An Insight into Income Inequality in MLS

BY KIERAN RUANE

Michael Bradley: United States Men’s National Team member, and current holder of over 280 combined goals for club and country, to go along with over 45 combined goals over the span of what will be his eleventh professional season beginning in March. His salary for MLS side Toronto F.C. in 2014: $6.5 million.

Mark Bloom: Bradley’s teammate on Toronto F.C. Two-time Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference champion at division three Berry College in Georgia, and entering his fifth professional season beginning in March. His salary for Toronto F.C. in 2014: $48,825.

When you look back at the history of these two players, it makes sense that Bradley would earn more money than Bloom. However, when you look at each of their 2014 seasons, you will see that Bloom actually appeared in and started one more game than Bradley did. One more start does not justify an equal paycheck with a player who has appeared in two World Cups and has been playing professional soccer since the age of 16, but it is difficult to see how Bradley can be making $76,125 more each week than Bloom will make in an entire year, especially when they are both contributing equally to their club’s success on the pitch.

Toronto is not the only MLS club with major inequalities in player wages. In fact, in 2014, the seven highest paid players in MLS, Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Bradley, Jermaine Defoe and Clint Dempsey accounted for 31.6 percent of all player wages, according to empireofsoccer.com. In addition, the top five percent of earners last season made up 45 percent of all wages. These incredible numbers speak volumes about how questionable the league has become in terms of player incomes over the years.

So after hearing these kinds of stats, one might ask: how does this happen? There are plenty of reasons. The biggest factor in this inequality has been the Designated Player Rule, implemented in 2007. This rule states that each team is allowed up to three “designated players” whose wages do not count against the team’s salary cap. That way a club such as Toronto can have some players making millions of dollars per year, and others making the bare minimum that must be paid. While on one hand this rule does wonders for increasing the popularity of MLS by making star players easier to purchase, it also creates this unfair state of earnings throughout all teams in the league. Luckily for the players, there has never been a better time than now to speak up on this issue.

With the recent expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, the opportunity to fight over their concerns has arisen. The players union has been strong with their demands, arguing for a more level playing field in terms of wages and the concept of bringing free agency into the league for the first time. These two ideals offer better stability, a bit more player freedom, plus a stronger appeal for young, promising players to stay in America, whereas they might see bigger money by going to play abroad. The mission of MLS right now is to one day be able to compete with big-time leagues such as England’s Barclays Premier League (BPL), the German Bundesliga, or the Italian Serie A. In order for this to happen, the league must appeal to their current talent, along with making an attractive case for international talent to want to come play stateside. These days, money is taking over soccer, so a big part of MLS’ case will have to be a steady improvement in player wages across the board.

The main question that I still cannot wrap my mind around through all of this is: how can some professional soccer players, who might make less than your everyday teacher, share a locker room, a field or a starting lineup with a multi-millionaire? It seems that a change is needed.

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