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A Fistful of Dollars

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2015's salary increases will change the MLS competitive landscape.

"When a man's got money in his pocket he begins to appreciate peace."
"When a man's got money in his pocket he begins to appreciate peace."
Mike Russell


A Seattle Sounders fan will hope that the flurry of spending in the present transfer window inspired by the introduction of Targeted Allocation Money is not yet complete. No matter the changes to come, the recent Players Union salary release reveals a very different MLS for player compensation than we saw last year, let alone any previous season. The "accumulation" plot above is an update of a figure from our commentary on last year's release: individual salaries are sorted in descending order of total guaranteed compensation, and the cumulative salary of the top 10, 20, etc. players is depicted at the corresponding position on the x axis. As we saw last year, the greatest year-to-year change in player compensation shows up in designated player salaries - the inset plot zooms in on the top 20 salaries in the league. Nevertheless, the impact of the new CBA can be seen in the numbers for middle and low range salaries, particularly when you plot seasonal change rather than total compensation:


Here, each year's line represents the difference between its aggregate compensation and the accumulated salaries at the corresponding position in the previous year for the top 350 MLS players. Since 2007, total compensation has increased every year but 2013, and that decrease only took place within top-level salaries (note the gently positive slope of the line from player 36 on). 2015's salary increase shows a jump in the top 10 salaries comparable to 2010 and 2014, a dramatically greater increase at positions ~15-36, and the highest slope for each position thereafter. 2015 median compensation is $110,000, up from $91,827 in 2014 and $87,333 in 2013... though that figure is perhaps less impressive when named Mohammed Saeid, Marc Burch, or Patrick Mullins. Therein lies the problem - league success (and entertainment value) lies more in how well the money is spent than in how much. Teams haven't been very effective at converting spending into reliable success, perhaps because spending efficiency varies so significantly from team to team. Still, the salary numbers point to a changing MLS landscape. We should expect the league to change in response to a larger influx of spending than we've previously seen in this context, and see how teams change along with it.