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MLS could be making more money or changing how they pay players?

So we have seen strikes and lockouts in almost every major sport in the US in the last two decades and often it has taken 10 years or more for them to recover. Most recent was the NHL, a sport with a horrible TV ratings, their average crowd is similar to MLS (NHL 2009 so far= 16,686, MLS 2009 = 16,037) but the NHL is struggling because of their still outrageous salaries. A team with an average attendance number the LA Kings has a payroll of over 50 million dollars, revenue of 92 million dollars according to forbes and an operating profit of 10.2 million dollars.

So what is the difference between the two leagues? Well to be honest it is TV, the NHL gets over 70 million a year from versus which averages under 250,000 viewers per match. There is a much smaller deal with NBC and their ratings are better but still under a 1 in audience ratings (about 1.1 million).

MLS on the other hand gets about 219,000 watching on ESPN2, higher when Beckham plays, but FSC hits a much smaller number about 60,000 per match. Those numbers are no surprise when you know that FSC is available in about 35 million homes, and ESPN2 reaches over 100 million. FYI, the MLS Cup got a 0.9 (about a million people) watching on ESPN. So knowing this it makes one wonder why the ESPN deal, which I believe includes the World Cup and it's large ratings, is so very, very small, I believe MLS gets about 20 million a year for all its TV rights.

So how can versus pay 70 million for the NHL (more games- 54) but still a small audience, could MLS get more shows on TV by dumping ESPN? ESPN will not run Saturday afternoon or evening matches while the NCAA is playing basketball or football, heck they even will stay with NCAA baseball over MLS. Could MLS look other places for revenue? Could a Versus or SpikeTV be part of the answer, maybe extending the partnership with Fox to include FX?

So that could bring more money in, but how about a revolution in how professional athletes are paid?

What if MLS proposed something really new to the players in their CBA negotiations? What about a performance based pay system?

Say each of the players on the roster makes a base of 40,000 per year, then they each get a 10% bump for each year they are in the league to that base. Then you pay them both a team and individual bonus for performance, let's look at what some of them might be:

Team based bonuses:

  • 1,000 for each player in the 18 for a win (win 12 games a year get $12,000 more to your base = 52,000)
  • 500 for each player in the 18 for a tie (get 10 ties a year and a $5,000 more = 57,000)
  • Make the playoffs $10,000 per player (= $67,000)
  • $2,500 per playoff win, $1,250 for playoff tie (for RSL that would be $7,500 more =$74,500)
  • Win a conference another $10,000 per player ($84,500 for RSL players)
  • Win MLS Cup $15,000 per player ($95,500 for RSL players)
  • Other tournaments, other goals all could be negotiated
Individual bonuses:
  • Since each position would have different goals it is hard to set up but
  • Say $2,000 per goal, $1,000 per assist, $1,000 for clean sheets
  • Fitness goals- set by team
  • Make All Star team $5,000)
It isn't a prefect system but I think it would provide players with additional motivation to perform at the highest level, it would allow teams who do well to reward their players with more money and those who struggle pay less. I started thinking about this a long time ago when the MLB strike happened, and I thought it was an interesting idea. With MLS I think it could be the place for it to start.

I get paid a base, my bonuses are set based on my performance, my companies performance, so why should professional athletes be any different? What are your thoughts?