Salary Comparison: ESPN vs Federal Government

There’s always a debate if federal government employees are overpaid or underpaid in contrast to their private sector counterparts. I find this analysis pretty weak as often you are comparing apples to oranges – are you comparing federal salaries (which has a higher percentage of college grads) to Wal-Mart which has lots of low-paid employees or Apple or Google which has a lot of highly-skilled white collar employees.

Luckily, I think we have a decent comparison to make based on recently released data. Yesterday, DeadSpin released a HR document they had obtained which had ESPN’s HR employee salary tables.

It’s a very similar layout to federal government (see U.S. Federal Pay Scale) – both have 15 general grades and 5-6 executive grades so I thought I’d do a comparison


ESPN – Grades 25 to 11 (11 being highest) and then Executive (ES 13 to 18 – 13 being highest). They have quartiles within each grade (25%, 50%, 75%, Max) that create a salary range.

Federal Government – Grades 1 through 15 and SES ES V to 1 (one being highest). There are 10 steps within each grade except for SES.


So let’s do some comparison:

Highest: Let’s start with the top. What is the max you can make as an executive in federal employee versus the top executives in ESPN

Totals: ESPN ES 13 maximum is $407,250 while an ESV in feds is $199,700

Verdict: ESPN wins

Upper middle: Next up, let’s compare the top of the non-exec pay range. GS 11 for ESPN at maximum versus a GS 15 Step 10 for federal Government.

Totals: ESPN GS 11 max is $226,080 while a GS 15 Step 10 is $155,500 in DC

Verdict: ESPN wins

Middle: Let’s compare in the middle for each. Both pay ranges have 15 grades so I picked a GS 18 in ESPN and a GS 8 in federal government.
Totals: ESPN GS 18 maximum is $67,200 while a GS 8 Step 10 in DC makes $60,750

Verdict: ESPN wins

Low: Let’s not pick the bottom but close to the bottom. Let’s compare a 23 grade in ESPN and GS 3 in feds:

Totals: ESPN 23 maximum is $33,360 while a GS 3 Step 10 in DC is $35,269

Verdict: Feds win

Analysis: ESPN is higher paid in the top, upper middle, and middle ranks while feds are better compensated on the lower ends.

This actually confirms what my gut tells me. If you are a senior exec in government, you are generally underpaid compared with your counterparts outside of government (part of this is due to salaries being capped at Congress salaries and they rarely raise those partly because most Congressmen don’t need the money).

This gap in different shrinks and gets more comparable in the middle range and at the low end, government pays a little more.

What’s your take? Are Feds Overpaid of Underpaid?

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Stephen Peteritas

This is typical media. Guys at the bottom lose bad while guys at the top win big. BUT you can see the turnover in talent at ESPN lately, things are changing big contracts are becoming a thing of the past and I’d guys in 10 years or so the Feds are going to win a lot more of these verdicts.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I’d be curious if you could do a comparison of benefits packages. Feds might win there, too…and actually when considering total compensation could come out on top for all but the very top.

dan m ketter

Notice that there is O correlation to hours worked and accountability. This article was a total waste of time


Fair point but at lower end gov still wins

GS 23 at low end for ESPN is $22k, while a GS 3 Step 1 in DC for feds is $27k

John L. Waid

“Who should make more money?”: What is this, a socialist state where government gets to decide how much people make? We have always rewarded the people who entertain us and take our minds off our troubles for awhile handsomely. That is our choice. Don’t like how much ESPN employees make? Stop watching.

In the civilian world, people’s worth in salary is generally measured by how much money they make for someone else. When people tune into the Dan Patrick Show on ESPN, for example, Dan Patrick is bringing eyeballs to the TV. Those eyeballs see the commercials of the advertisers financing the program and go out and buy their products. Dan Patrick is thus worth to his bosses whatever he is paid because he earns money for them. Whatever the social value of the eye surgeon who corrects the eyesight for any number of people (which is of course immense), that doctor does not bring in any money for anyone. His salary is based on his education and skill level and the hospital’s need to hire highly qualified people. Those two different scales cannot be compared.

Buster Posey just signed to play another year with the SF Giants for an astronomical amount of money. If he puts butts in the stadium seats and eyeballs on the TV (the latter being infinitely more important than the former) and helps the Giants win another series, which means even more eyeballs on the TV and maybe more sold-out games, he is worth that to the owners and, by extension, us, the fans. Who are we to ask if he “should” make that much money?

Dan M. Ketter makes an interesting point. How many government employees have ever been fired for mere incompetence? Compare that how many baseball players who have been sent down to the minors or canned altogether when they couldn’t hit or made too many errors in the field? The accountability rate in professional sports is way higher than in government.

We work for government for the psychic compenation (Cal Gov. Jerry Brown’s words) of working for the government. According to Governor Brown, we don’t need raises.

Dale M. Posthumus

Direct salary comparisons are always suspect. He does not take into account benefits, including health and other insurance, vacation/sick leave, retirement, and, of course, stability. We should also look at the ratios. Just as he discounts a Govt vs. WalMart comparison, we should look at what proportion of employees fall into these pay grades. I do not know what such data would show, but it would be far more useful in making comparisons. Ultimately, the determination of being underpaid is not a comparison to other sectors, but is the total compensation and desire to do govt-type work sufficient to attract and keep qualified people.

Khaled Tawfik

Salary comparison is not a reasonable goal since the roles, responsibilities, and skills are not the same. For example, while federal executives focus on spending their money (budget) efficiently and adhering to policies, Epson executives focus on making the money through marketing their services, and staying competitive. We can not compare 2 executives where one’s paycheck depends on being successful while the other depends on not violating policies.

Salaried should be based on demand and supply only. We can not hire/retain staff without being competitive! That’s the bottom line.