Pro Tour wages compared to a soccer team

Friday, 2 December 2011

Monday’s piece on French teams and their future in the sport resulted in plenty of debate. In summary, French teams have modest budgets and operate under a tax system that makes recruiting big names harder. But for all the talk of rising costs and teams struggling to meet a rider’s wage demands here is a fact to ponder on:

The total wage bill for all of the 489 riders in the UCI World Tour is less than the wage bill for l’Olympique Lyonnais, a French soccer club.

That’s right, you can have 489 cyclists for the price of 29 footballers or at least this is what French newspaper Le Journal de Dimanche wrote last summer. For reference, OL is one of the top teams in the French league. It’s a reminder that whilst wages have been rising in cycling, especially for the stars, pay is still quite modest.But I am only using one piece of info here, so it should be treated with caution.

For more on rider salaries, see an earlier piece: How much does a rider earn?

Any pay comparisons are tricky and comparing finances is fraught, the economics of soccer in France and Europe are completely different from cycling. Big TV rights deals, prime time evening games, pay-per-view, stadiums that sell tickets to loyal fans, teams that are over a century old, massive popularity…this is all far removed from cycling. Nevertheless this “fact” about comparative difference in wage bills is worth a mention, no?

Owen December 2, 2011 at 9:09 am

Definitely worth a mention. I dislike football, but it will always earn more money than cycling; 90 minutes is easier to watch than a 5 hour race for most, and the fact fans pay to get in is one of many reasons funds are easier to come by.
I’m certain, however, that more people cycle in some capacity than play football.

Tim December 2, 2011 at 10:18 am

What makes it even more striking is the fact that Olympique Lyonnais has made serious cuts in the wages of their players, leading to a huge exodus from their star-studded team the past year(s). Nonetheless, OL still seem to easily outweigh the total riders income. Thanks for the article, inrng.

Kris December 2, 2011 at 10:35 am

You should compare salaries to a team like Man City. Its a different world….

Robert Merkel December 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

One thing it does suggest is that if cycling ever gets its act together, there is the potential to bring a great deal more money into the sport.

ali December 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

To say I loath football is understatement. I dislike their bold ,overweight fans screaming the hugging each other for a ball in a net. not to mention the length of their contracts and the amount of money and sponsorship they get. Ah well, such life, moan over.

Routier December 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I can never fully understand why people assume that a sport will be improved by more money being pumped into it, or its participants earning more money. Pro cyclists do pretty well compared to the man in the street; okay, so your average pro will have to find new employment once his career is over but while they’re racing they earn a decent wage and to some extent make as much as they deserve to.

The fact is that football, basketball, golf etc are in a whole differnt league, and although this article is interesting it’s not comparing apples with apples.

Privateer December 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Sorry Routier, but I have to disagree. Generally speaking pro cyclists do not “do pretty well compared to your average man in the street”, even before you factor in the relative brevity of thier earning period. Yes, there are stars like Cavendish driving Audi R8s, but they are in a very small minority.

The minimum wage for a pro cyclist at Pro Tour level is 35,000 euros per year (24,00 for a neopro). Bear in mind that there are only 18 teams at this very top level. At Pro Continental level the minimum wage is 27,500 euros per year. There is no minimum wage at Continental level, and despite being nominally professional many riders do not recieve any kind of direct income.

There is no minimum wage for female pros. A very good domestique (i.e. the kind that regularly gets selected for Worlds and Olympics teams) on one of the biggest womens’ teams can look forward to an income of around 15,000 euros per year.

By comparison, the minimum wage in France is just over 14,000 euros per year.

Alex December 2, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I think Owen gets it about right – cycling teams are only funded by sponsors, whereas a football team’s income is from the gate receipts as well as the sponsorship. Arsenal, who have one of the highest matchday revenues, get more than 40% of their budget from matchday revenues, and in theory a football club could become self-sustaining, although at the moment it seems they have to choose between success on the pitch and sustainability. It would be interesting to see how much Tapie put into his cycling and football teams respectively.

ave December 2, 2011 at 5:10 pm

There were many pros even when pay was much less, than today.
I understand everybody wants more, but clearly it’s a market issue.
An average domestique is easily replacable with another rider, so why pay him more? Many good amaeteur riders would be happy to ride at ProTour level even for minimum wage.
Super domestiques get proper pay, as do the top riders.

TheSkullKrusher December 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Waaaaaaa, I’m an artist and I don’t make as much as an investment banker although I work twice as many hours. Waaaaaaaa, I contribute to society, but i’m poor… waaaaaaaaaa…

Football is a totally different world. It’s like comparing retail sales to corporate sales. We are lucky to even have sponsors for the sport AT ALL, so whining about salaries at this point is ridiculous, you know?

Privateer December 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Ave- that’s true, and the same could equally be said about football. There are many out there who would happily play for free. Teams recognise that you get what you pay for though, and pay more for better riders.

That doesn’t explain why pro cyclists are so much more poorly paid than other top level professional athletes. The reason for that is simple economics- sponsors pay more for sports that get large television audiences (and as Alex and Owen noted, other sports often have other revenue streams).

At any rate, my point was not about why pro salaries are the way they are, but simply that, contrary to popular belief, pro cycling is not lucrative.

Privateer December 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Easy there SkullKrusher. I’m not whining- I don’t have anywhere near the ability to ride professionally and instead I make a lot more money driving a desk.

The fact is that cycling is a profession and that pro cyclists are the employees of teams. They deserve the same rights and protections as workers in any other industry.

If a team cannot get sponsorship it is unfortunate, but they should not expect people to work for them for pitiful wages. The fact that female pros don’t have a minimum wage and earn less than what many countries consider to be a living wage is a sad indictment on the sport.

TheSkullKrusher December 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Privateer:
I was half kidding, as I usually am, but the problem really centers around sponsorship, which is never gonna come until the sport gets “cleaned up.” Not only the doping thing, but all this UCI BS.

The women’s issue is weird, too. The fact is that people don’t like watching women cyclists. Sad, really, cuz I actually don’t see much difference, since speed is relative and when’s last time you watched all 180kms of a race, so a shorter stage is just fine with me. It’s not like women’s basketball or women’s soccer, which is total crap, since skill is not relative.

BTW, “driving a desk” made me lol a little.

TheSkullKrusher December 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Oh, one more thing about football/soccer:
I was really involved in the sport at a professional level for many, many years, and believe me, most players don’t make much. I knew lots of players who only made about U$18.000/yr (about 250Euro/week). They all had second jobs. If you are an average player and don’t play in Spain, England, France, Italy or Germany, you will not be driving an Audi R8.

Nathan December 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Privateer,

You seem to have confused one issue for another…

Riders, as other athletes, are paid essentially as entertainers. They are not paid unfairly. Cycling, on a world scale is seen as less entertaining as other sports. If the wage is unacceptable, they can feel free to leave the sport for “a real job” and find proper pay in line with their work and be protected by the rights implied with that “real job.”

The second issue that always gets brought up in this argument is what the “semi-professional” pro continental, and continental leagues make. I know for a fact that there are leagues of similar exposure in ice hockey around the world and the wages are strikingly similar in many of them at the semi-professional level. The commitment to training and abuse on the body is no less in ice hockey so the comparison is a very fair one. While players in the NHL may be paid more on the average, the NHL has ticket sales and better network coverage in the US and around the world than cycling.

Women’s professional sports around the world have many cases where they are paid dramatically less than the men. Again…paid as entertainers and the stigma is that women’s cycling is somehow less entertaining than men’s (I vehemently disagree and want to see more of it. Bronzini for example is a brilliant sprinter!).

I do, in fact, work in professional cycling and with riders at the professional level.

Martin W December 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Nathan,

Cycling, on a world scale is seen as less entertaining as other sports. If the wage is unacceptable, they can feel free to leave the sport for “a real job” and find proper pay in line with their work and be protected by the rights implied with that “real job.”

But the teams and sponsors are earning “real money” and expect the riders to give up certain freedoms by signing “real contracts”. Saying “it’s not a real job” wouldn’t get you far if you were photographed using a non-sponsor bike on a training ride. If they want the riders to behave as responsible employees then surely they need to behave as responsible employers?

Steve Wilson December 3, 2011 at 4:32 am

The wages are fine. I ride for the love of riding. I bike for the love of the bike. I cycle for the love of cycling. Its good to see that, if even just a little bit, at the pro level.

http://hillsandheadwinds.blogspot.com/2011/11/slow-sign.html

Nathan December 3, 2011 at 5:24 am

Martin,

In what way are the “teams and sponsors earning “real money”” from cycling is the most important question to ask yourself?

The vast majority of the teams involved in professional cycling are NOT earning money. They are passing the vast majority of their revenues through to the staff and riders salaries. The remainder goes toward equipping the business so that it can continue to keep running.

The sponsors…by and large…are NOT earning money from their involvement with a professional cycling team. They are generally not even getting the amount of their investment returned.

Thus…the riders can’t be paid more because there isn’t the return there for the people who pay into their salaries in the first place. This is the same in any kind of employment. No employer will pay you more than you can generate for him.

Nick December 3, 2011 at 8:52 am

Nathan, would love to see the hard numbers backing up the assertion that there’s no ROI for team sponsors.

As, from one example, Festina apparently had a huge spike in sales when the ‘Festina Affair’ broke. Obviously not the ROI that would be in a corporate marketing strategy, but does show team sponsors are hardly unnoticed.

Robert Merkel December 3, 2011 at 9:41 am

I’m not fussed about the salaries at the very top, but it would be nice if domestiques were earning enough to make being a professional cyclist a financially advantageous proposition, to allow the most talented to stay in the sport.

At the moment, if you’ve got the brains to go to university and get a decent degree in, say, engineering, you’ll almost certainly be better off financially doing that rather than staying in cycling if you’re a domestique.

Routier December 3, 2011 at 10:35 am

Do the riders complain about their wages? That’s the only question that matters, and I suspect that most of them are happy just to be able to make a living doing what they want to do more than anything else.

They’re very fortunate even if they don’t earn a fortune.

Ken December 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Babe Ruth once was asked what he thought of his salary being higher than the President’s (Hoover). He replied that he’d had a better year!

Economically at least, you’re worth what people are willing to pay you. We have great athletes in the sport, so the system must be doing something right.

Nathan December 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Nick,

You’ll likely never see hard numbers as they are protected by non-disclosure agreements. However, take a good look around. If HTC was seeing huge returns on their investment, they would have stayed. Leopard would have found a title sponsor in the first place. Andy Rihs wouldn’t be paying out of pocket for BMC. Bjarne Riis wouldn’t be constantly rumored to be on the brink of collapse with his team.

My point, put simply, is that sponsors aren’t raking in the dollars from their sponsorships. Many aren’t even getting the amount that they have put in, returned from their involvement with cycling.

Festina is a HORRIBLE example to put out there and one that I hope you make in jest. What would it spell for our sport if the only time sponsors got their money’s worth in exposure was when they were associated with a drug ring?

Touriste-Routier December 4, 2011 at 2:45 am

Please don’t confuse sponsor ROI with sponsorship longevity or rider wages.

First wages; sponsors contribute a set amount. Wages and team budget allocation are set by team management. Except for previously agreed to bonuses, one shouldn’t expect a sponsor to contribute more than the contractually agreed amount, even if the results (race results or media coverage) are above expectations.

Sponsorship longevity. Team sponsorships are essentially Public Relations and Marketing campaigns. All campaigns have a beginning and an end. Motorola claimed they had wonderful ROI for their investment in the pro team they sponsored in the 90s. However, they achieved their objectives, and moved on to other campaigns.

ROI for PR and Marketing campaigns are hard to measure. One can place an estimated value on the publicity garnered, but these are hard to translate into a direct effect on a sponsoring company’s revenues.

Nick December 4, 2011 at 6:06 am

Nathan, those cases seem as much a failure of the teams to convince the sponsors that their investment is worthwhile as much as the sponsors failing to appreciate that they are getting exposure.

Where are cycling teams going wrong and other sports not? If anything, I see more of a sponsor in cycling than any other sports I watch. To me that shows something bigger is going wrong.

And you’ve totally missed the context of what I was looking to point out with Festina.

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