Thursday, June 21, 2012

Player Income Disparity

Someone asked me the other day how much the average MLS player gets paid. Before I turned to the Internet I gave the question some thought. I would like to think that I am pretty knowledgeable when it comes to salaries in sports but for this question I had no clue. I realized that soccer is on the rise in America, but I knew the average salaries would not compare to the four major American sports. When I went to go look up the answer (and browsed the web for a while after), I was shocked to find the income disparity within leagues, specifically the MLS.

The Big Four

It is no secret that NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL players get paid well. It is no surprise that the better players make more money than the less talented players. Yet even the league minimums for these sports pay players to live with extreme comfort. In the NBA a player with 0 years in the league (a rookie) would at a minimum make almost half a million dollars. The NFL will pay at a minimum almost $400,000. MLB has a minimum salary in 2012 of $480,000. In the NHL the league minimum is about $525,000. The highest paid player in each league could make up to 10 times the amount of the lowest paid player. In the NBA the highest paid player in 2012 was Kobe Bryant at about $25 million; in the NFL it will be Peyton Manning at $18,000,000; in the MLB it is Alex Rodriguez at $30,000,000; and in the NHL it was Brad Richards with a $12,000,000 base salary. The income disparity is great in all four of these sports, yet because of a competitive league minimum I believe these disparities are warranted. This is not the case in Major League Soccer.


Major League Soccer has a very unique way of dealing with salaries. The 30 roster spots and age play a large factor in how much a player makes. Each team in the MLS has a salary budget of only $2,810,000 in 2012, but only the players in roster spots 1 through 20 count against this budget. Players 21 through 30 are off-budget players and do not count against a team's budget. When it comes to minimum salaries, age is a critical factor. Roster spots 1 through 24 will earn a minimum of $44,000 in 2012 and roster spots 25 through 30 will earn a minimum of $33,750 in 2012. If a player is making the minimum of $33,750, that player must be under the age of 25. The highest paid MLS player is New York Red Bulls' Thierry Henry who has a base salary of $5,000,000. Henry is a off-budget player. His salary is nearly double the entire budget for the first 20 roster spots. The disparity in salaries in the MLS does not seem fair to me because the league minimum is just sufficient but not enough for a comfortable life, but the highest paid players can live more than a comfortable life. All athletes have limited time in their sport, and soccer is no different. If a player makes the minimum for their entire career, they will not be able to live off that income the rest of their lives.

Final Thought

In 1922 Babe Ruth signed a 5 year contract worth $52,000 a year, in 1927 Ruth signed a 3 year contract worth $70,000 a year. 90 years after Ruth signed that initial contract we have professional athletes making considerable less money then he did. This is astounding to me. No one is gonna shed a tear for an NBA, MLB, NHL or NFL player, even if they are making the minimum. MLS on the other hand is shocking to me. I understand that revenue made by the MLS does not even compare to that of the big four sports, but they do pay a player $5 million a season. I would like to see less income disparity in the MLS.


Stats from,


  1. Great stuff, Drew. The problem that the MLS faces when it comes to player salaries is the lack of a big TV contract. All four of the other leagues have their marquee national media deals. The MLS trails far behind. It will be interesting to see if the MLS can capitalize on successes of Euro Cup, the Olympics, and future World Cups. One would think they are on the verge of a breakthrough soon. Too much interest in soccer on a big stage for the MLS to be this far behind, IMO.

    1. Thanks! I agree with you. I think the potential for soccer in the United States is strong.

  2. Funny, I remember having a conversation about this last week about eric...

    1. some conversations give me ideas....