Off of the recent success of our "Togo! Togo! Togo!" article we have decided to go with another repetitive title for this entry regarding tonight’s MLS “Clash of the Titans.” The New York Red Bulls travel to the left coast to play the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in what is being billed as the match of the season. For MLS, this is the marquee match-up Don Garber (“The Commish”) envisioned when the designated player (DP) rule (a.k.a. The Beckham Rule) took effect back in 2007, the pitch filled with names like Beckham, Donovan, Angel, Marquez, and Henry (on the sidelines). Surely the match will be entertaining, but anytime these titans meet the fire over the use of the DP rule in MLS gets stoked just a little more.
Both the NY Times (NYT) and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) offered great articles today on the part of this match-up which we feel needs the most attention, the actual salaries being paid to these designated players. Quoted from the WSJ article, “David Beckham and Landon Donovan of the Galaxy and Rafael Marquez, Juan Pablo Angel and the injured Thierry Henry of the Red Bulls make a combined $21.7 million in guaranteed compensation from their clubs… this represents about 30% of the entire league payroll of $71.3 million, according to MLS Players Union figures.” Just to put this in perspective, the top 5 players in Major League Baseball (Rodriguez, Sabathia, Jeter, Teixeira, and Santana) make a combined $120.7 million per year which equates to just over 4% of the entire league payroll of $2.8 billion. MLS allows for 23-man rosters while MLB allows for 25, but the comparison is fairly equal from a personnel stand point.
This would be about the point in the article where you would expect us to take all of that great statistical analysis and proclaim that the end is near and the ship is sinking; think again. They don’t refer to Don Garber as “The Soccer Don” for nothing. The strategic move to allow up to 3 DP’s per team has little to do with performance on the field and more with marketing. This can be highlighted with the fact that since Beckham’s move to MLS in 2007, the league has added 4 teams, raised attendance 5% on average, all during the worst recession since World War II. Furthermore, the lack of a DP means very little on the pitch, just ask Real Salt Lake who win the MLS title last season with a deep roster of relatively nameless players. You see, the investment in the big name DP’s in MLS is an investment in advertising for a league that continues to firm up its position in the sports landscape of America. With MLS controlling player’s salaries and trades more than any other league, every DP signed is a chance to put that team in the newspaper, on television, and online. MLS doesn’t have the privledge of huge broadcast contracts like MLB and the NFL where ads for the weekly games are splattered throughout their primetime line ups. Instead MLS is utilizing a grass roots marketing campaign to push their product forward. As Mr. Garber is quick to note, the jury is still out on the success of the DP rule and more years and signings will help to dictate whether this rule re-shapes MLS.
Rest assured The Scoring Third will be following this ever important MLS issue in the years to come. We will also be trying to find another repetitive title for our next blog entry!