The FIFA World Cup soccer tournament will be played in Brazil starting in June. Though Spain is the defending champion, all of the previous World Cup events held in South America were won by teams from that continent. And this year’s event, the 20th in history, promises to provide the usual amount of spectacle, drama, and fantastic memories on the pitch.
Of course, it’s easy to forget that this quadrennial event requires players from around the world to be working hard, practicing, and qualifying for much of the four years between World Cups. And given that dozens of countries participate in the competition to reach the World Cup, only 31 teams are allowed to travel to the event (with the host country automatically qualifying).
When the World Cup gets underway, players, coaches, and sides will be fighting for the fame and prestige that competing in the tournament brings, as well as for the opportunity to have their name etched into history should they win the ultimate prize. But the countries will also be playing for something else: money.
In Sports, Playoff Success = Mo’ Dough
Casual soccer fans may not know that the World Cup teams will be paid a substantial amount of prize money, with performance-based incentives depending on how far each side advances. So the potential cost of a goal or two could be worth millions to any one nation. Each participating country decides how the prize money will be divvied up between the players, coaches, and the national soccer governing bodies.
Americans are probably familiar with the similar system here for the four major U.S. sports. Each player or team receives a bonus depending on how far of a playoff run is made each season. Some sports award these bonuses to the team, while others compute them for each individual player on the playoff roster. With the World Cup (as with the NHL, MLB, and the NBA), a specific amount is given to each team, which then divvies it up according to its own set of rules.
So how does the World Cup payout system match up with those in pro baseball, football, basketball, and ice hockey in the United States? For consistency purposes, we’ll assume a “per-player” amount which is calculated by taking the total amount and dividing it by the number of roster spots. (For instance, a $1 million payout to a team with 25 players would have a per player value of $40,000.) We’ll examine these comparisons from the lowest payment tiers and proceed up to the championship-level prize money in the five sports, based on the payout amounts for the most current seasons.
The “Just Glad to Be Heres”
The bottom rung of the prize money ladder is different for each sport, since the number of playoff teams vary. For instance, in the NHL and NBA, 16 teams make the playoffs. So the lowest bonus amount goes to the teams who lose in the first round. Last year, these eight hockey teams each got $250,000, which averages out to $10,870 for each man on the 23-player roster. For the NBA one-and-dones, the teams received $149,243 each; but when spread among only 13 roster spots on a basketball bench, each player gets $11,462.
In baseball, there are currently only ten teams who make the postseason, and there are two teams who lose in the wild card round. In 2013, each player share came out to $15,107 for Cleveland and $15,285 for Cincinnati (the differences represent how the teams actually voted to distribute the income). The NFL structures its payouts on a per-player basis, and since a dozen teams make the playoffs, the players on the four losers on Wild Card weekend each received $21,000.
In the 2014 World Cup, there are actually two pay tiers to consider. Just for making it to Brazil, each of the 32 nations is awarded $8 million, which averages out to $347,826 per player on a 23-man roster. For the 16 teams who advance out of pool play to the “knockout” round, that figure jumps to $9 million, or $391,304 per team member.
All of these bonus awards increase if a team breaks into the “final eight” in its sport. Since each NHL team got half a million bucks for reaching the conference semifinals, that averages out to $21,740 per player. For a similar feat in the NBA last year, each player netted about $25,140. In baseball, the players on each of the division winners and Wild Card winners who failed to advance into the league championship series got a player share of between $34,000 and $38,000 (specifically: Atlanta – $34,012; Tampa Bay – $35,280; Pittsburgh – $35,559; and Oakland – $37,316). NFL players who were on teams that didn’t reach the conference championship game got $46,000 each. But in the World Cup, a berth in the quarterfinals is worth $14 million to each country, which comes out to roughly $608,696 per player.
And then there are those teams which play well enough to make it to their sport’s version of the Final Four. At this level, the NBA is the least profitable, with each player last summer getting an average share of $47,717 for reaching the conference finals. Since the NHL paid $1.25 million to each conference finalist, that comes out to approximately $54,348 per roster spot. NFL players whose teams made the conference championship took home $65,000 each. But the payouts were much higher for members of the ALCS and NLCS teams who did not make the 2013 World Series; Los Angeles player shares last year were $108,037, while every Detroit player took home $129,278.
Here again, the World Cup is different, simply because the event designates a third and fourth place winner with an extra game played before the World Cup Final. The team who loses its final two matches in the knockout round will still bring home $20 million, or about $869,565 per player. The third place winner in the event gets $22 million, which averages out to $956,522 per roster spot.
And then there are the teams who get a shot at taking home the title – but for whatever reason, come up just a little short and have to settle for second place. The Boston Bruins, who won the Eastern Conference title but failed to win the Stanley Cup, were given $2.25 million by the NHL, which is about $97,826 per man. The players on the losing Super Bowl team, the Denver Broncos, each earned $111,000 from the NFL; while the San Antonio Spurs each netted about $137,984 after falling in the NBA Finals. For winning a National League pennant but losing in the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals players each received a share worth $228,300. But what about the World Cup players who are left sobbing on the pitch after losing the final match? They can console themselves with a share of $25 million this summer, which averages out to some $1,086,957.
Finally, we reach the top of the mountain – where the air is rich with victory, the cheers are the loudest, and the money is wonderfully abundant. Even though the Super Bowl is the most heavily-watched TV event in America, the players on the Seattle Seahawks “only” received a bonus of $158,000 apiece for capturing the franchise’s first-ever league title. The Chicago Blackhawks got to hoist the Stanley Cup in the Windy City; and with the team getting $3.75 million as a reward, that comes out to about $163,043 per player. The Miami Heat repeated as NBA Champions, and each player got the equivalent of $274,211 as a bonus. And every member of the Boston Red Sox, who won their third World Series pennant in the last decade, got to put $307,323 in their pocket for their hard work. So what will the 2014 World Cup champions get? A whopping $35 million – which would see each player receive $1,521,739 if the pot were divided up equally across the roster.
So for those minority of Americans who continue to disparage soccer, perhaps a look at the chunk of change that is up for grabs at the World Cup might be enough for you to change your tune. Who will strut out of Brazil with the $35 million prize in July?