It’s an all too common scenario facing student athletes these days: As the emphasis moves from skill to athletic ability, students are often faced with a choice of what sport to pursue professionally.
In the past, it was often viewed that the ‘Big 4’ (MLB, NBA, NFL and the NHL) would be an ideal career choice. However, these are not the only sports that American athletes should now consider. A new player has emerged.
Everyone has heard how little the chances are that a student athlete will make the leap to the Big 4. Not to mention the fact that if you are drafted in many of the leagues, your contract is not guaranteed. Sure there are feeder/development/summer leagues that may pay well, but not nearly as well as this overlooked sport.
One has to look at the emergence of Soccer as a lucrative option for an athlete deciding what sport to pursue. While some sports in the Big 4 are left stagnant, Soccer through the MLS continues to grow in strength, heightened primarily by the acquisition of David Beckham.
So why would an athlete choose to pursue Soccer over the more traditional sports?
Firstly, Soccer is known as ‘The World Game’. There are professional leagues in the majority of countries throughout the world. This gives a soccer player more avenues of opportunity. If a player has fallen out of favor in one particular country, he may be able to ply his trade in another. This is impossible for the NFL/AFL, bar the CFL. Also, baseball and ice hockey opportunities are limited outside of the US. The only exception would be basketball, though there are a lot of leagues that have restrictions on international players. Continuing with the global scale that soccer operates on, the marketing and endorsement opportunities are far greater. Beckham is far more recognizable worldwide than Peyton Manning or A-Rod.
A topic of discussion lately on this site has been rookie payment scales in American sports, something that soccer (outside of the US) does not succumb to. A player can be paid any amount without restriction. Not to mention globally soccer is free from a draft, allowing players to choose who they want to play for.
What about salaries? Although not reaching the current lofty scales of the NBA and MLB, Kaka, the highest paid soccer player still made a little over $15 million last season. [Football’s top 50 rich list]
This is all without stating the obvious that there are 11 players on a soccer pitch compared to hockey and basketball’s starting 5.
So will we see a new player emerge alongside the ‘Big 4’?
Participation has increased at a rapid rate, with nearly 14 million people under 18 playing the game across the United States. [Source] While still a distance from the 23 million playing basketball [Source], the increased opportunities of playing professional soccer will no doubt see that gap reduce in the long term.