Back in July it was announced that the Portland Timbers’ very own JELD-WEN Field would play host to the AT&T MLS All-Star Game. Up until a week ago, who the best of MLS would be taking the field against was unknown. Now MLS fans are very aware that JELD-WEN will offer a window into a cross national telecom battle of AT&T and MLS against T-Mobile and the German Giants Bayern Munich.
Like AS Roma last year, Bayern represent the first team from their nation to come over and compete in this annual game. Prior to AS Roma and Bayern Munich, the various MLS All-star teams had taken on a whole host of British clubs including Fulham, West Ham United, Everton, Manchester United and Chelsea. Scottish side Celtic and Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara are the only other international teams to have faced an All-star squad.
Recently, one of Business of Soccer’s own Scott Phillips compiled a comprehensive list of every MLS player’s country of birth parallel to other pertinent information. His analysis of that will be the topic of a feature piece coming up in the next week but it got us on the road to thinking about this announcement in regards to player nationality. The discussion tangents are endless on this topic ranging from Italy’s World Cup winning squad all playing domestically in the Serie A, Spain’s national team Barca/Madrid breakdown, the foreign player influx in the Premier League, and even Jurgen Klinsmann’s well documented utilization and recruitment of dual-citizen German American’s in the USMNT.
Using the recent All-Star game announcement as the focal point, this tangential discussion will focus on MLS player origin with regards to past MLS all star squads and the various financial caveats of the teams and their opponents.
The Premier League and MLS are uniquely juxtaposed at the moment when it comes to the overall league composition. While both leagues are having a fairly consistent influx of foreign talent, domestic reception to that influx are somewhat opposite one another. Most fans love seeing Robin Van Persie, Juan Mata, Luis Suarez, Yaya Toure and Mesut Ozil every week, but many England National Team fans believe that all the foreign talent is crowding out the English talent sitting in the Youth Academies and feel that there needs to be a change for the sake of the success of the English National Team.
MLS and fans of MLS don’t seem to feel the same way about the influx of players to North America. Thierry Henry, Tim Cahil, Marco Di Vaio, Robbie Keane, and countless other not quite so famous foreign players have been making their way in MLS steadily over the years and it looks to only be improving the level of play and competition in the league.
Thinking about this debate led to looking at each MLS All-star squad from 2008 (the year Beckham joined the league) to the present to see if there were any proportional differences in player origin.
Those numbers are based solely on the Starting XI and the bench of each game as archived by MLS.com. There doesn’t appear to any statistically significant trends in the distribution of foreign born compared to US born players except a minor counter intuitive increase in US born players in the past 3 years.
Looking past the basic distribution of where players were born and further into the financials gets a little more interesting.
MLSPU data shows that despite the fluctuation of nationality distribution, salary levels show at least one clear trend. Consistently since at least 2008 foreign born players on average are paid more than US born players. The US born data does not include Landon Donovan post 2009 as his salary breaks into the multi-millions since it significantly skews the data and the same goes for David Beckham and Thierry Henry on the foreign born side.
MLS All Star teams are not indicative samples of the overall league but is interesting to see that consistently, the players voted in by fans, media, coaches and even Don Garber himself show a trend of higher paid foreign born players.
Salary and wage data finds itself among TV revenue, attendance and commercial sponsorship as a critical aspect of any professional sports club’s financial breakdown. The reason being that salary and wages usually account for a very significant portion of expenditure and in many European transfers directly affects the transfer fee.
With MLS taking many standing ovations for the league’s steady financial growth and success over the years it seemed prudent to compare one of the largest expenditure portions against that of the various All-star team opponents.
Individual player contract amounts aren’t nearly as public as MLS player data is but overall payroll and wage expenditure is made public in the financial documents released annually by clubs. The average number for the clubs come from the total payroll divided by the standard 25-man roster. What the data shows is not that surprising. European teams pay their players dramatically more than MLS clubs do and much of that simply has to do with sheer amounts of revenue.
Bayern Munich, with their recent Champions League triumph last season, their current participation in the FIFA club world cup and continued domestic success only look set to continually increase their overall revenue and value especially with their announcement of record profits, something Premier League teams cant exactly boast about.
Bayern Munich though does not find itself apart from these previous All-Star competitors when it comes to how much they pay their players, according to the latest public data in 2011 they had a wage expenditure of $170 million. Compare that figure to Forbes’ MLS Team valuations and 18 of the current 20 MLS franchises aren’t worth as much as Bayern Munich pays its employees and none show revenues to match even a third of the Bavarian giants’ payroll numbers.
8 MLS teams are valued above $100 million and only the Seattle Sounders show an overall team valuation greater than $170 million. The numbers make MLS seem bleak and beyond competitively inferior but taking a look at MLS record against foreign opposition and 6-0-4 isn’t a terrible record.
Manchester United is the only team to win by more than 2 goals. Bayern Munich will come to a jam packed JELD-WEN’s field and line up against players that may be dramatically underpaid in comparison but show of history of not saying uncle.