Article republished on businessofsoccer.com
Major League Soccer has come a long way since the 2004 let alone 1996. The league's introduction of Freddy Adu brought about significant change to the scale of player salaries and compensation. The fourteen year old was the highest paid player at the time, prior to Landon Donovan returning to the league the following season. While Adu earned $300,000 then, the top players in the MLS are now making well more than a million dollars annually.
Based on players' annual compensation (including bonuses and salary), the MLS had just eight players in an exclusive 'million dollar club' in 2010, highlighted be several ex-Premiership and international stars. Freddie Ljungberg, Julian de Guzman, Nery Castillo, Juan Pablo Angel, Landon Donovan, Rafael Marquez, Thierry Henry and David Beckham are the elite players earning seven figures. Donovan is the lone homegrown player making the list.
The Galaxy can now currently claim three of the league's highest paid players with the Juan Pablo Angel's transfer from New York. Beckham leads the million dollar list, earning $6.5 million. Donovan and Angel earn $2.1 million and $5.5 million respectively.
Major League Soccer has been tight-lipped on its salaries and player compensation for much of its existence. The Players Union began to make public some information in 2003. In 2007, the MLS Players Union made available complete player salary and compensation information. It has been a welcome change as the league continues to grow and player salaries continue to increase 15% year over year.
If the league can maintain this rate of growth, Major League Soccer will place itself on par with the NHL in 2029, NBA in 2034, MLB in 2031 and NFL in 2027 - of course, if the other leagues do not grow from the current 2010 and 2011 levels of player compensation.
Major League Baseball: $3,297,828 (9.3% growth since 1989, CBS Sports)
National Basketball Association: $5,000,000 (estimate, Forbes)
National Football League: $1,870,000 (estimate, USA Today)
National Hockey League: $2,400,000 (estimate; Forbes)
Major League Soccer: $173,491 (Business of Soccer)
If Fortune included Major League Soccer among the 92 companies lists on its top pay comparison for its 100 Best Companies to Work For, the league would sit in fifth behind Salesforce.com ($318,323), Bingham McCutchen ($219,888), Alston & Bird ($182,681) and Perkins Cole ($182,544). However, if you included the other major sports in the United States, the MLS falls to ninth.
An MLS 'money cup' would have crowned the New York Red Bulls as cup winners based on their league staggering $15.6 million, which amounts to 6 times that of Chivas USA, the league's lowest payroll. It would also be the first cup for the club who has yet to win the MLS Cup despite leading the league in payroll. It is obvious that money does not win championships in Major League Soccer.
Besides the Red Bulls, the Los Angeles Galaxy finish runner-up with $11 million, which nearly doubles the third-place Chicago Fire ($5.6 million). Despite having a salary cap of $2,675,000 for 2011, just four teams would fall under the actual salary cap not accounting for designated player rules.
Major League Soccer will continue to trail the major sports leagues in the United States for decades to come, but player salaries are indicative of a league's growth and potential. It may be over twelve years until we can expect to see average salaries over $1 million, but the number of players earning over that amount in 2011 and seasons in the near future will certainly increase.