As an avid sports enthusiast, I was recently wondering about the pay differences between soccer and football players.
This question goes far beyond just the USSF since soccer is a truly international sport, unlike American football.
International soccer players are frequently ranked as some of the world’s highest-grossing athletes in salary and generated revenue. But since the NFL is also big business, I wanted to know – are soccer players paid more than football players?
International soccer players are paid more than American football players. This is, in part, due to endorsements and business arrangements in media and advertising. However, American soccer players earn less per year than football players as football is the dominant sport in the US.
It is impossible to compare football salaries to soccer salaries solely in America, so this article will analyze how NFL salaries stack up against soccer players’ salaries globally.
Read on to discover how much USSF soccer players are paid and how this compares to international soccer salaries.
Furthermore, in this article, I will compare soccer salaries to football salaries to find out which sport pays the most overall.
Check out my article – Soccer Vs Football: 12 Significant Differences – for a full comparison of the two sports.
How Much Do Soccer Players Make in America and Globally?
Let’s face it, when people think of soccer, they usually think of international teams like F.C. Barcelona or Manchester United.
The United States Soccer Federation’s (USSF) most popular league is Major League Soccer (MLS), but this American league hangs in the shadow of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL).
This isn’t due to the players’ lack of skill, but simply because the NFL and NBA are sewn into American culture fabric.
For a fascinating look at whether soccer is more challenging than football or not, check out this article I wrote. Or to discover if soccer is harder than basketball, have a look at this article I wrote.
In contrast, soccer (also known as football outside America) fills this national pastime in many other countries worldwide. Find out why it’s called soccer in America here.
It’s a cultural distinction, and there are undoubtedly many USSF fans here in the States, but it’s not our most popular sport.
USSF player earnings are much lower than international soccer players because of this reason.
So what are the differences in pay between American soccer players and international soccer players?
United States Soccer Federation (USSF)
USSF’s most distinctive branch is Major League Soccer (MLS), which uses a complicated payment system for its players.
The MLS affords each team a set amount to spend each year ($4.9 million in 2020). This salary cap essentially means that each team of 20-30 players can only make a specific salary each year.
Salaries are determined based on player ranking and overall performance within the team.
A designated player clause allows a team to select one or two players to join the team at a cost that typically far exceeds the cap.
MLS pays a smaller amount of a designated player’s salary (usually in the millions of dollars range), while the team owners pay the bulk of the expense.
Check out my article – Does soccer have a salary cap? – to understand more about how this works.
Therefore, most MLS players make a comfortable six-figure salary but only designated players earn the salaries seen by the NBA, NFL, or international soccer players.
Watch this short video for a full breakdown of the MLS salary cap:
Outside of America, soccer is one of the most popular sports globally.
Several famous teams are spread across Europe, Asia, and as far east as Oceania.
The global popularity of soccer and many instantly recognizable names like Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi, ensure that soccer player salaries are much higher on an international level than what is seen in America.
Like what is seen in American with NBA and NFL players, international soccer has many sports stars that make millions of dollars each year. Most of this comes from media exposure, endorsements, and advertising.
Most large soccer leagues worldwide do not recognize the type of salary structure seen with the MLS.
This means that global soccer players can accrue more income due to fame and notoriety associated with major leagues like the Premier League in England or La Liga in Spain.
International soccer player salaries are similar to NFL salaries, but let’s look at how much American football players make.
How Much Do NFL Players Make?
It can be said that there is perhaps no more prominent name in American sports than the NFL.
Although NBA players usually make more than NFL players due to smaller teams, the NFL oversees huge annual revenue streams across a variety of sectors.
NFL players also reap these rewards, with yearly salaries in the millions for many top-tier players.
Furthermore, even lower-tiered rookie players can command annual salaries near the $500,000 mark.
But overall, NFL salaries are similar to what is seen with the NBA; player experience and performance play a significant factor in what they earn.
So even if a player in the NFL is not a superstar name, the annual pay is impressive.
Why International Soccer Players Make More Than Football Players
Major international soccer leagues operate a similar business model to the one the NFL uses; the better a player performs, the bigger their notoriety and paychecks become.
This is a merit system that is not seen with the USSF, but there is a bigger picture. The NFL is to America what Roman gladiators were to the Roman Empire–athletic superstars.
International soccer is just like this example; millions of fans buy tickets to games and tune in on televisions to participate in the sporting experience.
The communal fan experience is a major factor in why international soccer players and NFL players command so much attention; this translates to huge salaries.
So, having established that NFL players make more than USSF players, why do international soccer players make more than NFL players?
It’s all about optics and personal taste.
Take England, for example; what we know as football here is similar to what is known as rugby in the U.K. Although most people view rugby as being a tougher game than American football.
But even though there is a similar style of game that people could watch, they choose to watch soccer instead.
In fact, in the U.K. and other European and Asian nations, soccer (football) has the status that the NFL has in America.
Players become stars based on fan engagement and personal performance; additionally, the media and retail markets cash-in on this fan engagement by selling sporting products and goods featuring soccer league emblems and players.
It also comes down to numbers.
What we call soccer has more global fans numbers-wise than the football version that we play here in America.
There are many star NFL players that make similar salaries to international soccer players, but the NFL does not have the broad global reach that soccer does.
Because so many more countries invest in soccer rather than football, the player salaries are sometimes similar to NFL salaries.
But when combined across the globe, soccer players typically earn more money than American football players.
Think about it; when a team plays infinitely more games per season to larger global audiences, this type of exposure is guaranteed to generate more revenue across the board.
Soccer players are paid more than football players because there are more teams worldwide with greater fan engagement.
A helpful way to think of it would be to take the NFL and times that by numerous countries that have a soccer team with the same popularity of the NFL in America.
American football is not widely seen across the world, which makes American football a niche sport when viewed by a global audience.
Soccer is virtually everywhere, including in America. But in the US, NFL players earn much more than MLS players overall.
If you’ve ever wondered about how much college soccer players are paid, check out my article – Do College Soccer Players get Paid? – for all the answers you’re looking for.
For more helpful soccer information have a look at one of these related articles:
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- Why soccer cleats are GREAT for flag football
- Does soccer have cheerleaders?
- Forbes: The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2020
- U.S. Soccer Federation: Home
- NFL.com – Official Site of the National Football League | NFL.com
- FC Barcelona | Official website: Home
- Official Manchester United Website: Home
- MLSsoccer.com: Home
- MLSsoccer.com: Here’s how MLS player compensation will grow through 2024 with new CBA
- Cristiano Ronaldo | Official Website: Home
- Wikipedia: Lionel Messi
- David Beckham Official Website: Home
- Premier League Football News, Fixtures, Scores & Results: Home
- LaLiga official website: Home
- CNBC: Here’s what the average NFL player makes in a season
- Wikipedia: Rugby football
- Nielsen: FAN FAVORITE: THE GLOBAL POPULARITY OF FOOTBALL IS RISING