European Football... Its Time for a Salary Cap—Part One

John HoumesSenior Analyst IMay 17, 2008

In 1994, the National Football League (American Football) introduced a hard salary cap limiting the amount of money each team could spend on players. Since then, the NFL has had over 84% of its teams finish at least one season with one of the top six records in the league.

Since the English Premier League's inception two years earlier, under 30% of the total clubs that have competed in the EPL have finished a season ranked in the top four.

(Because the NFL has more teams, the NFL top six is comparable to the EPL top four. See bottom for more info)

Interpreted? A far wider variety of NFL teams have ended up at the top of the league at the end of the regular season than clubs have in the EPL. In the NFL, almost everyone has at least had a chance to be in the top pack.

The deep pockets of the top clubs in the English Premier League have allowed them to be consistently dominant for too long. You have noticed this too. There have been recent articles about owners hounding other team's players to sign with their club, speculation about restructuring divisions to allow smaller teams to have a chance, and the absorbent amount of money that footballers are played.


There is a solution to all of this:

European Football needs a salary cap.


Ludicrous you say? I agree. But it is not as crazy as the fact that only four EPL teams have won the title in 16 years. Compare that to the NFL, where since the implementation of their salary cap, twelve different teams have ended the regular season with the best record in the league.

When you mention salary cap and European football in the same sentence, people are ready with criticisms and questions:

What about players who will leave one league that has a salary cap for another league without a salary cap?

How does relegation fit in with a salary cap?

How do you regulate salary caps in different countries that use different currencies?

Should UEFA partner with the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and other domestic leagues on the cap? Or should they just do it on their own?

These are all difficult questions that will take a lot of thinking and some creative maneuvering, but I do believe there are answers and solutions to them.

Over the next week, I will be examining what a salary cap would look like in European football. I'm interested to hear what problems and possibilities you foresee.

In part two of this article, we'll look at what the basic structure of a salary cap in Europe might look like.



Note on statistics: I am only including the NFL regular season records in these statistics and not counting the playoffs. This is because the playoffs allow a team with a worse record to upset a team with a far better record, much like in the FA Cup.

Looking at NFL team's end of regular season record is more comparable to the EPL season, where playoffs do not exist. When two or more NFL teams had the same record at the end of the season, I have used the EPL's goal differential rule to rank tied teams.

The top six out of 28-32 teams (top 18.75%-21.4%) in the NFL is comparable to the EPL's top four out of 20-22 clubs (Top 18.1%-20%). The NFL had 28 teams in 1994, but has 32 now. The EPL had 22 teams in 1992, but now has 20.

Twenty-seven out of 32 teams that have competed in the NFL since 1994 have ended up in the top six at the end of the regular season. Forty total teams have competed in the English Premier League since 1992. Only 11 have ended up in the top four.

Relegation does mess with this statistic a little bit, but only eight clubs that are in the league now have ended up in the top four. So the best percentage we could give the EPL is 40% of the teams finishing in the top fifth of the league, compared to the NFL's 84%... and we're still giving the EPL two more years than the NFL.