With the 2010 World Cup right around the corner, the old adage that soccer (football, futbol, etc) is, and probably always will be, the world’s most popular sport is about to be proven true once again. Most of the best players in the world are going to be plying their trade on the international stage for their nation’s glory and for their own.
Guys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are probably the most famous athletes in the world, with brand identification in countries that American sports teams can only dream about ever reaching. And while it’s true that the highest tier of soccer players make an incredible amount of money (we’re talking Tiger money here) in endorsements, they actually don’t get paid all that much by their clubs compared to American athletes.
You would think competition to get and keep Cristiano Ronaldo, the highest-paid soccer player in the world, would drive up his contract salary to an unbelievable fee, but he’s actually only making a rather affordable $17.06 million per year. Sure, Real Madrid paid $135 million to Manchester United to transfer him to La Liga, but Ronaldo doesn’t see any of that. In fact, his salary would make him the sixth highest-paid player in the NFL in 2009 behind Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Kurt Warner, and Kelvin Hayden…you read that right.
Ronaldo would be the 15th highest-paid player in the NBA during the 08-09 season behind (and get ready for this list) Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Jermaine O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen, Steve Francis, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, and Shawn Marion.
Finally, he would also be the 19th highest-paid player in Major League Baseball this season behind A-Rod, C.C. Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Johan Santana, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Beltran, Ryan Howard, Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, John Lackey, Manny Ramirez, Torii Hunter, Barry Zito, Ichiro, Magglio Ordonez, and Todd Helton.
There are a few things to take into account: first, that there is a very good chance I don’t totally understand the salary structure of any of the four major sports discussed in this here blog post. This might also be an apples to oranges comparison since NFL money isn’t guaranteed, NBA contracts are confusing, and the New York Yankees are evil. I also probably don’t fully understand the market forces at work in the way players in these sports get paid, but whatever.
But on its face, I’m a little outraged by the disparity in pay between Ronaldo’s (and Messi’s and everyone else’s, for that matter) salary and, say, Tracy McGrady. One would think competition for players who can switch teams and even entire leagues would mean the best players get paid a ton of money in club soccer, but that’s not totally the case.
I also thought that, as famous as Real Madrid is, since Ronaldo and Kaka, etc. are their own brands and they therefore bring a higher level of notoriety to the club than the club gives to them. Manchester United and AC Milan are just as prestigious as Real Madrid, so it’s not like they’re doing these guys a favor. In baseball, it’s almost the reverse with the Yankees. Derek Jeter would be just a potential, on-the-fence Hall of Fame shortstop if he played for the Kansas City Royals (and he certainly wouldn’t have any rings), but playing for the Yankees in such a huge market has given him a level of notoriety and several championships that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Ronaldo and Messi don’t need Real and Barcelona to make them famous. And yet these world-famous soccer players would barely crack the top 25 of highest paid MLB players.
My own personal theory is the power agents hold over the various teams in American sports when it comes to negotiating contracts. I know there are super agents in soccer too, but I think Scott Boras might be able to show them a thing or two in terms of hype and negotiation.
Look at the list of highest-paid players in club soccer again. There really isn’t an objectionable salary on that list, except for maybe Rio Ferdinand, Karim Benzema, and Raul, and only Benzema is in the range of being way, way overpaid.
Everyone on that list is at least among the best in the world. Could the same be said for Steve Francis, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Zambrano, Kelvin Hayden (he will know be known forever as Kelvin freaking Hayden), Jay Cutler, Jermaine O’Neal, or Tracy McGrady? I think not. And the thing all those players I just listed have in common is a good agent.
Which leads me to my other point: American sports teams are extraordinarily stupid. While I’m sure there is a great list somewhere of clubs who wasted a great deal of money on soccer players through transfers and free agency, I seriously doubt anyone can approach what the Yankees and myriad NBA and NFL teams do with their money. Comparatively speaking, soccer clubs are actually kind of smart with their money.
In the end, I have no idea what this list proves, but I do know that this is more evidence of how outrageous some American sports contracts are. Looking in your direction, Barry Zito, T-Mac, Jermaine O’Neal, Carlos Beltran/Lee, and Jay Cutler.
Hey, could any of you guys give me your agent’s card?