The four pages in the above dashboard present a few perspectives on the recent MLS and Serie A salary releases (big thanks to Falvio Fusi for gathering the Italian data for his own Serie A visualization, then letting me use them and acting as a sounding board for my viz design). I designed these visualizations to pretty much speak for themselves, but I do want to take just a few hundred words to talk through a few other insights that aren’t obvious in the charts as well as some significant caveats.
As the fourth page above lays out, the differences in roster building in these two leagues goes well beyond total spending. Because of MLS’ salary cap and designated player rule, teams must have unbalanced rosters if they want to spend big, while those with smaller budget, like league-leading New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, have less variation in pay across their rosters than the only Serie A club who spends anywhere close to their level, Frosinone.
The differences between big spenders in MLS and Serie A are far more dramatic. Between the two leagues, MLS employs 10 of 14 highest-paid players, but only 25 out of the top 200. That top 200 is dominated by Serie A’s richest clubs, which gets to the other big difference between the two leagues. Those seven, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Napoli, and Fiorentina, outspend the dregs of their league more than the big spenders in MLS overpay relative to their more frugal table-mates. Big spending doesn’t buy points nearly as effectively in MLS either, but that’s better discussed with data for wages, points, and goal differential that spans multiple years for both leagues (hopefully coming soon).
Beware of diving into either the MLSPU salary release or La Gazzetta’s listing of Serie A wages on a terribly granular level, though (I’m looking at you, myriad “Most Underpaid/Overpaid Players in MLS” articles). The accuracy of the MLSPU release has been derided by MLS coaches, owners, etc. over the years, and it’s hard to think of anything that comes from a European paper prone to publishing erroneous transfer rumors as God’s honest truth. That’s why I don’t make it terribly easy to look up a specific player’s wage in any of the wage visualizations. Of course, mixing data data from two completely separate sources is risky, too. Sure, there’s still some garbage-in-garbage-out risk in using these data at all, but I’m hopeful that rolling it up to clubs and binning the salaries into histograms points us toward useful insights.
However, that doesn’t mean that this data isn’t worth analyzing. MLS’ stated goal is to become a top league in relatively short order. Depending on your definition of “top league,” this probably means surpassing Serie A, the Eredivisie, or Ligue 1 (let’s just assume the Premier League, Bundesliga, and La Liga are totally out of reach). The impression I’m left with in viewing this data is that MLS is an enormously long way from surpassing Serie A’s big spenders, and would need aggressive improvements to wages on the low end of MLS rosters (filled by players worthy of those salaries) to have rosters that are of a similar quality top-to-bottom of clubs in the lower half of Serie A. That last bit seems attainable, but the length of time and means required to get there are hard to decipher.