ESPN The Magazine put together a really interesting feature this week ranking payrolls for teams across a wide range of American and other sports.
This allows us to compare how the Union's payroll stacks up against those of the big four professional teams, as well as other MLS and international teams.
Although the article does not directly state the source of its MLS salary data, it does say that the key "average weekly pay" figure is "calcualated from base playeyr salaries from current or most recently completed seasons from each sport."
The MLS Players Union hasn't released this year's salary figures yet. So either ESPN got new numbers on its own, or the figures used to compile MLS payrolls came from the end of last season. Judging from what ESPN used as the Union's total payroll figure, I'm guessing the former.
Last year's numbers can be found here. It would not surprise me if we get new updates for the 2012 season some time soon.
ESPN's rankings are quite diverse. They include teams from:
- American sports leagues: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and National Hockey League
- Soccer leagues: Major League Soccer, Spain's La Liga, England's Premier League, Italy's Serie A, Germany's Bundesliga and Scotland's Premier League
(Among the notable soccer leagues not included are France's Ligue 1, the Netherlands' Eredivisie and Mexico's Primera Liga, all of which have teams with large payrolls)
- Other sports: Indian cricket's Premier League, Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league, the Australian Football League and the Canadian Football League
Here's how the Union's payroll compares to the big four Philadelphia pro sports teams. The ranking is determined by average annual salary paid out to each player:
Here's how the Union's payroll stacks up within Major League Soccer:
So the Union have the sixth-highest payroll in MLS, according to these figures.
On average, MLS teams are in the neighborhood of a lot of Scottish Premier League and Australian Football League teams, along with some lower-level La Liga and Serie A squads.
It's also worth noting that the Crew are the very last team in ESPN's rankings.
The two teams that most draw my eye, though, are Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City. Toronto is the worst team in MLS despite its high payroll. Sporting Kansas City is one of the best despite spending less then half as much as the Reds.
That said, no MLS team's spending comes anywhere close to what the world's elite clubs splash out. Here are the top 10 payroll figures for all of the soccer teams included in the survey:
That's two teams from Spain (Barcelona and Real Madrid); five from England (Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool); two from Italy (AC Milan and Inter Milan); and one from Germany (Bayern Munich).
It's no surprise that Barça and Real top the table, or that Man City is the highest-spending English team. But I find it quite interesting that Manchester United, long one of the world's truly elite teams, is so far down.
Here's another interesting figure: The third-highest-spending Spanish team, Valencia, is all the way down at No. 71, with yearly per-player spending of $3,065,511 and weekly per-player spending of $58,592. Their overall payroll figure of $76,637,764 is ranked No. 75.
For as much as people around the world enjoy watching Barcelona and Real Madrid, the lack of spending by other teams shows how how unbalanced La Liga has become.
The two teams that the Union will face in their summer friendlies this year, Schalke 04 and Aston Villa, are both ranked fairly high.
Schalke is the second-highest-ranked Bundesliga team at No. 34, with yearly per-player spending of $4,187,722 and weekly per-player spending of $80,533. Their overall payroll of $115,844,040 is ranked No. 24.
Aston Villa is the next-ranked English team after Liverpool at No. 41, with yearly per-playre spending of $4,067,464 and weekly per-player spending of $78,220. Their overall payroll of $101,686,591 is ranked No. 47.
(For this, Villa are in 15th place in the Premier League, three points off the relegation zone.)
Finally, here are the top 10 teams overall in ESPN's ranking. Note the presence of a certain baseball club that has won the last five National League East championships.
You can interpret that chart in a lot of ways. The biggest conclusion I draw from it is this:
The Phillies have a bigger payroll than Manchester United.
Seriously. Think about what that means.
The Phillies have a smaller stadium (by nearly 38,000 seats) and not nearly the same level of global brand recognition (which translates to sponsorship and other forms of revenue). But they have a higher payroll - and a higher annual per-player salary figure - than the Red Devils.
You could walk around any major city in the world wearing something with a United logo and it would get recognized. You can't say the same thing about a Phillies cap.
Next time you're chatting with a United fan, mention those numbers. Not that Philadelphia sports fans ever need an excuse to brag, but I think this is a pretty good one.