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Charles Cuttone

CHARLES CUTONE

May 17, 2007
CUTTONE'S CONCEPTS
MLS misses point on player spending


Major League Soccer is missing the point on how it spends its money on players.

Recently, the MLS Players Association revealed the salaries of every player in the league. Not surprisingly, David Beckham will be Major League Soccer’s highest paid player.

Beckham will be paid $6.5 million by the LA Galaxy. The Chicago Fire’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco is second at about $2.5 million, followed by the Red Bulls’ Claudio Reyna and Juan Pablo Angel, both of whom will earn over $1 million.

But the Red Bulls also have six players making $12,900. They are all playing under developmental contracts.

Other players across the league, including Adam Cristman of the Revolution, who already has seen significant playing time this season, also play under developmental contracts.

League Commissioner Don Garber and Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gadzidis have categorized the developmental players as, essentially, minor leaguers.

Garber even compared their salaries to those paid to players in Single-A baseball, citing the Staten Island Yankees.

There are several significant differences, however. When a baseball player is called up to play in the major leagues, he receives a major league salary. In addition, often times, players playing in the minors live with host families, so they don’t have to pay room and board, in housing that is arranged by the team, usually through a booster club.

Last year, while playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy under a developmental contract, Herculez Gomez had to sleep on his grandmother’s couch, and sneak out in the morning so she wouldn’t get in trouble. Gomez has gotten a raise—and a trade to Colorado--so no more couch. But the other developmental players remain woefully underpaid, especially if they live in a major metropolitan area, like New York or LA.

On the other end of the spectrum are MLS’s so-called “Beckham Rule” players. I have said for years that MLS needed to sign big name foreign stars.

The answer always was, “we don’t want to make the same mistakes as the North American Soccer league did.”

No, MLS is more than happy to make its own blunders, and the way the Beckham rule is being used is a good point.

Signing Beckham in LA was a no-brainer.

Ticket sales – not only in L.A., but around the league -- started the minute the deal was announced. The Galaxy already has scheduled at least two exhibition games, and no doubt more will come. The signing of Blanco in Chicago also was a good move. The fiery Mexican will sell tickets in that market, and probably when the team goes on the road.

When Pele signed with the Cosmos in 1975, the team was a ragtag bunch, but there was a world tour after the season, and another before the start of the next one. The team’s signings of big name players more than paid for itself.

Where the league got into trouble was when teams started paying no-names – players who couldn’t sell a ticket in their market if they went door-to-door -- the big salaries.

Ironically enough, the first MLS team to fall into that trap plays in the former home of the Cosmos. That, of course, is Red Bull New York. Both Reyna and Angel are wonderful players. The smallest crowd of the MLS season to date turned out for Angel’s debut on a gorgeous Mother’s Day Sunday afternoon. Although Reyna is both a bona-fide star and a local (to drag out a hugely overused term) soccer icon, he hasn’t helped the Red Bulls at the box office.

One major effect of Pele’s signing was to elevate player salaries across the NASL. Maybe that’s not always a good thing, but the league’s players went from being mostly part-timers to being fully professional, and the quality of the on-field product improved.

The next team in MLS that is going to use an allocation and millions of dollars to sign a player had better think hard about whether that player will sell tickets. And in the meantime, maybe throw some of that money at the league’s younger players, so they don’t have to sleep on grandma’s couch.

   
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