball works a little differently to indoor where players aren’t signed to individual clubs and instead get paid based on placing in tournaments.
Professional beach volleyball players make anywhere from $10k-$1m+ per year, depending largely on prize money won and endorsement deals.
We’re also looking at a large salary range for beach volleyballers with a massive gap between the newcomers and top athletes.
Life Is Tough For Most Pro Beach Volleyball Players
It’s considerably more difficult to make a decent living as a beach volleyball player, since you’re often having to pay for coaching and travel expenses out of your own pocket.
Very few beach volleyball players earn more than $100k per year whereas the equivalent skill level for indoor players might earn them closer to $300k+.
If you’re not performing well in tournaments and don’t have enough sponsorship money coming in, you may struggle to make ends meet as a professional beach volleyball player.
The best beach volleyballers in the world make exceptional money which rivals the top indoor volleyball earners, but they are few and far between.
How Much Do USA Beach Volleyball Players Make?
Most USA based beach volleyball players compete on the AVP pro tour and travel the country competing in tournaments against other top pros.
Professional beach volleyball players on the AVP pro tour can expect to make between $10k-$100k per year with some top players earning a lot more.
In the 2010 season, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers each won $387,700 in prize money alone. With endorsement deals factored in, they’d have taken home a whole lot more.
Kerri Walsh, the most successful women’s beach volleyball player in the history of the sport, has the most career earnings of $2.5m in prize money.
Over a 20 year career, this averages out to about $125k per year in prize money alone and an unfathomable amount more on top for endorsements!
Generally speaking, beach volleyball earnings work similarly to indoor volleyball earnings… The money is not good for entry level players. But it’s excellent for those who make it to the top.
The difference is indoor players have considerably less expenses in their early years compared to beach players.
Beach volleyball is undoubtedly a more difficult profession to break into than indoor, however.
Are Professional Volleyball Players Rich?
The overwhelming majority of professional volleyball players are not by any means rich.
In fact some of the younger, entry level pros do still struggle financially, especially the beach volleyball players looking to break into the scene.
Even if you work your way up to a decent caliber of pro volleyball player, you’re likely not going to make much more than $100k per year, unless you’re really good.
For an indoor pro with very minimal expenses, a six figure income is a great salary and can put you in a good position financially.
Of course, if you’re good enough to make it to the very top of the sport, you will absolutely be set for life financially after just a couple seasons, if you invest your money wisely.
Who Is The Highest Paid Volleyball Pro?
There’s debate about exact figures as contract amounts and endorsement details aren’t usually made public.
Currently, the highest paid professional men’s volleyball player is Wilfredo Leon who recently signed a $1.58m contract with his club in Perugia, Italy.
However for a number of years, unbelievably, the highest paid volleyballer was actually a Chinese woman.
The highest paid women’s professional volleyball player is Zhu Ting from China who signed with Turkish club VakıfBank for $1.5m in 2017.
This is an especially amazing feat considering men’s volleyball contracts are typically overwhelmingly more lucrative.
Zhu would have made considerably more than that amount with her sponsorship deals as well.
How Do Professional Volleyball Players Get Paid?
So where does the money in these crazy contract figures actually come from?
Professional volleyball is usually televised in Europe, so leagues are able to sell TV rights to official league sponsors. Individual teams are also able to drum up endorsement deals to pay their players.
A number European leagues receive support from city funding and in some countries the government will guarantee player contracts.
Volleyball Salary FAQ
The Brazilian volleyball league is flush with local talent and produces some of the highest paid volleyball players in the world.
The top four highest paid Brazilian volleyball players make on average $738k per year (not including endorsement deals) with Dante Amaral taking out the top spot when he signed a $1.1m contract in 2010.
Members of the Brazilian national team aren’t likely to earn less than $150k per season due to their exceptional ability and popularity within Brazil.
Even the top local Korean players make huge amounts of money playing in the Korean V-League. The exact numbers I’ve quoted earlier in the article.
Due to the foreigner quota of just 1 player per team, international superstar volleyballers are able to attract massive amounts of money playing in Korea, with salaries likely around the $1m per season mark.
Not bad for 5 months of work!
Recent changes to the Philippine’s Premier Volleyball League have imposed a salary cap with an annual salary range of between $6,900 and $34,400, according to PVL president, Ricky Palou.
Currently there isn’t a professional volleyball league in Canada.
There is no shortage of world class Canadian volleyballers, but they play professionally overseas as there’s currently no way to earn a living as a player in Canada.
Despite being a Tier 2 league, the Argentine Volleyball League has been declining lately in the aftermath of COVID-19 in terms of both salary and talent.
Professional volleyball players can expect to make between $10k-$100k playing in the Argentine Volleyball League.
Argentina is a very strong volleyball nation with plenty of skilled local players which is why it’s uncommon to see a whole lot of foreigners playing there.
In January of this year, Wilfredo Leon signed a 3 year $1.58m contract with the Italian SuperLega team Sir Safety Umbria Volley based in Perugia.
Of course Leon will take home more than this with endorsement deals factored in.
That’s $1.58m per year, by the way.
The typical professional volleyball season in Europe starts in October and lasts 6 to 8 months depending on playoffs, whereas in Asia the seasons typically last 5 months, with China being the shortest at just 4 months.
Because of the shorter season in China, some athletes choose to play both in Europe and then in China directly afterwards, effectively playing two seasons in one year.
The volleyball season is at most 8 months of the year, which means athletes get plenty of ‘down time’. Since the season is so physically grueling, most athletes use this time to rest and fully recover.
Most international athletes travel back to their home country in the off-season to spend time with friends and family. Some will often help with local volleyball clinics or coach junior teams.
Athletes still need to train during the off-season and many use this opportunity to get in the weight room and prioritize heavy lifting which is difficult to do while playing.
References & Disclaimer
It’s important to understand that very few of the numbers quoted in this article came from official or highly reputable sources.
The simple reality is that contract amounts and sponsorship deals are rarely made public and a lot of it comes down to speculation.
I have, however, taken the care to do pretty thorough research and definitely didn’t derive any of these numbers from generic salary-by-industry type websites which are hopelessly inaccurate.
I’ve also had a number of informal conversations over the years with friends and coaches who have played professionally in Europe. So a decent amount of information in this article is my interpretation of what they’ve relayed to me.
If you need clarification on any of these sources, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Information Pertaining To Japanese Volleyball Salaries
Information Pertaining To Korean Volleyball Salaries