MLS released its 2014 information on players' salaries on Thursday, which includes a bevy of interesting tidbits, including just how handsomely Clint Dempsey is compensated by the Seattle Sounders.
There is hardly a more shocking fact than the one tweeted out by ESPN's SportsCenter on Thursday, illustrating just how wide the chasm remains between the sport's haves and have-nots:
Clint Dempsey will make $6.695 million this season - more than the TOTAL payrolls of 15 out of 19 MLS teams. » http://t.co/a4I4UT8Vre— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 10, 2014
Although, that is just a tad misleading, because MLS is most certainly growing.
ESPN FC's full report cites a list released by MLS, listing the salaries of each of its athletes. The report reminds that the sport maintains three designated-player spots for each team that allow an organization to bring in top-tier talent that might warrant compensation that falls outside the salary cap.
The most recent examples all fill the top of the 2014 heap:
Toronto made a splash this offseason by bringing in U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley from Roma and England veteran Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur. The duo are the league's highest-paid players after Dempsey, with Bradley earning $6.5 million while Defoe pulls in $6.18 million.
It's important to note Bradley remains the top earner as it pertains to base salary, earning $6 million with Toronto FC—the discrepancy for which is due to, "bonuses for signing, marketing and agent’s fees," via Sports Illustrated.
NESN's Marcus Kwesi O'Mard culled the same list and came up with the league's top earners according to their guaranteed compensation, which include the likes of Thierry Henry as well as three L.A. Galaxy players enjoying Southern California hospitality:
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC — $6,500,000
Tim Cahill, New York Red Bulls — $3,625,000
Jermaine Defoe, Toronto FC — $6,180,000
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders — $6,695,189
Marco Di Vaio, Montreal Impact — $2,600,000
Landon Donovan, L.A. Galaxy — $4,583,333.33
Omar Gonzalez, L.A. Galaxy — $1,250,000
Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls — $4,350,000
Gilberto Junior, Toronto F.C. — $1,205,000
Robbie Keane, L.A. Galaxy — $4,500,000
Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders — $1,753,333.33
Pedro Morales, Vancouver Whitecaps — $1,410,900
Sports Illustrated's Liviu Bird brings a wealth of details from the newly acquired data, including a graph that shows just how salaries have risen in the MLS since 2007.
A quick glimpse at the numbers shows that the sport—or, at the very least, how it compensates its athletes—has grown tremendously in the last seven years.
In 2007, the average salary for players remained $103,715.18 with the median resting at $70,000. In 2014, those numbers are now $186,258.90 and $80,000 respectively.
It's a sign of measured and consistent growth, raising the average salary for the majority of players while slowly bringing in marquee names for North American fans to enjoy.
Bird writes: "A more indicative number is the median, which is up $5,000 from last season. The $80,000 median in 2014 is the highest the league has seen. While the average salary has trended decidedly upward since David Beckham joined the league in 2007, the median has stayed steady."
The numbers tell a story many fans already know: MLS is slowly building a foothold amid the national sports landscape.
Forbes' Alex Morrell, in speaking with MLS founder/investor Clark Hunt last November, had this to offer:
Now, there are 19 teams – with another New York City team scheduled to launch in 2015 and one in Orlando in the works. And with Hunt selling his second soccer team, Columbus Crew, for an MLS record $68 million this July, ownership is as dispersed and valuable as ever. Average attendance has surged to 18,600, a more than 35% increase from the 2000 nadir of just over 13,700.
Now, this isn't to say that MLS has finally arrived, merely that it is slowly surging to make an impact across all fronts.
Awful Announcing's Matt Yoder notes there is still work to be done in the television ratings department, but there's optimism surrounding the sport's ticket sales: "It’s no secret that MLS’s ratings are well behind other areas of growth for the league. Its average attendance has beaten the NBA and NHL but ratings are well behind the EPL." (That citation seems to have originated from this Wikipedia entry.)
And so, an annual release from MLS and a small tweet from SportsCenter has us rolling once again, proclaiming that the MLS doesn't demand your attention, because it already has it.
In relating to the popularity among American youth, Liverpool legend Steve Nicol states in the above video that "the explosion has been incredible."
At some point, it will be superfluous to report similar items with astonishment—if that time hasn't already come to pass.
Dempsey, Bradley and the like are making handsome sums playing for MLS. Fans are making it all possible by enjoying the games, and the television ratings, one would hope, will follow in time.
Of course, it will be a slow and measured growth, something MLS has taken great pride in employing. Success is measured in decades not years.
There is no reason to think the MLS will approach that anytime soon, but it's no longer ridiculous to believe it cannot get there at some point in its distant future.
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