Before the Arena Football League's final season in 2019, the average arena football player would start their career making around $750 per game. This number varied throughout the league based on position and tenure. For example, quarterbacks in arena football would make a $250 bonus awarded off of their importance.
Due to the changes in popularity and issues like the cancellation of the 2009 Arena Football League, the players received far less money than players in the NFL. There are few exceptions though, most notably the AFL receiver T. T. Tolliver. Tolliver was a star in the AFL as he was the all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards and was able to play into his forties. He was able to receive a $100,000 contract in his prime and capitalized on his own talents and the league's popularity. However, as the league shrunk down to four teams, the veteran's maximum fell to around $1,500 a game. With such a low salary, it was common for players to have a part-time job.
The AFL's salaries are low in comparison to the NFL. For example, star NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes just received a $45 million contract. The lower salaries in the AFL made it tough to focus on increasing skills. There was hope for some AFL players to make the NFL with more than 125 players going to the NFL. One of the 125 players to make it included Superbowl Champion and NFL MVP Kurt Warner. Warner had to work as a supermarket stock boy while he played in the AFL.
Ultimately the low salary of the AFL was far below the NFL who had an average salary of $2.7 million in 2019. The discrepancy between the NFL and AFL's pay reflects the lack of popularity the AFL had. It was mostly built off of hype and gimmicks, with a similar feel to the fanfare of professional wrestling. Meanwhile, the NFL is rich in tradition and a high level of play. The Arena Football League started in 1987 while the NFL started in 1920.
Another form of arena football is the Indoor Football League. With the inaugural season in 2009, the IFL is still playing today. These IFL players however make a minimum of $250 dollars in a 14-game season. With such a young league and limited popularity, it is typical for the pay to be this low. There are bonuses in each sport however based on performance and postseason play.
Due to the dominance of the NFL, it is hard for any other football league to excel in America. This means that in the past with the AFL and in the future with the IFL, it will always be extremely difficult to amass a dedicated fan base which can generate money. The only thing that can generate buzz around these leagues is the professional wrestling type of hype behind them.
Arena football players entered the league making about $13,000 per season. While players like T.T. Tolliver had signed a $100,000 contract, at the end of the AFL veterans could only make a maximum of $27,000 in a season. On average, many AFL players would make around $18/hour during their season. In the IFL players make a minimum of $250 per game.
Arena football players have played in the NFL. There have been over 100 AFL players who have transitioned to the NFL. One of the biggest players to do this was Kurt Warner. Originally a quarterback for the Iowa Barnstormers, Warner played for the St. Louis Rams. He was able to win a Superbowl and an NFL MVP after he played in the AFL. Only a few people have transitioned from the IFL to the NFL.
AFL players generally made $750 dollars per game throughout a 18 game season. As the league lost popularity, the players lost their overall salaries. There has been room for players to earn high salaries as high as five to six figures as seen through star receiver T. T. Tolliver. However this amount was rare in the AFL. The veterans maximum at the end of the AFL's run was only $1,500 per game meaning side jobs were a necessity for an AFL player.