Salary cap gives Sydney and Melbourne the edge

Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory’s domination of the A-League this season once again raises the question, is the salary cap working?

Sydney FC Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory captain Carl Valeri, left, with his Sydney FC counterpart, Alex Brosque at the season launch Source: Getty Images

It also provides more evidence that it gives a great advantage to teams from Australia’s biggest cities.

Sydney and Melbourne have not only dominated this campaign, but along with Brisbane Roar have claimed eight out of 11 A-League championships.

Despite the salary cap being in place to level the playing field, it actually allows the big city clubs to spend less than the rest, for the same quality of talent.

That’s because more players will be attracted to play in these cities, meaning it costs more to take them away.

It’s a phenomenon taking place all over the world as clubs based in the major centres, such as London or Manchester, dominate their domestic and even continental competitions.

A salary cap helps exacerbate and entrench this dominance.

A recent study by Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) presented evidence that the A-League’s salary cap was ineffective in creating competitive balance.

Spreading the quality of talent throughout the league helps increase the uncertainty of results for each game – an important element in creating excitement for a sporting competition.

I’ve written before about how salary caps don’t necessarily lead to greater competitive balance.

The PFA’s analysis shows that while there was balance in the A-League’s early days - let’s not forget there was once a grand final between Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners - that has changed in recent seasons and even results have started to blow out.

This has compounded in recent seasons as Sydney and Melbourne clubs take advantage of being internationally recognised cities with greater populations.

At this point of the season, the top six is represented by all capital city clubs, as was the case with the finals last season. Their greater populations mean they have an advantage in identifying and securing local talent.
If a player who grows up in Sydney has an offer from the Jets, the Mariners or Western Sydney Wanderers, it’s likely they’ll take the Wanderers' offer.

That player will be more comfortable in the surroundings they’re accustomed to, as well as being close to friends and family.

It means the big city teams have a much greater pool of local talent to pick from and even if the big city club doesn’t sign that player straight away, the pull of home will always be an attraction.

Sydney, Melbourne and to an extent Brisbane also have a distinct advantage in tempting foreign-based players to their clubs.

They are well-known international cities that typically have access to the type of facilities that would be attractive to overseas players.

It’s not just the player that needs to be looked after, but also their families.

Just imagine an Argentine player receiving the same financial offer from a club based in a major city and a regional centre. He’s more likely to choose the major city.

That means the regional clubs would have to pay more to attract the same level of local and international talent.

Being based in smaller markets also means non-major city clubs must work harder to generate the same level of revenue.

Not being able to spend more on talent leads to lower revenues and less success, making it harder to attract talent – it then becomes a vicious cycle.

All this demonstrates that not all A-League teams are created equally and to treat them as such, with an even salary cap, is unlikely to level the playing field.

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Have a story or comment? Contact Us

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Watch nowOn Demand
Follow SBS Sport
3 min read
Published 17 March 2017 at 12:06pm
By Vitor Sobral