Yesterday was Christmas for a certain breed of MLS nerd. The MLS Players Union released 2014 player salaries for public consumption. The release does not reflect the most labyrinthine aspects of MLS wage rules, like retention funds, allocation money, etc., but I don’t know of another soccer league anywhere that has player wage data like this available mid-season.
I have delved into all the previous MLSPU salary releases before, and I strongly advise that people resist the urge to focus on specifics here. The odds that a player’s salary listed here it’s their exact salary cap cost fall somewhere on a spectrum between unlikely and impossible. Only the first 20 players on the roster count toward the cap, and the MLSPU release does not reflect allocation money, retention funds, former/lending clubs continuing to pay some wages, or special player statuses like Homegrown, Generation Adidas, or especially Designated Player. Almost feels appropriate that on the MLSPU website this file is listed as up to date through April Fools Day. However, we can get a good sketch of which clubs spend most, and of the wage disparities between the top and bottom of each club’s roster.
According to this release, yes, the guaranteed compensations of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Thierry Henry are higher than those for the full rosters of art least 12 of the 19 clubs in MLS. Those six (1.1% of players on club rosters) make 28.5% of the league’s full player wages. Also, the lowest salary reported, $36,500 made by 54 different players, is 0.5% of the highest, Dempsey’s $6,695,189.00. Of course, those players all bring in merchandising, ticket sales, and headlines that the grunts don’t. It would not be surprising if MLS and club accountants file some portion of the big player expenditures under marketing, instead of wages.
About a month ago I showed that total salaries have been a very poor predictor of league points going all the way back to the first MLSPU release in 2007. That’s not to say they are irrelevant, but their influence is overwhelmingly more subtle on the field than in big European leagues, which some have joked might as well be played on a balance sheet.
Figures like this are sure to be a major topic of conversation in upcoming collective bargaining negotiations between MLS and its Players Union. The current CBA expires after this season, and most of the expected points of contention are related in small or total ways to salary disparity. The players will want higher minimums, free agency, and a big boost to the salary cap, while the league will likely seek to maintain as much of the status quo as they can in the name of profitability and stability. Fans of the league would be well-served by becoming at least passingly familiar with the wage dynamics at play as MLS heads toward this critical juncture. Hopefully the above visual will clarify the issues for some.