ESPN and SportingIntelligence.com have teamed up to provide a listing of the highest-paying teams in sports. The list covers seven sports, ten countries, and fourteen leagues, including the top four leagues in Europe, the Scottish Premier League, and MLS.
Wage bill provides a fairly reasonable measure of club significance. The five highest wage bills in Europe belong to Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea, and AC Milan. (It’s not perfect, obviously…but it’s a fair estimate.) Which American(s?) play for the biggest club? Let’s take a look at the numbers. Here are the clubs of every American covered, plus two clubs with youth players yet to make a senior appearance (Terrence Boyd at Borussia Dortmund and Jared Jeffrey at Mainz) and three clubs that Yanks departed last year (for transfer perspective):
I’m not surprised to see Jermaine Jones and Schalke 04 as the biggest club for a Yank— Schalke is a frequent Champions League contender, including a run to the semifinals last year. I was surprised to see Aston Villa (Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj) ranked so high— I would have guessed that Brad Friedel’s Spurs would have grabbed the second spot. Michael Bradley’s loan to Aston Villa and eventual sale to Chievo feel like lateral moves, but the wage bills suggest that the loan to Villa was a half-step up (in terms of playing time competition) while the move to Chievo was a half-step down.
Now, let’s take a look at individual leagues. We’ll start off with the Bundesliga, where we can see just how impressive it was for Steve Cherundolo to captain Hannover 96 into the Europa League quarterfinals this year. Last year, they had the fifth-lowest wage budget in the Bundesliga despite finishing 5th and narrowly missing Champions League qualification (in fact, they would have made it this year).
Numbers in millions, ST DEV refers to how many standard deviations from the median.
The numbers also help show why the Bundesliga is probably the most entertaining league in the world— only three clubs are more than one standard deviation from the median, with half the clubs falling in the the average player salary range of $1.66 to $1.98 million.
The English Premier League has more disparity.
I was a bit surprised to see famously-poor clubs like Fulham and Everton actually rate in the top half of the table, although being able to avoid relegation for a decade undoubtedly helps that. Of course, despite Liverpool’s struggles, it’s easy to see why so many expect to see Clint Dempsey move to Liverpool or Arsenal.
Seeing all the numbers really demonstrate just how far Italian football has fallen. (As if the empty stadiums weren’t a sign.) While there’s decent balance with most clubs, three clubs are two full standard deviations above the media (and another is over 1.5 standard deviations away). Michael Bradley’s Chievo are a relative minnow (although they could impressively finish top half of the table). Interestingly, richer MLS clubs Los Angeles and New York actually have similar payrolls (although those two are inflated by designated players…no one on Chievo is making David Beckham/Thierry Henry money).
Finally, we move into the far north of Great Britain and the highlands of Scotland:
The Scottish Premier League, unsurprisingly, is the most unbalanced. Dominic Cervi’s Celtic (32.8%) and Rangers of Carlos Bocanegra, Maurice Edu, and Alejandro Bedoya (25.3%) combine to make up nearly 60% of the total payroll of the league. While Celtic and Rangers have payrolls comparable to lower end Bundesliga or English Premier League clubs, other than Hearts, the rest of the league compares more to salary-capped MLS clubs.