12 April 2007

Making minimum wages is no picnic

Does anyone not think that the MLS developmental salary is too low? I think we're all in agreement on that one. From the league's perspective, a low starting salary hedges them against overpaying for players. Those who pan out, ala Gros, Perkins, Boswell get pay raises and stay with the team. Those who don't, leave to play for the Railhawks, and the front office hasn't invested gobs of cash in them, so the loss is minimal. But the value of an MLS salary is in the eye of the beholder.

For some guys, and there is no shortage of them in the States, its enough to just have a chance to play soccer professionally, with maybe a shot at making it either in the league or moving on to Europe. These are the guys living 5 to a house with no TV and just a hunger to be on the field.

To be fair, they just moved in last week, and it's been a busy few weeks for United, and there's a furniture-shopping outing planned, possibly as soon as tomorrow, which I might live-blog, which might be the first live-blog ever for an MLS group-house furniture-shopping outing. But as of right now, the guys still haven't bought beds, so they're mostly sleeping on the floor, which is what I did when I got my first apartment right out of college, so I can sympathize.

The flip side to that coin, is that some people decide that an MLS salary is too low for them.

The former Clifton High School and Seton Hall standout was selected in the 2007 MLS Supplemental Draft by the Columbus Crew and played well enough to receive a contract offer. The only problem is that the offer was for a developmental contract, worth just $12,900, a figure Niziolek determined was impossible to live on so far from home.

Instead of training and preparing for another season, Teddy Niziolek is stuck in limbo without a team. But that's his choice, so while you can complain that developemental salaries are low, you can't argue that they're artificially low or that players are forced to accept them.


At 12 April, 2007 12:16, Blogger pate said...

Good take, but what do you think the solution is?

At 12 April, 2007 12:18, Blogger D said...

Hmmm.. not sure what Oscar thinks, but here's what I think -- I wonder if the Jay Needham experiment might provide an alternative, at least until the next CBA negotiation. If he can demonstrate that you can get a good salary and still develop in USL, that might make someone on the edge take notice.

At 12 April, 2007 12:43, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there going to be an All American XI this year?

At 12 April, 2007 13:13, Blogger Oscar M. said...

darn - i was hoping people wouldn't figure out that I had no conclusion or insight to offer.

I guess, my gut instinct, is that the market for players will take care of it. If too many players choose the USL or Europe over MLS, then the league will have to raise salaries to remain competitive. It might be something they do ahead of the next CBA as a gesture of goodwill. But there's also a healthy supply of young players who accept that roster spot and salary, so I wouldn't expect a very big increase anytime soon.

At 12 April, 2007 13:22, Blogger pate said...

That might be an option. I wonder if Teddy Niziolek is looking at the USL as an option?

At 12 April, 2007 20:43, Anonymous Joanna said...

Sure you can argue they are artifically low. They're set by the league at that level.

At 12 April, 2007 22:09, Blogger Oscar M. said...

Actually, I'm not arguing that they are *artificially* low. They are low because players are willing to pay for them. Those that don't, either go to the USL, Europe, or pursue a non-playing career.

At 13 April, 2007 09:38, Anonymous Joanna said...

"you can't argue that they're artificially low"

I was responding to that part of the post. I wanted to make the point that this free-market stuff inserted into conversations about player salaries is really bogus because the developmental salaries absolutely are artificially low. They're set by the league, and plus you have the additional problem of the salary cap.

I don't think that the fact that some players are willing to play for the incredibly, artificially, even abusively low wages in any way justifies them being set at that level. Two reasons:

1) It's an unarguable fact that on least one occasion a team (DCU) has failed to sign a player (Needham) because of the low wages. Therefore the league is missing out on talented players who can't or won't work for almost nothing.

2) It's just plain immoral to pay people such a low wage that it causes them significant hardship. A quick google search reveals that 4 bedroom houses in Fort Washington (I couldn't find any 5-bedrooms) rent for around $2000. I did find one outlier at $1500, so even if you split the difference and call it $1750, these guys are still paying almost half their income in rent each month, unless they're being subsidized.

That brings us right back to #1, because if they ARE being subsidized, by family, friends, or benevolent strangers, it only underscores the lack of access for people who don't have that kind of help available to them.

Believe me I understand that being a professional athlete is a position of such privilege in our culture that it can seem goofy to argue that even ludicrously low salaries are TOO low. Because you're right: there will always be someone who'll take it.

But, it's a demonstrable fact that the league misses out on some of the very best talent by not offering better developmental salaries - AND, you cannot tell me that someone living on $10,000 in the Washington, DC area isn't suffering more than they would if they made $20,000.

So, NOBODY benefits. Also, seriously, how many developmental players are there in the whole damn league? 60? Can't be more than 100. Even if it was 100, and you paid each of them $10,000 more, that's $100,000 ... that's chump change to MLS.

At 13 April, 2007 09:39, Anonymous Joanna said...

Haha okay I suck at math, it's early - still $1,000,000 spread out over all 13 teams isn't that much.

At 13 April, 2007 09:54, Blogger D said...

Joanna: I agree with the larger point about the salaries being too low, but MLS alone isn't keeping the salaries artificially low. The Collective Bargaining Agreement has something to do with it. And therefore the MLS Players Union bears some responsibility, since they agreed to this implementation. Sometimes Unions represent the common man, sometimes they protect the elite of their profession. In the next CBA negotiations, we'll see which way they go.

At 13 April, 2007 11:29, Anonymous Joanna said...

Thanks for the reply, D. I don't know enough specifics about the CBA to speak to it directly. I'll have to pick your brain about this sometime because now I'm all interested in learning more.

However, I think it's worth noting that enlisting unions themselves to screw over lower tier workers is a pretty common union-busting strategy. You see it all the time: the classic example is where the union is strong-armed into a contract that treats current employees and new employees differently as far as wages, benefits, raises, etc. Think back to the grocery store strikes in this area and in California a few years ago. It's a tough tactic to deal with because such a contract always treats the CURRENT union members well - as good or better than what they've always had - and they are the ones who have to choose whether to accept the contract or hold out for something better, maybe even strike. But, new people that come along get treated lots worse, and that creates a rift. Why should the new hires give a crap about the union when THEY aren't getting the benefits of the other union workers who have seniority? It destroys solidarity, and that's the first step to either killing the union or making it irrelevant.

So yes, it happens that sometimes unions only wind up benefitting the workers who need it least, but it's too simplistic to just blame the unions for that. I don't doubt sometimes corruption plays a role, sometimes it's short-sightedness... but sometimes they just got outflanked and outmaneuvered by management.

This'll be a great topic for a Hpnotic fuelled tailgate discussion ... see y'all there :-)


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