You play professional in one of the big three sports. Your real estate footprint is large and your fancy car is marvelous. Valet park every time. Your plate is the most expensive on the menu. When you get old and tottery it is unlikely you’ll be wandering around penniless on city streets. Investments will soften your end. And you earned it. Talent pushed you from the humble class to the wealthy one. Sports can do that. But if you play professional soccer in America, you may still eat at Sizzler and drive home to your modest apartment in a 2001 Honda. Don’t think too much about getting old.
Major League Soccer’s player salaries were published recently. Some earn less than forty grand a year. The median wage is about eight-five thousand. Six years ago, it was fifty thousand. Not a bad improvement considering incomes for US households have fallen seven per cent over the last decade. But when you compare it to the big three American sports, choosing a career in soccer pales by comparison – hoops can pay you about five million, three million for hardball and a couple of mill at the Grid Iron.
MLS teams play to a median of about three million dollars in total wages. In the English Premier League it hits nearly sixty million. This explains why most of America’s top talent plays overseas. LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan is the exception, arguably the best US player of his generation. Praise him for investing much of his career on the home front. Not too long ago, he was earning peanuts compared to the two million plus he pulls now. He can thank David Beckham.
Beckham arrived in MLS in 2007 and immediately liked the drive-thru at In-n-Out Burger. But he wasn’t willing to pull up in a 2001 Honda for his fix. His nickname was Goldenballs. He didn’t work for a few hundred grand unless it was by the week. MLS needed his brand if interest in the league were to grow. So they enacted the Beckham Rule – teams could now sign a couple of top drawer players and pay them salaries that would set them apart from the rest of their teammates. Class on the field met economic class in the locker room.
Back then, San Jose striker Alan Gordon played for the Galaxy. A second job as a youth team coach supplemented his thirty thousand a year income. Roommates were necessary. Job security was dependent on him banging in goals. Today, playing for the Quakes, he pulls in over one hundred grand. Comfortable but soccer players retire when they hit the mid-thirties. And what do you do then when all you know is the ball?
Zach Slaton, a contributor to Forbes, analyses soccer by the numbers. He believes MLS is moving in the right direction. “As with any rapidly expanding business (approximately fifty per cent increase in number of teams and a nearly seventy-one per cent increase in number of players since 2007), MLS has had to manage sustainable growth in player wages to keep the quality of play high and the cost of operating the league low,” he says, and with the median salary rising, “all of this means a family can at the least dream of seeing their young soccer-playing son making an upper-middle class income if he were to sign an MLS contract…most importantly, the family won’t be fearful of their child falling into the trappings of celebrity associated with other major US sports in pursuit of such a dream.” Soccer – the humble game of the middle class.