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MLS Economics – End The Salary Cap Mystery

Must we perpetually deal with the cloak-and-dagger nature of the salary cap situation in Major League Soccer?

200px Christian wilhelmsson MLS Economics   End The Salary Cap Mystery

Wilhelmsson - Another International Star For The Galaxy

There is nothing like watching international players enter the league, primarily to the Big Two teams of Los Angeles and New York, when it appears that they may have already reached their salary maximums, even with the Designated Player allowances. It has created this neverending saga of questioning whether the league is upholding its ethical duty to hold teams – especially corporation-backed Los Angeles and New York – to the rules. There is little chance for Joe Soccerfan to peruse the real numbers and perform his or her own level of accountability. It’s progressed to the point where it has become a laugh-a-minute punchline for most MLS-centered bloggers. “Oh gee, there they go again! The Galaxy just keep getting more and more great players! Oh, but those days are long gone of the shenanigans! Yeah!”

Today it was announced that the Los Angeles Galaxy have signed Swedish midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson. Yes, another international player who saw minutes in this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament. Wilhelmsson is coming from Ligue 1 and the oil-money flush Saudi club Al-Hilal, and would seem to have a steep salary. Nope, no reason to question that bit of finance, just carry on fans of teams who actually sell out their venue.

But why is that? What is the reason they can afford this guy, according to the lore of MLS accounting? It’s that mystical, incalculable substance known as “allocation money.” It’s impossible to know who gets what, and when they do, how much they receive – unless you’re someone in the League office with a trusty slide rule and a degree in multidimensional calculus.

Of course that’s a ludicrous suggestion, just as it’s ludicrous that fans of this League should be unable to be in full view of this system. It’s not like it’s to protect the confidentiality of player salaries. The MLS Players Union publishes that data twice a year. It’s not like it’s going to reveal some ugly truth that poor Junior Lopes is making less than 2% of what David Beckham makes in a season – we get to see that data regardless.

So then why keep this finance so quiet? That’s a good question, if everything is well within the rules (which I assume it is). If you’re going to insist that every team spend less than a salary cap, and let the public know the exact number of that cap (less the exemptions made for 3 Designated Players), then this information should be published.

We should be able to say, “Ok, LA has $500,000 worth of Allocation Money in their bank, and $400,000 of cap room. That means they can give Wilhelmsson up to about $850,000 salary for the next year to be sure he remains below the Designated Player figure.” Instead we’re sitting here , saying, “Ah, it’s just the way it is. Might as well just suck it up. They must have it under control, right?”

I don’t want to be glib about this though. It’s not easy to keep a league afloat, and the controls in place are well worth it for a league that is showing steady growth. All I’m asking is that you let us in on the secret. Can’t the guessing game that perplexes and gives conspiracy nuts like me sleepless nights be put to bed for once?

Maybe the reason it remains this way is that if one wall is broken down, then it would lead to skeptics asking for another wall to topple. First it’s the allocation BS, next it’s promotion and relegation. I don’t think so, those pleas for those issues are already there and are never going away. Slippery slope arguments suck nearly as much as the way this information is withheld.

So my position is this – just release the salary cap numbers and allocation money totals one of these years. Please?


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