Highest-paying teams in the world

European soccer stars are collecting big paychecks this year

Updated: May 2, 2012, 7:57 PM ET
By Jeff Gold | ESPN The Magazine

WembleyAP Photo/Sang TanBarcelona ranks near the top of both league standings and payroll surveys.

This list is part of ESPN The Magazine's Money Issue salary survey project. Subscribe to the Mag today!

SPANISH SOCCER GIANT FC Barcelona has had a disappointing season, failing to repeat as Champions League winner and facing an all but certain second-place finish in La Liga. But the team's underachieving results are not from a lack of spending. For the second straight year, Barcelona is paying its players the highest average salary in the world at $8.7 million. The findings were revealed in the second annual ESPN The Magazine/SportingIntelligence Global Salary Survey. Full results will be released in conjunction with The Magazine's Money Issue, on sale May 4. The poll encompassed 278 teams, 14 leagues, 10 countries, seven sports and 7,925 athletes. Total wages calculated: $15.7 billion.

At the start of the 2011-12 season, Barcelona had a payroll of $217 million, with an average player salary of $8.7 million, almost $1 million more than the survey's second-place finisher Real Madrid, whose players earn an average of $7.8 million per season. It marks the second straight year Real Madrid has finished behind its La Liga rivals. In terms of total payroll, the New York Yankees are ranked second ($196 million) but fall to sixth in per-player average ($6.2 million).

"Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two most glamorous football clubs in the world," says Nick Harris, the editor of SportingIntelligence.com, which compiled the results. "It's no surprise that they have come in as one and two." The Spanish powerhouses are just two of seven soccer clubs in the top 10 of average salary per player, joined by Manchester City (3), Chelsea (4), A.C. Milan (7), Bayern Munich (9) and Internazionale (10). Along with the seven soccer clubs, three American teams -- the Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia Phillies -- are represented in the top 10. Last year there were five.

"The rise of salaries in European soccer is unrelenting," Harris says. "You have much more stability and limits across American sports." Indeed, while the NFL remains the most profitable American sport by a wide margin, no team in the league started 2011 with a payroll higher than 75th, the position of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are at $149.8 million, paying an average of $2.9 million per player. The Lakers, who were second on last year's list among American teams behind the Yankees, are now in the top spot for average salary per player ($6.3 million), with the Yankees ($6.2 million) coming in second. In contrast to the European soccer clubs, whose salaries continue to rise at an alarming rate, the Lakers and Yankees are actually both paying their players less than a year ago; the Yankees' drop was steeper, at 8 percent, compared with the Lakers' drop of 4 percent.

The Miami Marlins had the biggest jump of any team on the list, going from 123rd to 29th in average player salaries. Last year, the Marlins paid their players an average of $2.2 million; this year, they're paying $4.4 million. American teams that fell dramatically included the Orlando Magic and Boston Red Sox. The Magic were fifth a year ago, paying an average salary of $6.4 million. That figure has dropped to $4.6 million. The Red Sox, who were eighth last year, are now 19th, their average salary falling from $6 million to $5.1 million. Manchester City has also continued its rise up the payroll standings, paying its players an average of 7.4 million, which puts the team third in the world behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

"If we had started this list in 2008, Man City wouldn't have even been a thought," Harris says. "Since being bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, they have spent over a billion dollars in players and paying wages." Manchester City qualified for the Champions League for the first time in club history last year and have again qualified in 2012.


TECHNICALLY SPEAKING: To find out which teams shell out the most dough, 278 teams in 14 major pro leagues, covering seven sports, spanning 10 countries, comprising 7,925 athletes making a combined $15.69 billion in salary were surveyed. Our final numbers, below, were compiled by Nick Harris, editor of sportingintelligence.com. "Average Weekly Pay" is calculated from base player salaries from current or most recently completed seasons from each sport, and excludes endorsements, bonuses, appearance fees and any other source of extra compensation. All figures converted to U.S. dollars.

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