[MY VIEW] When he whipped out an imaginary checkbook and pantomimed the writing of a presumably hefty payment after scoring a goal a week and a half ago, Toronto attacker Dwayne De Rosario triggered a wave of reaction, much of it scornful.
De Rosario, both as a player and a person, is renowned for a forceful and quirky personality. After winning two championships in San Jose, and two more after the team moved to Houston, he returned to Canada to play just a few miles from where he grew up, in nearby Scarborough. Last season, he vehemently expressed what all of his teammates and fans felt: BMO needed a grass field.
Voila, last winter, at a cost of about $6 million that included a few other amenities, a natural green surface appeared. The players are happier, the soccer is better, and the facility is now among the favored options for international exhibitions and Canadian national team games. Unfortunately, the team is still losing, and last month Coach Preki and Director of Soccer Mo Johnston paid the price.
Once again, De Ro has said what needed to be said -- even if he didn’t actually say anything -- not so much about what he’s being paid, per se, but what team ownership is getting for its outlay. Operator-investor Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) is reaping good returns on its investment in MLS and BMO Field, but not so much for what it spends on certain players.
About a month ago, I cited the disparity in salaries between that of De Rosario ($443,750) and midfielder Julian de Guzman (about $1.7 million) as a potential flashpoint, given the inverse proportion of their salaries to their respective contributions. Throwing Spanish forward Mista into the mix at a salary of $987,337 (for a full season) further emphasizes MLSE’s penchant for bad investments on the player side.
If De Guzman and Mista were driving TFC to victories and success, delighting their fans and confounding opponents, they’d be worth it no matter what their individual stats. But they’re not. Whoever is signing those paychecks needs an economics lesson.
The following tale stems from my visit to Saudi Arabia in November, 1992, for what was then called the Intercontinental Cup, and has since become – sort of – the Confederations Cup. During my visit to the fabulous King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, I was introduced to the stadium’s manager, who had worked on its design and had received his current job as a reward for helping create such a marvel.
He’d been educated in the West -- I cannot remember at which institution – and knew enough about Western society and the morays of the press to anticipate the inevitable question, which I posited politely but directly: “How much did it cost?” He smiled and replied, “The cost is not what you pay; the cost is what you get.” Many times over the years I’ve pondered just how true that is.
This aphorism can be applied almost universally, to virtually any purchase, acquisition, project or transaction. Were the staggering sums spent in South Africa to host the World Cup worth the cost? To present the world’s game to the world from the African continent for the first time, one would be inclined to say yes; to gaze upon stadiums doomed to be silent, empty edifices, the answer might be no.
Like beauty, “cost” is in the eye of the beholder. Even if by market standards, you “overpaid” for your car or your house, if it’s everything you wanted and way more, and jazzes you no end every time you get inside, who’s to say it “cost” you too much? If the “vacation of a lifetime” turns out to be exactly that, how could the cost possibly be exorbitant? (We assume here that utter financial ruin isn’t a consequence.)
In the case of TFC, management should be thankful to have signed De Ro at his salary, and embarrassed at what is paying for Mista and De Guzman. If those monies were used instead to, say, upgrade De Ro to DP status and maybe lure Juan Pablo Angel away from New York, the cost might well be worth it. Right now, no way.
Any player who costs more than $500,000 per season in salary and acquisition costs is classified by MLS as a Designated Player, regardless of his base salary and total compensation as reported by the MLS Players’ Union. A few players are very close to that figure; three others – Rafael Marquez, Thierry Henry and David Beckham – are making more than 10 times as much.
Beckham has banked more than $20 million – minus what Milan paid in loan fees and offset salary costs -- since joining the Galaxy nearly four years ago. Judging whether or not he is “worth” that money can’t be calculated on a balance sheet with jersey sales, sponsorships, tickets, tours, etc., on one side of the ledger.
MLS officials can contend, and be ridiculed in some circles, that his persona and popularity and charisma earned the league stature and importance it could otherwise never have attained. By those standards, he has justified the cost of acquiring him, though solely by his play on the field, MLS and the Galaxy are sunk in red ink. And he’s probably not worth the cost of a fifth season, at the same salary he’s earning now.
So if the negative backlash of De Ro’s actions is surpassed by MLSE getting it right with its player paydays, the cost of his stunt will have been worth it, both to him and his team.