Entertainment

Leila Abboud is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering technology. She previously worked for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

Brazilian soccer star Neymar is a wisp of a player who confounds defenders with sudden acceleration and trickery instead of power. Yet the 25-year-old is on the verge of signing a heavyweight contract to move from Barcelona FC to Qatar-backed Paris Saint-Germain.

All in, PSG could end up paying 400 million euros to 500 million euros ($475 million-$593 million), once a gargantuan buyout clause, agent fees and taxes are taken into account. 

Such vast sums will spur hand-wringing about greedy players and rapacious clubs ruining the beautiful game. But a closer look at the data shows that player wages have held pretty steady as a percentage of club revenue in the past decade.

Player Power
The wage bill at Europe's biggest soccer leagues has actually held steady in the past decade as a percentage of revenue
Source: Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance
Excludes transfer fees, includes wages and benefits for all employees at clubs

Of course, salaries have spiraled in recent years alongside everything else in European soccer, driven by skyrocketing TV rights deals and commercial activities at the clubs. But the players themselves aren't generally grabbing a larger slice of the pie. It's just the pie has gotten very, very big.

Up and Up
Money has flooded into soccer as TV deals have ballooned, and clubs have gotten savvier at sponsorship and merchandising
Source: Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance

That's not to say that wages are the only sign of the financial madness in top-level soccer. Transfer fees are increasing at a scarily fast pace, as the putative Neymar deal shows. The weight is borne more by super-clubs such as Manchester United and PSG, who buy more than they sell. But it's not ideal that agents like Jorge Mendes and Neymar's dad end up making tens of millions in commissions from player moves.

The Price of Success
Transfer fees for Europe's big five soccer leagues have risen rapidly
Source: CIES Football Observatory

And while it's true that soccer's stars aren't really taking a bigger share of the revenue being generated through their exploits, it was a pretty hefty slice to begin with. Other businesses such as advertising and investment banking depend on talent too, but their employee costs are relatively modest by comparison.

Better than Bankers
Banker pay as a proportion of revenue has declined in recent years
Source: Bloomberg Intelligence
Average for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Credit Suise, UBS and Deutsche Bank

Still, it seems unfair to castigate soccer's young superstars for maintaining their share of soccer's riches. Indeed, you might tell them to enjoy it while it lasts, as evidence shows TV viewers are starting to switch off. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Leila Abboud in Paris at labboud@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
James Boxell at jboxell@bloomberg.net