The MLB offseason is always full of news regarding free agent signings and contract extensions that put figures in front of our eyes that are hard to believe.
Whether you think they deserve the sums of money they receive, there’s no doubting that sport is a lucrative business and those that play at the highest level are able to reap the rewards.
Manchester United confirmed that they had agreed a new 5.5 year contract with Wayne Rooney late on Friday evening and it makes for an interesting comparison with the financial deals struck in MLB.
The comparison is ‘just for fun’, as they used to say on TV programmes when they didn’t want to get into trouble for fleecing children (or more accurately, their parents) with expensive phoneline competitions.
There are many significant differences between the baseball and football markets that are reflected in the contracts that established players sign. At best we’re comparing different varieties of apples, if not comparing apples with pears (or potatoes, perhaps, in Rooney’s case).
One of those differences is that the baseball market is much more transparent. For example, the Cincinnati Reds signed pitcher Homer Bailey to a six-year contract this week and not only do we know the total value of the contract ($105m), anyone can head over to a resource like Cot’s Baseball Contract and see how that will be broken down, not just on an annual basis but the unique payment terms too.
Transparency is a dirty word in football. Most football transfers are ‘undisclosed’ and salaries are confidential. Journalists are able to get hold of some of these details, but more often than not you won’t get the full story and a player’s salary will vary depending on which source you go to. A cynic would suggest that being opaque on such matters is particularly handy considering the propensity of big earners in Britain to be ‘creative’ when (not) paying tax, but we’ll leave that for other websites to consider.
There’s a rare consensus on the main terms of Rooney’s contract, so accepting the caveat that this isn’t a direct comparison, we can at least put some numbers together and see how they stack up against similar baseball deals.
Rooney’s new contract is for 5.5 years and will pay him £300k per week, or more specifically £250k per week with an extra £50k for ‘image rights’. Newspapers are stating that the deal is worth £85m. Multiplying £300k by 286 weeks gives us £85.8m so there’s either some rounding down going on there or it’s possibly not a full half-year in the deal. We’ll put that to one side and use the figures £300k per week and £85m for the total contract value.
If we take the full contract value first then, at current conversion rate, the deal is worth a bit more than $141m. That would slot in around the 25th mark of the most lucrative in MLB history.
23. Cole Hamels, $144,000,000 (2013-18)
24. Carl Crawford, $142,000,000 (2011-17)
25. Todd Helton, $141,500,000 (2003-11)
26. David Wright, $138,000,000 (2013-20)
27. Johan Santana, $137,500,000 (2008-13)
As per Cot’s Baseball Contracts
Rooney’s deal would come in around about that of the recently-retired Todd Helton, although Helton’s deal began in 2003 so in relative terms was worth more money than that at the time of signing.
The contracts signed by Crawford and Helton were for more years than Rooney’s, so Cole Hamels’ six-year deal for $144m is probably the best comparison in that sense, including that they were both 28 years old when they signed.
If we take a slightly different approach and say Rooney’s average annual value is £300k multiplied by 52, then that gives him an average of almost $26m which would put him right near the top compared to MLB players.
1. Clayton Kershaw, $30,714,286 (2014-20)
2. Roger Clemens, $28,000,022 (2007)
3. Alex Rodriguez, $27,500,000 (2008-17)
4. Justin Verlander, $25,714,286 (2013-19)
5. Alex Rodriguez, $25,200,000 (2001-10)
Again, as per Cot’s Baseball Contracts
Hamels is joint-eleventh on the list with an average of $24m. Whichever way you want to slice Rooney’s average annual value, alongside the pound/dollar conversion rate, it doesn’t quite match the very highest annual salaries in baseball but is around the top ten.
It wasn’t too long ago that there were rumours Rooney might be asked to take a paycut to extend his existing contract, or at least reduce the basic wage and introduce more performance-based payments. A potential move to Chelsea over the previous summer and a disappointing 2013/14 season (so far) for United clearly gave Rooney’s advisers plenty of room to drive a hard bargain in a way that is perhaps not so easy to replicate in MLB (no ‘Champions League’ money pressure etc).
Not that the best MLB players are exactly struggling to pay their bills either. The best players in the major sports are only seeing their wages rise as TV companies spend ever-increasing sums on the rights to have them grace their channels.