This week it was announced by MLS that the LA Galaxy have signed Mexican International star Giovanni Dos Santos to a contract reportedly worth $4.1 million per year over 4.5 years. In order to make room for the large contract, the MLS had to alter some of its rules that protect the single-entity structure of the league. While this seems like a positive sign that MLS is experiencing financial stability, it shows another trend that has increased exponentially in 2015. Teams in MLS are increasingly signing recognized faces from big name teams abroad to monster contracts that lure them to play in America. But is this the right path for MLS to become “the best league in the world” by 2022? And perhaps even more important, is this the right strategy for marketing soccer to Americans?
In addition to allowing each team to have 3 designated players with contracts sometimes worth over triple what the rest of the team makes combined, (See Orlando City SC or Toronto FC) each team can now add a player who makes over the league maximum salary of $436,250 using an extra $100,000 provided each year for the next five years by the league as Targeted Allocation Money.
In no particular order, here are some of the recognizable stars that have come to MLS since 2014:
Kaka, Orlando City
David Villa, NYCFC
Frank Lampard, NYCFC
Andrea Pirlo, NYCFC
Jermaine Jones, New England Revolution
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders
Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC
Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC
Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy
Giovanni Dos Santos, LA Galaxy
Since the “Beckham Rule” was implemented in 2007, the number of designated players in the league has steadily increased from just 5 players in its first year to 47 as of March this year (49 now with the signings of Pirlo & Dos Santos). While the marketing implications are clear, it’s worth asking if the price tag is worth it for mostly aging players. For some, this movement is just another example of the MLS acting as a “retirement league” with few exceptions.
Giovanni Dos Santos is currently 26 years old, in the prime of his career, an unusual high-profile signing at such a young age for an MLS club. According to reports, some Mexican supporters are disappointed by his move to MLS because at this time in his career, the level of competition won’t be the same as he might expect overseas or in his native Mexico. In any case, this is a major signing for MLS as it tries to remove its stereotype as a retired home of stars. Combining Dos Santos’s arrival with 28 year old Sebastian Giovinco’s move to Toronto FC show signs that the league is increasingly gaining the funds to acquire players before they reach the twilight of their careers.
Time will tell if attendance continues to grow and more importantly, if these big names can generate enough TV viewers to win MLS an even bigger share of the lucrative sports media market.