With the league’s continuous expansion and the increasing level of talent, the topic of player salaries has garnered much attention. For fans, understanding the salary structure of MLS players helps to provide insight into how clubs construct their rosters and manage their budgets.
In this article, we will delve into the various aspects of MLS player salaries, including the range from the lowest to the highest earners, the average salary, and the different factors that influence these numbers. By examining the league’s salary structure, we can better appreciate the financial landscape of Major League Soccer and its implications for player development and league growth.
MLS salary structure and regulations
Definition and purpose
The salary cap is a financial constraint imposed by the league that limits the total amount of money a club can spend on player salaries. The purpose of the salary cap is to promote parity among teams, ensuring that clubs with larger budgets do not have an unfair advantage over those with more limited resources. By leveling the playing field, the salary cap encourages competition and helps maintain the league’s overall health and stability.
Current salary cap figure
As of the 2021 season, the MLS salary cap is set at $4.9 million per team. This figure is subject to change each year, with the league typically announcing any adjustments before the start of the new season. It is essential to note that the salary cap only applies to the senior roster, which consists of up to 20 players.
Designated Players (DP) rule
The Designated Player rule, introduced in 2007, allows MLS clubs to sign up to three players whose salaries exceed the maximum budget charge. The rule aims to attract high-profile talent to the league without significantly affecting the salary cap. The signing of a Designated Player is often a statement of intent from a club, indicating their ambition to compete at the highest level.
Some of the most famous Designated Players in MLS history include David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimović. These marquee signings have helped to raise the profile of the league and attract more international talent to MLS.
Homegrown Players and Generation Adidas contracts
Homegrown Player rule
The Homegrown Player rule allows MLS clubs to sign players from their own academies to professional contracts without subjecting them to the MLS SuperDraft. These players are considered “off-budget” and do not count against the salary cap, incentivizing clubs to invest in their youth development programs.
Generation Adidas program
Generation Adidas is a joint venture between MLS and Adidas that offers select college underclassmen and youth national team players the opportunity to sign professional contracts with the league. These players are also considered “off-budget” and do not count against the salary cap. The program aims to nurture and develop young talent within the league, providing them with the necessary resources and opportunities to succeed.
Impact on player salaries
Both Homegrown Players and Generation Adidas signings often receive lower salaries compared to more established players. These contracts, however, usually come with additional benefits, such as performance bonuses and guaranteed contracts, which can significantly impact a player’s overall compensation.
Minimum salary requirements
For the senior roster, the league mandates a minimum salary for each player. As of the 2021 season, the minimum salary for a player on the senior roster is $81,375.
The reserve roster consists of players who are not part of the senior roster, usually younger and less experienced. These players have a different minimum salary requirement. As of the 2021 season, the minimum salary for a player on the reserve roster is $63,547.
Players on the off-budget roster, including Homegrown Players and Generation Adidas signings, do not count against the salary cap. Their salaries may vary, but they generally fall within the range of reserve roster salaries or slightly higher, depending on their individual contracts and potential.
Low-end of the MLS player salary range
Minimum salary figures
As previously mentioned, the minimum salary for a player on the senior roster is $81,375 as of the 2021 season, and $84,000 for the 2022 season.
Players earning the minimum salary are typically those with less experience or who have not yet proven themselves at the top level.
The minimum salary for a player on the reserve roster is $63,547 for the 2021 season, and $65,500 for the 2022 season. These players are usually younger and still developing their skills, making their salaries lower than their more experienced counterparts.
Factors contributing to lower salaries
A player’s salary in the MLS is often affected by their league seniority. Newcomers or players with fewer years in the league will generally earn lower salaries compared to more experienced players with a longer tenure.
Certain positions within a team may have lower average salaries. For example, defenders and goalkeepers typically earn less than forwards and attacking midfielders, who often command higher salaries due to their potential to score goals and create assists.
Player performance and potential
A player’s salary can also be influenced by their on-field performance and potential. Players who have not yet proven themselves at the top level or have had inconsistent performances may earn lower salaries than their more established and successful teammates.
Top 5 earners in MLS
1. Lorenzo Insigne – Toronto FC
Base Salary: $14,000,000.00
Guaranteed Compensation: $14,000,000.00
Lorenzo Insigne, a versatile forward and Italian international, is currently the highest earner in Major League Soccer. Insigne’s move to Toronto FC made headlines not only for his outstanding talent but also for the record-breaking salary he commands. With a wealth of experience playing in Europe’s top leagues, including a successful stint at Napoli in Serie A, Insigne brings a significant level of skill and prestige to MLS. His ability to score goals, create chances, and captivate audiences has made him a marquee signing for Toronto FC and the league as a whole.
2. Xherdan Shaqiri – Chicago Fire
Base Salary: $7,350,000.00
Guaranteed Compensation: $8,153,000.00
Swiss international midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri joined Chicago Fire, was the highest earner in the league until Insigne joined. Known for his creativity, skill, and powerful left foot, Shaqiri has played for clubs like Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and Inter Milan. His experience at the highest level of European football, combined with his ability to score crucial goals and provide assists, makes him a valuable asset for Chicago Fire and a significant draw for fans.
3. Javier Hernandez – LA Galaxy
Base Salary: $6,000,000.00
Guaranteed Compensation: $7,443,750.00
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, a Mexican international forward, has been a top earner in MLS since his arrival at LA Galaxy. With a proven goal-scoring record in Europe, including successful stints at Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen, Chicharito brings an exceptional level of skill and a keen eye for goal. His popularity among fans, particularly within the Mexican-American community, has also made him a significant draw for the league, boosting attendance and merchandise sales.
4. Gonzalo Gerardo Higuain – Inter Miami
Base Salary: $5,100,000.00
Guaranteed Compensation: $5,793,750.00
Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain joined Inter Miami as a Designated Player, immediately becoming one of the league’s top earners. Higuain has had an illustrious career, playing for clubs like Real Madrid, Juventus, and AC Milan. His goal-scoring prowess and experience at the highest level of club football make him a crucial asset for Inter Miami and a considerable draw for fans eager to see world-class talent in MLS.
5. Hector Herrera – Houston Dynamo
Base Salary: $4,750,000.00
Guaranteed Compensation: $5,246,875.00
Mexican international midfielder Hector Herrera joined Houston Dynamo and quickly established himself as one of the league’s top earners. With experience playing in Europe’s top leagues, including a stint at Atletico Madrid, Herrera brings leadership, skill, and a tireless work rate to the Dynamo midfield. His presence on the field and ability to contribute both defensively and offensively make him a key player for the club and an important figure in the league’s growing talent pool.
Why these players earn so much
The high salaries commanded by these top earners in MLS can be attributed to several factors:
- Proven track record: Each of these players has a wealth of experience playing in top European leagues and for their national teams. Their success at the highest level of the sport makes them valuable assets for MLS clubs looking to compete and attract fans.
- Marquee signings: These high-profile players help to raise the profile of their clubs and the league as a whole. Their presence in MLS generates excitement among fans and boosts ticket sales, merchandise revenue, and overall interest in the league.
- Impact on the field: The skill and experience these players bring to their respective teams can significantly impact their clubs’ performances on the field. Their ability to score goals, create chances, and control games makes them essential components of their teams’ success.
- Fan appeal: Top earners like Insigne, Shaqiri, Chicharito, Higuain, and Herrera are well-known figures in the soccer world, with large fan followings both domestically and internationally. Their popularity can help to attract new fans to the league and increase engagement with existing supporters.
- Investment in success: MLS clubs are willing to invest heavily in these top players to improve their chances of winning trophies and competing at the highest level, both domestically and internationally. This investment in talent is a clear indication of the league’s ambition and desire to continue growing in stature and competitiveness.
Impact of top earners on MLS
The presence of these top earners in MLS not only raises the overall quality of play in the league but also contributes to its continued growth and global recognition. By attracting and retaining world-class talent, MLS can further solidify its place on the international soccer stage and continue to build a fan base that spans the globe. Additionally, the success of these high-profile signings can inspire clubs to invest in youth development and academy programs, nurturing the next generation of soccer stars and ensuring a bright future for Major League Soccer
High-end of the MLS player salary range
Designated Player salaries
Top earners in MLS history
Designated Players are the highest earners in Major League Soccer, with some commanding salaries well into the millions. The top earners in MLS history include players like Zlatan Ibrahimović, who reportedly earned $7.2 million in 2019, and Michael Bradley, who earned $6.5 million in 2019. However, Lorenzo Insigne, who joined Toronto FC, has become the most lucratively compensated player in the history of the league, receiving an astonishing annual guaranteed payout of $14 million.
Comparison with other leagues
Although Designated Players in MLS can earn substantial salaries, the league’s top earners still lag behind those in more prominent leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A. For example, Lionel Messi reportedly earned around $73 million in base salary at Barcelona before his move to Paris Saint-Germain, while Cristiano Ronaldo earned approximately $36 million in base salary at Juventus.
Non-DP high earners
Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and its impact on salaries
Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) is a league-provided fund that allows clubs to sign and retain players who are not Designated Players but command salaries higher than the league maximum budget charge. TAM enables clubs to attract and retain quality talent without using a Designated Player slot, resulting in some non-DP players earning substantial salaries.
Examples of high-earning non-DP players
Some examples of high-earning non-DP players include Alejandro Pozuelo, who reportedly earned $3.8 million in 2019, and Josef Martinez, who earned $3 million in the same year. These players demonstrate the increasing financial investment MLS clubs are willing to make in securing top talent, even without the use of Designated Player slots.
Average MLS player salary
Calculation and factors affecting the average
Calculating the average MLS player salary involves taking the total salaries of all players in the league and dividing it by the number of players. However, this figure can be skewed by the high earnings of Designated Players and other top earners. To gain a more accurate understanding of the average salary, it is helpful to consider both the median salary (the middle value when salaries are arranged from lowest to highest) and the mean salary (the sum of all salaries divided by the number of players).
Comparison with other professional sports leagues
As of the 2021 season, the average MLS player salary is estimated to be around $410,000. According to MLS PA, the average salary in the 2022 season is $460,000. Although this figure has grown substantially in recent years, it still falls short when compared to other major professional sports leagues in the United States. For example, the average salary in the NBA is around $7.7 million, while the average salary in the NFL is approximately $2.7 million.
Year-over-year growth trends
Despite the disparity in average salaries compared to other professional sports leagues, MLS has seen consistent year-over-year growth in player salaries. This trend is a result of the league’s continuous expansion and increasing competitiveness, as well as the influx of international talent attracted by the Designated Player rule and other initiatives.
Factors influencing MLS player salaries
Market value and player demand
A player’s market value is determined by factors such as their skill level, age, position, and potential. As a result, players with high market value will generally command higher salaries due to increased demand from clubs seeking to secure their services.
International experience and reputation
Players with international experience, particularly those who have represented their countries in major tournaments or have played in prestigious leagues overseas, can command higher salaries in MLS. Their reputation and proven track record at the highest level make them valuable assets to clubs looking to compete for titles and attract fans.
Club financial resources
The financial resources of an MLS club can significantly impact player salaries. Clubs with more substantial financial backing or lucrative sponsorship deals are often more willing and able to invest in top talent, resulting in higher salaries for their players.
League performance and competitiveness
As the overall competitiveness of MLS increases, so does the demand for quality players. As a result, clubs are often willing to pay higher salaries to secure the best talent, driving up the average salary across the league.
Recap of the range of MLS player salaries
In conclusion, the range of MLS player salaries varies greatly, with minimum salaries for reserve roster players at around $63,547 and Designated Players earning millions of dollars per year. The average MLS player salary, while growing steadily, still lags behind other major professional sports leagues in the United States.
Highest earner of 2022: Lorenzo Insigne ($14,000,000.00)
Lowest earner of 2022: There are several players earning the bottom salary of ($65,500.00)
Average salary: $459,297.84
Outlook for future salary growth
The continued expansion and increased competitiveness of Major League Soccer suggest that player salaries will continue to rise in the coming years. With more clubs entering the league and an increasing focus on attracting and developing top talent, the financial landscape of MLS is poised for further growth.
Importance of continued investment in MLS for player development and league growth
Investing in player salaries is crucial for the ongoing development of MLS as a competitive and popular soccer league. By attracting top talent and nurturing homegrown players, the league can continue to grow its fan base, enhance its global reputation, and maintain its upward trajectory in the world of professional soccer.
Impact of salary growth on the league and its players
Improved quality of play
As MLS clubs continue to invest in player salaries, the overall quality of play within the league is expected to improve. With more resources dedicated to attracting and retaining top talent, clubs will be better positioned to compete at the highest level, both domestically and internationally.
Attracting international talent
An increase in player salaries will make MLS a more attractive destination for international players. As the league’s reputation continues to grow, more players from around the world may consider MLS as a viable option to further their careers, bringing a wealth of experience and skill to the league.
Player development and academy investment
Higher player salaries can also encourage clubs to invest in their youth development programs, as nurturing homegrown talent becomes increasingly important for long-term success. By investing in their academies, MLS clubs can develop a pipeline of talented players who are ready to compete at the professional level, helping to maintain a high standard of play and ensuring the league’s sustainability.
Global recognition and league expansion
As player salaries continue to rise and the quality of play improves, MLS is likely to gain more global recognition. This increased visibility could lead to further expansion opportunities, as new markets express interest in hosting professional soccer franchises. Such growth could contribute to the overall stability and prosperity of the league, providing additional revenue streams and increasing the appeal of MLS as a whole.
Challenges and considerations for continued salary growth
While increased investment in player salaries is essential for the league’s growth, it is also crucial to ensure the financial sustainability of individual clubs. Overextending budgets can lead to financial difficulties and hinder the long-term success of both the clubs and the league. To maintain a balance between growth and sustainability, clubs must be prudent in their spending and have a clear financial strategy in place.
As player salaries rise, it is essential to maintain competitive balance within the league. Ensuring that clubs with smaller budgets can still compete with wealthier teams will be crucial in preserving the overall health of the league. Continued use of the salary cap, the Designated Player rule, and other mechanisms can help to maintain this balance and foster an environment in which all teams have a fair chance to succeed.
Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)
Player salaries in MLS are also influenced by the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is negotiated between the league and the players’ union. As the league continues to grow, it is essential to ensure that future CBAs reflect the needs and priorities of both players and clubs, allowing for continued growth while ensuring the overall health and stability of the league.
Adapting to the global soccer market
Finally, as MLS player salaries continue to grow, the league must adapt to the ever-changing global soccer market. This includes staying competitive with other leagues around the world, continuing to attract top talent, and navigating the complexities of international player transfers and contracts. By staying attuned to the global soccer landscape, MLS can ensure its continued growth and success on the world stage.
The role of fans and supporters in shaping MLS player salaries
Fan support and attendance
Fan support and attendance play a significant role in shaping MLS player salaries. Higher attendance numbers generate more revenue for clubs through ticket sales, merchandise, and concessions, which can then be invested back into player salaries. Fans who consistently support their teams by attending games and purchasing merchandise help contribute to the financial growth of the league, enabling clubs to invest more in their rosters.
Impact of marquee signings on fan engagement
Marquee signings and high-profile Designated Players can have a substantial impact on fan engagement. The arrival of star players not only boosts a team’s performance on the field but also generates excitement and interest among fans. This increased engagement can translate into higher ticket sales and merchandise revenue, providing clubs with additional resources to invest in their squads.
Fan pressure and expectations
As the league continues to grow, fans’ expectations and pressure on clubs to succeed may also influence player salaries. Supporters who demand success from their teams can put pressure on club management to invest in higher-quality players, leading to increased spending on player salaries. While this can contribute to the league’s growth, it is essential for clubs to balance fan expectations with financial sustainability to ensure long-term success.
The growth of MLS player salaries reflects the league’s ongoing expansion and increased competitiveness. From the low-end earners on reserve rosters to the multi-million-dollar Designated Players, the range of salaries in MLS demonstrates the diverse talent pool and the league’s commitment to attracting and developing top players.
As the league continues to evolve, clubs must balance the financial investment in player salaries with the need for financial sustainability and competitive balance. This ongoing growth in player compensation, coupled with the support of fans and the continued investment in youth development, will ensure the league’s continued success and global recognition.
By understanding the various factors that influence MLS player salaries, fans can appreciate the league’s growth and the efforts being made to attract and retain the best talent. This knowledge provides a deeper understanding of the league’s financial landscape and its implications for the future of Major League Soccer.