The ability for a normal person to work hard and get rich is often thought about as the American Dream. One of the roads that you can get rich is by being a superstar in a sport of your interest. Throughout the world, that sport is often soccer. In the U.S. it tends to be other sports. However, for many the promise of millions by playing a game never pans out, and you have to struggle to make ends meet. A new CBA and the new EPL TV deal should help those guys out right? We will see.
As you all probably heard, The English Premier League just landed a brand new 5.136 billion pound ($7.91 billion) TV deal to run for four years. To compare to MLS, as reported in here by Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald, the recent MLS TV deal was for 8 years and $720 million. If you compare the yearly totals, it is $90 million per year for the MLS deal and just under $2 billion for the premier league, showing how far MLS has to go to catch up.
The question becomes what will the premier league do with the money? If you listen to the Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore, they are using that to become the best league in the world. That means they are likely to spend the money bringing in even more top level talent to their best teams. There have been silly rumors about Lionel Messi to Chelsea this year, and players like Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba are being linked with big money moves to the premier league. This new money, according to Scudamore is going to go to getting these star players into the premier league and away from Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, and their ilk throughout the world.
In this case, the people who are benefiting from the deal are 1) the big teams able to afford even more of the world's best players and 2) the world's best players who are already rich and will get even more money. Is this where all the money should be going? I certainly don't think so. Of course, there will be some trickle down from the money, but it is unlikely to have as large and positive effect at the bottom of the league pyramid as it should.
Instead of the money going to the Messi and Chelsea F.C, where could it go to have a positive effect? How about at the grass roots level. It wouldn't necessarily be stopping the Premier League being the best league in the world, they are already one of the top leagues. Scudamore does not seem to want to understand that money coming into grassroots soccer isn't simply charity. In fact giving a lot of money to grass roots may even help both the Premier League and the English National Team. Since the Premier League came into being, the English national team has continued to underwhelm at national tournaments. In the last World Cup they were eliminated by Uruguay and Costa Rica. It could be said that filling the premier league with superstars from other countries does not help the team.
If you look at clubs like Southampton, they have a great youth system and continually bring through young players that go on to bigger and better things. Putting more money into gross roots allows these youth based teams to continue to produce high quality players. The quality of player will increase, as will the quality of competition. This is a very simple idea and one that Scudamore doesn't seem interested in.
Another way the money could be used may be thought of as more "charity". There are a lot of calls for the money to be used to offset a reduction in ticket prices. There was an excellent recent article in the Guardian by Amy Lawrence who described how much it used to cost fans to attend games back when the Premier League was first being talked about. Along with soaring TV deals and wages the price to go to a soccer game has also soared. In a time when fans are struggling to make ends meet, being able to afford a ticket to the game is just not an option. If teams used some of the money to offset cutting ticket prices in half, then fans who are not able to go to games suddenly have the chance to go. It will then be affordable to bring kids to games, and they can fall in love with the sport. All of this is short term loss for long term gain.
In Scotland, there have been some schemes to try and get fans back to games. One of these is the Albion Rovers pay what you can initiative, and it apparently worked well. Let's hope that those who make the decisions think along these lines when they want to decide what to spend the money on. Otherwise, the rich will get richer.
If you hopped on a plane across the Atlantic from the English Premier League offices, you'll find similar thoughts in the MLS offices. The collective bargaining agreement has been a topic that was almost ignored with all the big name signings being announced during winter. However, it is now two weeks until first kick and it seems we are still not anywhere close to ending the drama. I won't go into too much details as I couldn't come close to the knowledge that Jared Young imparted on us here. However, there are some worrying similarities about the rumors coming out about the CBA and how the EPL will spend it's money.
One of Don Garber's main aims for MLS is to become one of the best leagues in the world. Just like Richard Scudamore, Garber will likely point to bringing in big name players to go towards that goal. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Villa and Kaka are going to be (hopefully) playing in MLS in 2015. Add those names to those of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey and you find a lot of money has been spent recently. A lot of this obviously will come from the previously mentioned TV deal. It is a time of great things happening for MLS or should be.
The main sticking point in the current CBA talks seems to be around free agency. MLS and the owners are refusing to give in, as they are worried about spiraling wage demands of the players if teams compete against each other for the cream of the crop. However, to me that seems very silly when you are spending a lot of money bringing over stars from Europe. When you have players earning $6 million+ a year suiting up next to someone earning about $40,000 a year, then there is a glaring problem with how things work in MLS.
This isn't just a problem for those in the league right now. It's going to be a problem in terms of attracting players. When you are earning $40k when you are one of the top 500 players playing in the US, have a think about the players in the top 500-5000 range. There isn't the financial reward to entice people to play the sport. Just like in England, the TV money and new money to be spent by the CBA should be spent on the grass roots level as well as making it more attractive for kids to dream of being a soccer star.
So, without any changes and barring a strike, there will still be players in MLS struggling to live and the money that the league is making goes towards the big name players, as well as I am sure the owners and people like Don Garber who may bring in an incredible $3 million a year. Do they need (or even deserve that) money? Imagine if Garber gave $2 million of his wages to increase 100 of the lowest wages in MLS by $20k each. That would be a far better use of MLS money in my mind. Of course there aren't many people in the world that would accept a pay cut to help out those less fortunate no matter how much it would benefit the league.
To Richard Scudamore, Don Garber and all the club owners, think about where you spend the recent TV money. Don't let the rich get richer, help out the poor because that's the way to get rich in the long term. It doesn't necessarily mean rich money wise, but certainly richer in the sense that the leagues you run and the clubs you own will have improved with a much more long term view of things.