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Yankees on top in global pay review, Premier League in the shade


By Nick Harris

28 March 2010

The New York Yankees are the best-paid team in global sport measured by average first-team wages, ahead of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and basketball’s Dallas Mavericks, according to the inaugural Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries (ARGSS), to be published this week by sportingintelligence.

The average first-team pay at the Yankees was £89,897 per player per week in 2009, or £4.7m per player last year, when the Yankees won the World Series – the biggest prize in baseball. Real Madrid’s stars earned £4.2m per year each in the period reviewed for Spanish football. The corresponding figures were £4.1m at Barca, £3.59m at Chelsea and £3.56m at the Mavericks.

Some of the key findings from our unique study are published in an exclusive extract in today’s Sunday Telegraph (online here and here). These articles coincide with the opening today of sportingintelligence’s global sports salaries database. That resource allows users to compare earnings in different sports, and gauge how pay affects performance. For those with a specialist interest, collated findings and analysis can be found in the report.

The ARGSS, to be published on Friday, 2 April, collates the figures from the database, ranks the 211 teams currently monitored by average first-team pay, and also gives a league-by-league overview of the impact of money on performance in different leagues.

The report compares average first-team pay on a like-for-like basis for the first time at clubs in the world’s richest leagues in football (the Premier League), basketball (the NBA), baseball (MLB), cricket (the IPL), gridiron (the NFL) and ice-hockey (the NHL). It also includes Japan’s NPB baseball league as the highest paying sports league in Asia (the newcomer IPL aside), as well as Serie A, the world’s second-highest paying football league.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are included from Spain – as the only football clubs outside of English football that do or would make the top 30 payers list – while football leagues from the USA (MLS) and Scotland (SPL) are included as representatives of “small” leagues from the world’s most popular game.

The Premier League is the richest football league in the world but only two of its clubs, Chelsea and Manchester United, are among the top 30 high-paying teams. NBA and MLB teams dominate that elite, while even cricket’s IPL, the upstart league in world sport, has three teams in that bracket when we consider weekly pay.

All data is taken from seasons played or ending in 2009 except for European football clubs: “accounting lag” means there isn’t a full set of data for 2008-09 yet, so figures from summer 2008 are used for those clubs.

The figures for 2008-09 exist for most Premier League clubs and those are available in our database. The difference between the figures used in the ARGSS and the data for 2008-09 is moderate in most cases and wouldn’t alter most of the clubs’ rankings significantly if’d we had the full 2008-09 data set available now, and included it.

One exception is Manchester City’s wages, fueled by Abu Dhabi cash, which we calculate jumped from £1.4m per player per year in 2008 to £1.9m a year in 2008-09. However even this latest figure wouldn’t lift City any higher than sixth-highest payers in the Premier League for 2008-09 (from 10th in 2008), and wouldn’t put them inside the world’s top 50 teams (from No86), let alone inside the top 30.

As for the future; that’s a different matter. We can speculate that City’s wage bill will go through the roof in 2009-10 but as Manchester City themselves don’t even know that yet, nobody else can. Their bill could still alter significantly this season, for example, depending on performance bonuses (or not). As is explained in our methodology, guessing isn’t our game.

In America more than most places, there is a good degree of transparency about sportsmen’s earnings. Where we can identify with some certainty who a team’s top player was, and what he earned, we say so. Where we can’t, we don’t. Some official sources – the MLS players’ union and other unions, for example – tell us the exact figures for individuals down to the last cent, and we just “do the math”.

Equally, things do change, players do move, and therefore some of the named highest earners for the teams under review already play their sport elsewhere, a few months later. Teams’ pay goes up, and less often, down. The ARGSS by nature will reflect the past, albeit the recent past.

But we still believe it provides the best snapshot of the global sports salaries landscape, and our database, regularly updated, will provide fresh information as we process it.


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  • matt:

    Two answers for the two big questions raised in your report:

    1) Why is the EPL’s standing lower than expected?

    Maybe it is unfair to compare the EPL with the other top sports leagues in the world considering the massive disparity in talent, wages, fan base etc that is unique to the EPL (or rather football’s top leagues). For example, take the disparity in talent: in the NFL, MLB, or NBA, it would not be completely unrealistic for a starter from the leagues worst team to become a starter for the league’s best team the following season. In the EPL though, it is basically unheard of for a player from a relegation team to transfer to the EPL champion.

    An interesting addition to your study might be to put the top 4 teams from the major football leagues, and then compare that new group with the other sports leagues.

    2) Why is the NFL’s standing lower than expected?

    Of the sporting leagues in your study, the NFL, I believe by far, has the largest team squads. Among these squads are players that are role players that contribute only a few minutes per game (long-snapper) and back-up players that rarely see game action.

    It might thus be interesting to create a new group consisting of the players responsible for the top 2/3 of game-time, or maybe a group consisting of the regular team starters. How might these results differ from those you reported?

    Very interesting article!

  • DC:

    “1) Why is the EPL’s standing lower than expected?

    Maybe it is unfair to compare the EPL with the other top sports leagues in the world considering the massive disparity in talent, wages, fan base etc that is unique to the EPL (or rather football’s top leagues). For example, take the disparity in talent: in the NFL, MLB, or NBA, it would not be completely unrealistic for a starter from the leagues worst team to become a starter for the league’s best team the following season. In the EPL though, it is basically unheard of for a player from a relegation team to transfer to the EPL champion.”

    Yeah, that’s totally true. A player from a team like 16th placed Wigan could never reach the heady heights of being, for instance, one of the best players in Manchester United’s season – especially not playing in a ‘flashy’ position like the right wing! 17th placed West Ham likewise – I’m sure nobody has ever transferred from there to, say, Chelsea. Definitely nobody important, at any rate.

  • Brendan:

    “17th placed West Ham likewise – I’m sure nobody has ever transferred from there to, say, Chelsea. Definitely nobody important, at any rate.” – Check out Frank Lampard from West Ham to Chelsea…..150 goals from midfield and third highest scorer of all time from Chelsea….transferred from West Ham

  • mattsmithgb:

    Brendan, DC was being sarcastic wrt Lampard and also Antonio Valencia- Wigan right-winger last year, ManU right-winger this. Another example of where something similar has happened could be Glen Johnson. Or Mascherano. Or Van Der Sar. However, these are exceptional players who were playing below their level before the transfer. Hence, I agree to an extent with matt’s point that it would be harder for starting players from the lower placed teams in the EPL to make the first XI at one of the top 4 than it would in a similar situation in, for example, the NFL, MLB, NBA.

  • Neil:

    Without explaining how the article defined “first team”, this article is useless.

    If you go by the players who regularly play, there isn’t a Chelsea player who earns less than £90,000 a week, and I very much doubt Real Madrid pay an average of £81,444 to their starting 11 (particularly when Cristiano Ronaldo is on £180,000 a week, Kaka on £175,000).

  • admin:

    Neil: In response to your query, “first team” in most cases throughout the study means those pool of players who had meaningful (competitive) involvement in first-team ‘league’ action during the season in question. ie: not reserves, not friendlies. Within football (soccer), that first-team pool size varies from club to club. Some football teams in some leagues used as few as 21 players the whole season, others as many as 34. That changes the average, obviously. Typically it will be mid-20s, ie: 23-26 players. Those first-team pools will be (are) much smaller in NBA, where rosters are smaller, and much bigger in NFL.
    As for there being no Chelsea player on less than £90k, that’s just plain wrong. The real figures confound widely-held views of what individuals earn. Go and look at the annual accounts of a club and see what they pay all employees in total and you’ll numbers like £90k a week just don’t stack up.
    Also, it’s clearly stated in the piece and in the report that these numbers are from 2008 for European football, 2009 for everywhere else; so Kaka and Ronaldo weren’t at Real then. That’s just the fact of it, because those are the latest whole-data-set numbers available. More recent figures in the d/base as and when available.
    Nick H

  • Alban:

    Nick, I think the average figure should be a weighted average instead of a simple average for it to be more fair and meaningful. A simple average skews up the number for smaller team-pools(i.e.NBA) and skews it down for larger ones (i.e. football, Am football). The weighted average would account for the differences in pool size. I have the feeling more European football teams should have been on the list.

  • Gary:

    The Yankees being the highest paid team in all of sports doesn’t surprise me. They are one of the most recognizable teams in sports, and one of the most successful, so naturally the dollars are going to flow their way. Also the Yankees are big business. They market their team around the world, i.e. their partnership with Manchester United in marketing. When you think of American sports franchises, the first team that many think of are the New York Yankees.

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  • JL:

    Shouldn’t there be more transparency in how you guys picked your ‘first team’, seeing as how, you said yourself, the numbers are different per team, league, and sport. Alban has a point, a weighted average would work better, maybe dividing it up as to what a % of the team makes eg. 30% of the team(say 4 ppl) make 100k+/week or 20% make less than 30k/week.

    As it is, i think there’s a huge bias for sports that don’t require as many ppl in the team/starting line up like basketball where it can be argued that all 5 starters are star players in their own right.

    Another thing that might or might not factor into these wages are transfer fees in soccer which they have to pay on top of their wages where as in sports without transfer fees can afford to pay their star players more due to player trades etc.

  • Suhas:

    IPL doesnt deserve to be here. It is played for 6 weeks and here the avg salary is calculated as salary per week * 52 weeks.
    So U are calculating the salary for the whole year when the pay is just for 6 weeks, whereas EPL is played for 9 months. Ofcourse , u say , it is pro-rated but people hardly look at that and here in India everyone is flashing headlines in newspapers saying IPL has overtaken EPL and it is sickening me.

  • admin:

    Alban / JL – first of all, thanks for reading and for the feedback; all suggestions on improving future reports welcome. This is the first review, and by nature it won’t satisfy everyone.
    As I wrote in the main article, it’s a snapshot. One could write a 100-page report on pay, and performance, and the relationship, in any of these given leagues and still barely scratch the surface. Many academics have done so.
    We’ve got 10 full leagues here; core findings & summary analysis.
    I’d hope it prompts debate and allows others to explore in more detail specific areas of interest. That’s everyone’s prerogative – there’s a lot of data out there for an interested party to play with.
    There are bound to be contentions whether the report is “right” or not. Should the IPL even be included at all, for example? Suhas in the previous comment says it is “sickening” that the IPL’s wages are portrayed as bigger than the Premier League, but this a form of cricket that Lalit Modi hopes will take over the world; and just recently sold two new franchises for close to £500m between them!! If that isn’t a sport with cash – albeit trophy investors at that level, you’d have to say – then what is? I included it as a nascent league in a sport where top players are increasingly “for hire” for short periods. Some already have three or four employers. Kevin Pietersen earns more already from on-field activity alone than many sportsmen in the Premier League, NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL.
    Also, the average issue is complicated; of course there are smaller starter numbers in basketball, and ice hockey too, than in soccer for example, but one of those sports has much smaller rosters than the other and uses few players across a season. Hockey uses many fewer players again than gridiron. But a specialist NFL player who’s used sparingly is still an NFL player.
    What about solo sports? The full report includes what some top tennis players and golfers earned in 2009 in prize money (“on pitch” earnings). You might expect many of the elite to outstrip leading team averages by a mile. Most don’t. The 10th highest earning golfer in 2009, Paul Casey (£51k a week in prizes in 2009), would just scrape into the top 30 teams by average pay. You can’t compare like that of course, so I don’t. Solo sportsmen often have massive endorsements as well. But many don’t. It’s another debating point.
    More European football teams in the review? Of course there could be more. In addition to the Premier League there could be the full leagues from Spain, Germany, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia and Romania, just to cite those leagues that have produced a European Cup / Champions League winner in the past 25 years. And what about Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Sweden, to add leagues that have produced Uefa Cup winners. And more non-European teams too: what about S America, Africa, Asia and Australia? I agree. I’d certainly be interested to read that report when someone’s compiled it but this exercise alone has taken many months; years if you throw in accumulated knowledge of how football (soccer) economics work, especially in England.
    So for now, the report is clearly limited by time, not to mention resources.
    One other problem with taking, say, the top 4 or 5 teams from Europe’s top four or five leagues is that doesn’t then allow a pay-performance analysis within one whole league. Perhaps someone could do an analysis of average pay and pay-performance in the Champions League.
    Again, sincerely, I’d be fascinated to read that as a fan. I could theorise that the Champions League is becoming more and more weighted towards the really big guns, certainly since Porto won in 2004.
    Since then, all 10 finalists have come from a pool limited to Milan (Italy’s richest club, one win, one r-up), England’s big four of Man Utd (one win, one r-up), Liverpool (one win, one r-up), Arsenal and Chelsea (r-up once each) and Spain’s No2 payers Barca, twice winners.
    The Champions League gets more and more lucrative by the year, and will continue to do so. It’s overtaken the Super Bowl as the biggest single club event in global televised sport. Revenues are going up accordingly and Uefa is passing most of that cash back to the most successful teams, ie: the biggest and richest, therefore reinforcing the status quo. Financial fair play? ho ho.
    Anyway I think we’ve got off the subject a bit, but hope that helps explain, slightly, some of the rationale. NH

  • Noe:

    Another thing that needs to be considered about the EPL, Seria A and LFP is that first team wages have to be managed under a closer eye than any other sports’ first team because these institutions have a second division team, third division team to worry about. Football teams have to manage their youth divisions as well. The list goes on

  • John Blaze:

    Interesting that 3 of the NBA players mentioned as having the top salary for thier team have moved on. Shaq is now with Cleveland, Iverson went from Detroit to Denver to Philly to retiring and Wallace is back to Detroit.

  • admin:

    In reply to John (last comment): Yes, interesting. What do we read from this? That they’re so good and so valuable others were desperate for their services? That they earned too much and weren’t worth the cash?
    In terms of their inclusion, as is stated in the penultimate paragraph of the main piece: “…things do change, players do move, and therefore some of the named highest earners for the teams under review already play their sport elsewhere, a few months later.”
    That’s just a consequence of wanting the most recently completed season. (You need it completed or you can’t assess pay v performance).
    But a good question. What do you think’s the answer? NH

  • Dan:

    I’m surprised at all of the people who seem upset that their favorite teams (soccer teams, at that!) don’t spend more outrageously than anyone else. People don’t like the Yankees because they spend far more than any other team, which seems to make strategy less important. Spending the most money has no relation to being the most interesting or well-liked team. I mean, the NBA is as dull as soccer and their averages make up most of the top ten.

    That aside, it’s obvious that the size of the team is a huge factor here, but that’s the point. To all of the people complaining that the numbers don’t reflect total payroll, go look up total payroll. This is a different study.

  • popopoo:

    who cares about money in sports? what are all those boring american sports team? Football team should be the best at everything.

  • F1 Fan:

    What about auto racing team salaries? Ferrari’s two driver salaries blow these out of the water.

  • josue:

    cristiano may win 180,000 a week, but remeber that his salarie from real madrid is much less, since he get 180,000 in a combination of his team and his marketing income, which real madrid gets half, in return, from helping him get those contrats

  • kaustubh:

    somebody in getting sick… But he needs to calculate it more efficiently. salaries are calculated per year and then divided by 52 weeks which in prompted, so it does not matter if it is played for a month or a year…

  • Eric:

    It’s no surprise that there is such a high representation of American sport – professional leagues are chiefly businesses in America, where they can be plucked out of one city and transplanted into another (I know, right?). Football leagues (teams) are rooted in tradition and are usually a symbol of the community first, and a business second (of course apart from the clubs owned by foreigners).

    Personally, I think these wages are outrageous when many of the supporters will struggle to pay for a ticket to go to a Premier League match. And as far as NBA and MLB go, the teams play 82 and 162 games each season, respectively, not including play-offs. That’s an opportunity for far, far more revenue than a Premier League side who plays the 38 league games and maybe 1-2 games in each cup competition. Their wages aren’t THAT much higher, though, so some tidy profits must be made constantly – especially since there is no such thing as a transfer fee in American sports; you have to ‘trade’ one player for another, which is absurd, of course.

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