If you managed to cover 52 major events in a year, would you clear an average of say $1000 per event?
I would say that unless you are shooting for corporate sponsors at sporting event, no way that is possible.
It seems like you only hear hints when a picture does really well, like a stock photo of Johnny Football or a SI double-truck, but even for the Top 1% of shooters, that doesn't seem like a typical payout.
I covered 3 A&M games last year. From those three games, I have 84 Manziel pics available. He played 14 games. Of those 14 games, there were probably at least 10 guys shooting stock of him. So if everyone got about 30 pics of him per game they put up for sale, you have 10*30*14. That is 4200 pics of Manziel from pretty good photographers available to license. And that doesn't even count the fact that ESPN and SI sent their own photographers in to cover him, so they are more likely to use the pics they already own of Johnny. My 84 pics of Manziel are competing with 4100 other pics of Manziel shot by pretty good photogs. Even if I had some great shots, the likelihood of me getting huge sales is almost zero.
The problem is that you get paid more or less depending on the event. 162 MLB games for each team vs 16 games for each NFL team. So I am going to get way more sales for each NFL game I shoot vs every MLB game I shoot.
Or is it more like $200, so a HS kid who dreams of skipping college and being a "pro sports photographer" would have to find 250 events (5 days x 50 weeks = 250 working days), to have a chance at being able to make it a full-time job?
That dream is no longer realistic. SI has 7 full-time photographers, including Walter Iooss, who really only does the swimsuit issue and a few other major events like the Super Bowl. Best bet is becoming a photographer at a major city daily. Hoping you don't get laid off and getting to cover the team through the paper. Working for an agency isn't really going to make you enough to live on. I'd say I do make about $200/event if averaged together.
The bulk of my income comes from commercial and wedding photography, not from editorial and sports.