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Global Economics

Soccer: Rising Stars and Salaries


Soccer's worldwide following has helped fill the coffers of European clubs, enabling them to pay top dollar for the best talents

Not only is the European soccer championship one of the biggest global sporting events, it also plays host to some of the best paid athletes in the world. From Spain's Fernando Torres to France's Thierry Henry, most of Europe's top players will be out to impress the more than 1 billion fans tuning in to the three-week tournament.

The soccer stars' multimillion-dollar salaries are the consequence of the sport's global dominance. Unlike baseball and American football, soccer has garnered a truly worldwide following, as teenagers everywhere from the slums of Rio de Janeiro to the industrial outskirts of Shanghai dream of becoming professional players. To take advantage of this trend, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has maximized its potential revenue streams through lucrative TV licensing deals, global tours of the continent's largest clubs, and the creation of the pan-European Champions League tournament among the top domestic teams.

Brazilian Duo Lead the Way

That has filled the coffers of European clubs as never before and has led to soaring salary costs as teams spend top dollar for Europe's—and the world's—best players. According to Portuguese Web site futebolfinance.com, Europe's highest earner (based solely on yearly wages) is Brazilian star Kaká, a player for Italy's AC Milan who makes $14 million annually. He's followed by national teammate and Spanish Barcelona striker Ronaldinho ($12.8 million a year), while English and Chelsea players Frank Lampard and John Terry rank third at $12.5 million.

Not that the highest earners are limited to the most well-known soccer nations. Swedish and Inter Milan player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, pockets $7.8 million each year, while Ivory Coast and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba earns $11.5 million annually.

Despite the flourishing of European soccer, the rising costs have made UEFA rethink its laissez-faire approach to the world's most popular game. While U.S.-style salary caps have yet to gain much support, the sport's regulators are considering limits on the number of foreign players allowed to play for domestic clubs. That would curb the ability for athletes to switch teams, therefore stopping exorbitant wage requests. The idea, however, may fall foul of European Union labor laws.

No matter what happens, Europe's domestic leagues look likely to remain world beaters. Click through BusinessWeek.com's slide show to see some of the stars headlining Euro 2008.

Scott is a reporter in BusinessWeek's London bureau .

Ebola Rising
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