There's a website called whatbaleearns.co.uk charting, as the title suggests, what Gareth Bale—the world's most expensive player—earns. Apparently, two weeks' wages see the Welshman make more than Barack Obama's and David Cameron's salaries combined and gives him enough money to buy the entire population of Malta a Greggs' sausage roll each.
It's meant as a bit of fun, but it does illustrate just how unfathomable wages in football have become. And with Wayne Rooney set to sign a record-breaking contract extension with Manchester United, per Sam Wallace of The Independent, the debate has been reignited. Do footballers get paid too much?
Rooney will become the highest paid player in Premier League history with a new five-year deal at United worth a reported £300,000 a week, according to Mark Ogden of The Telegraph. It's an eye-watering sum for a player who will be 34 by the time the contract expires, and questions over whether Rooney deserves such a pay increase have been aired. Most insist that he doesn't.
However, there is a case to the contrary to be made. Rooney is worth his new contract at United, and, what's more, he should probably be receiving even more. The very best football players are being underpaid.
To gauge just how much Rooney should be getting, we must look at what the striker's worth to his club. Of course, on the pitch he is one of the best in the Premier League and looks set to become Man United's all-time top scorer. But his true value can't be quantified solely on the basis of his ability as a player.
Manchester United is football's most powerful brand, and Rooney is their best marketing tool. The striker has sold more shirts than any other Premier League player in the last 20 years, per BBC Sport—more than Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard.
He violates almost every directive in the marketing guidebook with his unpolished appearance and awkward television presence, yet Rooney is an advertising giant, picking up around $3 million in endorsements a year, according to Forbes.
So considering his worth as a genuine celebrity of the sport, should United be paying Rooney even more than the reported £300,000 a week on the table? Perhaps for the answer we should look to the States, a utopia for cash-hungry professional athletes.
Kobe Bryant, arguably the most recognisable basketball player in the NBA, picks up 10.3 percent of the Los Angeles Lakers' annual revenue, with a $27.9 million salary, per Forbes. That works out at about 37 percent of the team's overall payroll. Yet Rooney collects just 3 percent of Man United's annual revenue and about 8.5 percent of the club's payroll, according to Nick Harris of Sporting Intelligence.
Some will point out that Bryant is paid so well by virtue of the smaller squads in basketball, meaning NBA franchises can pay their players more on an individual basis while keeping their overall payrolls relatively low. After all, you can only play five players at any one time in basketball.
But even in comparison with sports like American football and baseball, where squad numbers dwarf that of Premier League clubs, footballers are underpaid.
Going on salaries (excluding endorsements and prize money), soccer is not represented in the top 20 of highest paid athletes in the world. Ronaldo comes the closest with $23 million a year at Real Madrid, ranking him 21st, with Lionel Messi ranked 35th ($20.3 million). Then comes the Premier League contingent, with Yaya Toure and Rooney (on his existing contract) sneaking just inside the top 50 (per Forbes).
Aaron Rodgers picks up the highest salary in sports, taking a staggering $43 million from the NFL's Green Bay Packers (per Forbes). To put that into perspective, that's close to £500,000 a week, utterly trumping Rooney's proposed weekly £300,000.
In fact, the NFL has six players on more than $25 million a year, with MLB paying 27 players more than $15 million a year. The NBA pays 20 players more than that amount. By comparison, there are only eight players (Didier Drogba, Carlos Tevez, Fernando Torres, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Messi and Ronaldo) across the whole of football that pass such a threshold (per Forbes).
Premier League clubs receive upwards of $2.5 billion annually from centrally sold broadcasting rights, and that's just domestically, according to Charles Sale of the Daily Mail. Overseas rights are expected to surge past $2 billion in the next re-negotiation, with countries like Burma—where the average worked makes an average of just £819 a year—splurging £25 million on a new Premier League broadcast deal, per Eleven. American broadcaster NBC is in its first season of a new three-year deal with England's top flight worth $250 million, per Alex Labidou of Goal.
Factor in potential prize money, with a Champions League win reported to be worth as much as $77 million, plus broadcast rights from European and international competition (BT Sport will pay £897 million for Champions League rights from next year, per BBC Sport) and football goes head-to-head with American football as the most lucrative sport on the planet (worth $4 billion a season, according to Sports Illustrated).
"Footballers' wages are dictated by the market," explained Clarke Carlisle, former chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, as per BBC. "Football, like any other industry, conforms to supply and demand. The football industry is a multi-million pound industry worldwide, so the purveyors of that industry should reap the benefits."
Indeed, as Premier League revenue has skyrocketed, so have player wages. Yet considering the sport's status as the most lucrative in the world, players could claim that they are actually underpaid.
While broadcast revenue has increased more than five-fold in the last five years, the weekly wage of the average Premier League player has only increased from £27,983 (according to Nick Harris of Sporting Intelligence) to around £30,000 (as per Sky News) in that time. The rate of inflation hasn't quite correlated commercial revenue with what the best players are being paid.
It's difficult to comprehend the spike in wages football has experienced in the past five years or so. But players will continue to be paid more and more while there's a precedent for it. Rooney may even look back at his £300,000-a-week contract and wonder why he didn't ask for more.