Tightening our belts the MLS way

In an era where League of Ireland clubs are often overspending on wages and the competition itself is in dire straits, is there something to be said for adopting some of the regulations used in Major League Soccer (MLS)?

Certainly when it comes to the financial regulation side of things, Major League Soccer have it down to a tee. The rules in place regarding salary caps and roster sizes have essentially given the competition the legitimacy it so desperately needed since its inception. These rules have also prevented numerous clubs becoming defunct after crazy spending sprees without the financial means to back them up.

Shamrock Rovers v LA Galaxy 4

It could also be argued, in the MLS, that it is becoming less important to have the salary cap. The majority of clubs are in a very healthy position, financially, and the money spent on, off budget, designated players has increased dramatically since 2007.

David Beckham was the first huge designated player in the MLS back in 2007. Beckham, now one of the stakeholders in the push for an MLS franchise in Miami, came out recently seeking for the salary cap to be scrapped, claiming that it is the main thing stopping more players joining the league. In response to this idea, MLS commissioner, Don Garber has reiterated his cautious approach in protecting the league from overspending.

With the laissez-faire attitude the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) takes towards its domestic league, the slew of clubs who have been caught out financially is unsurprising. Examples of these clubs are, Sporting Fingal, Galway United and Cork City all three going out of business due to massive debts racked up predominantly due to massive wage bills.

Overspending in the League of Ireland is a massive issue. A familiar pattern has emerged that a club spends money, wins the league and has a bright few years before collapsing. Surely the most famous example of this is Shelbourne’s strife following a hugely successful period in the noughties.

The Dublin club are still experiencing the hangover from their collapse in 2006, only managing two seasons in the top flight since their financial implosion.

It is surprising that very little is said about introducing a salary cap in the League of Ireland. The closest the league has is the FAI’s licensing committee, which doesn’t do much to help the current situation as it is not a preventative measure to keep clubs in line financially before they overspend.

Given the apparent lack of funds in the league anyway, it’s not like teams are able to attract the likes of Lampard, Pirlo, Kaka or Villa in the twilight of their careers like the MLS can. Clubs in Ireland also don’t have the funds to attract non designated standard international players that would come under the likes of the MLS salary cap anyway.

Shamrock Rovers v LA Galaxy 2

It is also true that the League of Ireland can’t come close to competing with any of the teams in the Football League in England regarding wages so a cap certainly wouldn’t take away any pulling power the league already has.

A salary cap would, however, provide stability to clubs, players and fans alike. Clubs would no longer be able to spend beyond their means and disappear into the fog of League of Ireland history. Players wouldn’t be left without a job or unpaid wages mid-season as their employer could be kept in check financially.

Certainly not all of the regulations in the MLS are applicable to Ireland. However, we’ve seen the success of these in action. In the MLS only three clubs have been dissolved since its inception, while in Ireland many more have left the league, just in the last decade, while others are new incarnations of clubs post-financial collapse.

It certainly couldn’t hurt to trial some of the ideas championed in the MLS here, in the League of Ireland.

Author Details

Paul Corcoran

Galway United fan and follower of all things football. I have a weird interest in the less glamorous parts of football and stressing myself out by following the League of Ireland. You can hear me online or at 101.3 Flirt FM on Monday's at 3.

5 thoughts on “Tightening our belts the MLS way

  1. Good article Paul, food for thought and something many LOI followers have advocated – a centralised system of contracts, high level corporate governance and links with government strengthened, however in Europe it is difficult to enforce such changes centrally as it only takes one club to complain and FIFA jump in.

    Also one important error – Sporting Fingal didn’t go under due to unsustainable wages, they went under due to political cowardice in the face of an election. They had both funds and structure to still be present today, however a perfect storm of political yahooism, NAMA politics and hypocrisy did for them.

  2. Very interesting point about Fingal, I didn’t know that was the case. I just presumed with no fans or other visible revenue streams and given their high profile squad it was only a matter of time before they went wallop!

  3. I think everyone was thinking the same and not really aware of what was going on. It was all sudden in the end as the budget was set, everything was moving and we were waiting to sign over the club from a certain developer and Fingal CoCo. Then the council made a political play and shafted the club, basically ignorant of football labour laws, stiffing creditors and destroying the work done on the ground. It was always disappointing that the FG-Lab (plus independents) mob blocked any investigation, and the media played their part too.

  4. Big difference is MLS teams are not independent “clubs”, they are franchises of MLS, LLC. The league owns all player contracts, and most (though not all), of wages come from the league. Of course it is easier for them to manage salaries and keep costs low, and make up rules when needed to sign expensive stars (Beckham, Dempsey, etc).

    MLS is not a competition of independent clubs, it is an entertainment company using soccer as it’s show, similar to WWE using wrestling (if you are familiar with that). Do you want your clubs to mean something, or be another corporate marketing component?

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