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FeaturesMelting pot‘The top 20 teams in England pay $2.9BN in wages a year. All of MLS pays $129.5m’

‘The top 20 teams in England pay $2.9BN in wages a year. All of MLS pays $129.5m’

by

Roger PielkeBy Roger Pielke Jr

30 October 2014

As the MLS’s 2014 season moves towards a conclusion with the play-offs underway, it is notable there is no place in the post-season for the biggest-spending team, Toronto FC. Despite having a salary bill of almost $17m (£10.6m), which is the highest in MLS, the Canada-based franchise is not among the 10 teams in the play-offs. This is anomalous in football (soccer) because the team with the biggest wage bill is generally up there with the challengers, if not winning every season.

The reasons for Toronto’s failings are too complex for this article but the fact that we know precisely – to the cent – what every club in MLS spends on salary is remarkable in itself. In fact it is unique in global football for a league, or in this case a union, to publish the pay of every player. The MLS Players Union does this every year (and an archive of salary info is here), and it is what this information tells us in general that is interesting.

On the 2014 salary list are 572 players earning total wages of just over $129.5 million. This sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But in comparison to the Premier League, for example, it is small potatoes. The MLS total includes 21 clubs (for 2014 it includes Chivas USA, since folded, and partial squads for NY City FC and Orlando City FC, both being formed). Yet their total wage bills combined equals about the same as the wage bill for Queens Park Rangers ($126 million) in 2012-13, the most recent year’s data available for QPRMoney

In 2012-13, six Premier League clubs each had wages bills well in excess of the entire MLS, with Manchester City topping the list at $376 million (for all club staff). The wage bills for the top 20 clubs in England were almost $2.9 billion combined. For the bottom 20 payers across the Premier League and the Championship it was about $750 million. This data comes from Deloitte and was provided to me by Stefan Szymanski of the University of Michigan.

In terms of individual clubs, Toronto leads the way in MLS with a wage bill of almost $17 million, or $2 million less than Charlton Athletic or Blackpool in 2012-13.  The LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders FC and NY Red Bulls are next, in the neighborhood of Barnsley or Peterbourough United. The wage totals drop off precipitously from there.

This table shows the 2014 MLS wages,ranked by median salary.

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MLS salaries, 2014

Club

Salary bill

Players

Average

Median

Houston Dynamo

$4,481,881.50

26

$172,380.06

$137,604.17

San Jose Earthquakes

$4,349,505.20

29

$149,982.94

$130,285.00

N England Revolution

$7,257,915.29

31

$234,126.30

$122,375.00

Portland Timbers

$5,429,636.23

29

$187,228.84

$120,000.00

New York Red Bulls

$11,323,145.08

28

$404,398.04

$115,000.00

Sporting Kansas City

$4,398,100.76

29

$151,658.65

$103,750.00

Philadelphia Union

$4,385,536.46

30

$146,184.55

$102,163.67

Vancouver Whitecaps 

$5,168,608.09

29

$178,227.87

$99,500.00

FC Dallas

$4,572,162.00

31

$147,489.10

$97,875.00

Toronto FC

$16,712,603.18

29

$576,296.66

$92,000.00

DC United

$3,960,395.78

30

$132,013.19

$91,149.17

Montreal Impact

$6,579,014.04

32

$205,594.19

$86,200.00

Colorado Rapids

$3,514,300.49

29

$121,182.78

$85,000.00

Los Angeles Galaxy

$13,159,910.50

30

$438,663.68

$85,000.00

Chicago Fire

$3,771,132.08

29

$130,039.04

$82,664.99

Real Salt Lake

$4,001,964.17

28

$142,927.29

$81,000.00

Chivas USA

$3,306,115.37

29

$114,003.98

$78,650.00

Seattle Sounders FC

$11,504,761.29

30

$383,492.04

$72,500.00

Orlando City SC

$7,419,337.50

5

$1,483,867.50

$71,400.00

Not Listed

$197,313.00

3

$65,771.00

$70,000.00

Columbus Crew

$3,537,826.77

30

$117,927.56

$65,473.75

New York City FC

$464,170.67

5

$92,834.13

$60,000.00

TOTAL

$129,531,839.47

571

$226,850.86

$92,000.00

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The median wage for every MLS club is not nearly what you might expect to see of professional athletes, which for most teams is less than $100,000 per year. Houston sits at the top at almost $140,000. For comparison, according to reports about what Manchester United pays Wayne Rooney, it would take him just 49 hours to earn that sum. In a year he will earn about 271 times the MLS median salary.

It is well known that money buys football talent and is highly correlated with winning. For fans of the MLS who want to see their league attracting the world’s best talent, the best news in these numbers is growth. In 2012 the league’s total wage bill was $90 million. So wages have grown by 40 per cent over two years. See my analysis of MLS 2012 salaries here and 2013 here.

The highest average wages by position in MLS are for forwards, as shown below, but this is due to a relatively small number of highly paid stars. The median wage for a forward is not much different than defenders or midfielders, and considerably less than those versatile players that the MLS lists as playing multiple positions.

While defender-midfielder players need no explanation, nor do midfielder-forwards, please note that the solitary defender-forward as categorised in the official MLS data is Andrew Wenger of Philadelphia Union. Now generally known as a striker, he has also been a former defensive player of the year. You learn something new every day.

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Position

Salaries

Players

Average

Median

Defender/Forward

$242,000.00

1

$242,000.00

$242,000.00

Forward/Midfielder

$3,234,457.68

15

$215,630.51

$143,000.00

Defender/Midfielder

$2,102,858.33

14

$150,204.17

$135,875.00

Forward

$49,419,331.33

134

$368,800.98

$97,250.00

Defender

$23,686,586.13

166

$142,690.28

$95,500.00

Midfielder

$44,841,676.34

181

$247,744.07

$90,000.00

Goalkeeper

$6,004,929.66

61

$98,441.47

$69,500.00

Total

$129,531,839.47

572

$226,454.26

$92,000.00

.

While competing with the Premier League remains far off, the MLS is making great strides. If the English FA decides to make it more difficult for non-European players to play in the PL, this could have the effect of boosting the talent pool for the MLS, which has the competitive business development advantage of the major US media and sporting market. Of course, many of these players might also decide to go to Spain, Germany or elsewhere.

Another wind blowing in the favor of the MLS is the deepening talent pool of US players. Soccer continues to grow in popularity in the US, and with concerns about injuries (especially concussions) in American football among youths, I’d venture that the talent pool will not only continue to get deeper, but also bigger, stronger and faster.

The MLS may still be an upstart, but there are continuing signs that there is much more to come from this young league. Stay tuned.

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Roger Pielke Jr. is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, where he also directs its Center for Science and technology Policy Research. He studies, teaches and writes about science, innovation, politics and sports. He has written for The New York TimesThe GuardianFiveThirtyEight, and The Wall Street Journal among many other places. He is thrilled to join Sportingintelligence as a regular contributor. Follow Roger on Twitter: @RogerPielkeJR and on his blog

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