To the average fan, soccer in Europe may be as foreign a subject as – well – Europe. It is rarely in the news and the sport is almost never on television except for an early Saturday morning match on ESPN. It doesn’t get the attention that the NFL, MLB, and NBA (even when it’s locked out) get in the sporting world.
However, the English Premier League and La Liga, the highest levels of soccer of in Europe are not so different from our more traditional sports. They are especially similar to Major League Baseball. Baseball has its powerhouses that win every year like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Philadelphia Phillies. And Europe has its powerhouses like Barcelona, Arsenal, Real Madrid, and the most commonly known Manchester United.
These leagues are very similar in the fact that they do not have salary caps and the game has become an economic arms race. In 2011, the Yankees and Red Sox had payrolls of $197 million and $162 million respectively. These two teams have found ownership with a commitment to paying high profile athletes to compete for championships. And for the most part, the Yankees and Red Sox have seen a great deal of winning.
Similarly, ownership in professional soccer in Europe has made the same commitment to compete at a high level. Manchester United is the highest valued professional sports franchise in the world at $1.9 billion and most of that is invested in their players. Real Madrid’s average player salary is $7.4 million and Barcelona’s is $7.9 million. Those salaries are atop the list of highest paid athletes in all major sports. The Yankees are the next closest paying their players an average of $6.8 million.
Being from a smaller market area, us Clevelanders know what its like to compete with the large market teams. Many fans in Europe have the same problem when they play the top level clubs. However, for every over paid team there is a “Moneyball” Oakland Athletic or Tampa Bay Ray franchise that finds young talent at a discount to compete. Teams like Newcastle and Tottenham in England have earned that reputation. But just as in the MLB, once the talented young players emerge the top clubs snatch them up with a contract that has a couple extra zeros. I personally, am a fan of the the small market teams, more specifically the Queens Park Rangers just for the simple fact that being from Cleveland I like to see the underdog win (unless Cleveland is the favorite of course).
Hopefully now the average fan here can see that even soccer overseas is becoming more of a business just like our sports. Maybe we can relate better to the average European soccer fan. And who knows, maybe in a couple years Brad Pitt will be portraying a small market owner over in England that competed with a bunch of no-name players.