Salary cap a blessing for the A-League

Rusty Woodger Roar Pro

By Rusty Woodger, Rusty Woodger is a Roar Pro


63 Have your say

    Western Sydney Wanderers fans. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Related coverage

    Several weeks ago, while scrolling through a raucous Twitter debate surrounding the quality of the A-League, I stumbled across a suggestion from a notable football identity which left me aghast.

    His proposal, designed to “improve” the competition and save it from international “embarrassment”, was to completely remove the existent salary cap in the A-League.

    It was this man’s assertion that such a measure was necessary in order to allow Australian clubs to become more competitive when battling it out in the Asian Champions League.

    Immediately taken aback, I retorted with an outline of some of the detrimental effects this move would have on the local game.

    Initially, I assumed it was a lone voice advocating such change. However, in the weeks since, I have heard numerous football fans from various quarters calling for similar transformations.

    While, in the broad scheme of things, the range of advocates for scrapping the A-League salary cap is seemingly minute, the airing of the suggestions did spark greater appreciation within me for the current system.

    In modern football, all over the world, money has become an overbearing factor for what takes place on the pitch. One must only glance across to the top leagues of Europe to see this effect in full swing.

    Of course, this influence is well known, and hardly disputed.

    In England over the past decade, for instance, football fans have witnessed clubs virtually purchase titles after being taken over by mega-rich billionaires. In leagues such as these, salary caps are almost non-existent.

    Fortunately, in Australia, such a conundrum has been avoided through ensuring sides stick to a stipulated budget.

    Even better, clubs are still provided the capability of attracting up to three “marquee” players whose salary is exempt from the salary cap. This has proven enough to boost the on-field quality, yet avoid introducing unfair advantages.

    What this has effectively meant is the A-League has remained an intriguing and even competition throughout its eight-year existence.

    Since 2005, seven different teams have been crowned as either champions or premiers. In fact, the only sides out of the current crop to not feature in an A-League grand final are Wellington and Melbourne Heart.

    Without the salary cap, it is extremely likely the more-profitable sides will dominate.

    If that is not enough, given the continued fledgling state of the clubs within the competition – with sides often struggling to turn a profit whatsoever – fears for the survival of some sides would be very real.

    Moreover, the idea that greater expenditure is the only way for Australian clubs to achieve success in Asia seems far-fetched.

    Aside from the fact several A-League sides have performed admirably in the regional Champions League, including Adelaide reaching the final in 2008 and Central Coast progressing to the Round of 16 this year, a change in attitude is likely to bring about more benefits than the lifting of the salary cap would.

    Ever since then-Melbourne Victory skipper Kevin Muscat declared “playing in Asia is not all that enjoyable” during his side’s 2010 campaign, it has been difficult to shake the perception that failure to progress out of the group stage is borne out of A-League teams not taking the competition seriously.

    Of course, the football played by top A-League sides in recent years has, at times, been phenomenal, and there appears to be little excuse for local clubs not to be claiming results on the international stage.

    As such, the calls – albeit minor – to scrap the salary cap are unfounded, and do not take into account the negative effect such changes would have on the domestic competition.

    So, to the Football Federation of Australia, as well as the administrators of the A-League, here is something I do not say to you very often: thank you, and please do not ever consider loosening the salary cap to the sort of levels seen in parts of Europe.

    Do you find yourself logged out of The Roar?
    We have just switched over to a secure site (https). This means you will need to log-in afresh. If you need help with recovering your password, please get in contact.

    This video is trending right now! Submit your videos for the chance to win a share of $10,000!

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (63)

    • December 18th 2013 @ 7:35am
      Aljay said | December 18th 2013 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Spot on, removal of the salary cap would lead to the death of the competition in 2 years. Teams without money would win 2 games a year and have crowd numbers in the hundreds. You need 10 teams for a competition, not just 2 rich teams.

      • December 18th 2013 @ 3:17pm
        Da` said | December 18th 2013 @ 3:17pm | ! Report


      • December 18th 2013 @ 6:50pm
        Titus said | December 18th 2013 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

        On the other hand, enforcing a restriction on the quality of the league, particularly imports, could have the same effect.

        The teams that have no chance of winning anything in the EPL still draw good crowds because a) the quality is quite good having been lifted by the money that the top end brings in and b) that is your club.

        CCM would/should always draw the core of their support whether they are winning or losing, having a higher quality league may actually improve CCM crowds even if they are losing.

        Really, at this stage, the league needs a cap but the cap needs to keep lifting until one day the smaller teams won’t be able to fill it and will need to focus on development of talent.

        The a-league captures only a fraction of football followers at this stage and only an improvement in quality will draw more of them in.

    • December 18th 2013 @ 9:18am
      Nelson said | December 18th 2013 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Well said, Rusty. Even with a salary cap in place, it’s not a completely even competition, given the sizes of the various markets that each of the teams operates in – from population and attendances to the amount of corporate sponsorship dollars available. Without a cap, it’d be a 2-3 team competition.

      • December 18th 2013 @ 2:28pm
        Kasey said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

        +1 vote to keep the Salary Cap:)

        Who wants to watch WSW, SFC or MBV win year after year?? except maybe fans of those clubs.

        Would quickly kill the interest in the league from fans Not from Sydney or Melbourne. Its bad enough that the Eastern States monopolise the National team…please not the silverware too!!

        • December 18th 2013 @ 2:39pm
          nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

          “Who wants to watch WSW, SFC or MBV win year after year?? except maybe fans of those clubs.”

          No faith in rAdelaide? Can only compete due to regulatory assistance? 🙂

          Leagues without salary caps are watched by millions around the world. And they dont even have “level playing fields”….and hey folks still enjoy them even if they are a fan of a pissant town club. Something about loyalty?

          Maybe football is just on another level to sports in Australia that require “level playing fields” to keep people interested.

          • December 18th 2013 @ 2:46pm
            Kasey said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

            No faith in Adelaide?? Yeah..cos with the ‘level playing field’ of the first 9 years of the league we’ve shown we can compete havent we? zero championships from a handful of GF appearances. Other non-salary-Cap Leagues have small to medium sized clubs that have had a golden period in the pre money bags in football era.
            Removing the salarycap would kill the HAL within 5 years.

            No salary cap would just accentuate the inequalities already apparent in our league. AUFC Never had a marquee player except as a salary Cap dodge. ADP>>> Serge van Dijk.

            • December 18th 2013 @ 3:04pm
              nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

              Im saying u cant compete *without* the salary cap….thats what your previous statement about ‘three team leagues’ was referencing? You’re actually competing pretty well with it i thought, a premiership title. Mid tier cities compete well in plenty of other non capped leagues. Have some faith…thats my point.

    • December 18th 2013 @ 9:25am
      graham said | December 18th 2013 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Agree entirely.

    • December 18th 2013 @ 9:41am
      striker said | December 18th 2013 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      Yeah salary cap is the way to go here it would destroy the league if there was none.

    • December 18th 2013 @ 10:45am
      Football United said | December 18th 2013 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      No what the cap has done has created this silly situation where teams like Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne can’t grow to their fullest potential, especially in Asia and types like Central Coast constantly struggle to pay their bills in order to keep up with the rest of the competition. Football Clubs, like everyone else on the planet, aren’t born equal. Most leagues in the world reflect this and we’re the odds one out AGAIN, a constant theme with this league.

      The inflexibility of the cap has led to players leaving Australia not for better competition in Europe or South America but more cash in Asia. This limits our growth in quality as we need to be holding onto those playes that aren’t going for the big leagues.

      The list of players that should still be here is not small. Players like Joel Griffiths, Paartalu, Cornthwaite, DeVere, Ognenovski, Brosque, Celeski were the sort of players the league needs to look to keep but have no chance with such restrictions.

      If you really want to stop clubs from “buying titles” in a way that doesn’t restrict irresponsible spending or limit growth then you would say something like that only club generated revenue and not injected equity can be used to pay players wages.

      The cap might be here now but it can’t stay, We have no chance in Asia while it exists. Adelaide United’s run is an outlier and very very unlikely to be repeated again.

      • Roar Guru

        December 18th 2013 @ 1:12pm
        SportsFanGC said | December 18th 2013 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

        Football United – Just because everyone does something one way doesn’t necessarily mean that AUS has to go the same way.

        The A-League will not survive a complete removal of the salary cap, there are certainly innovations that can be brought in (I saw someone mention mention a marquee allowance for an Asian player in addition to the marquees currently involved in the squad) but a complete removal won’t be happening anytime soon, if ever.

        Sponsors, broadcasters, and supporters in a country like AUS with limited population and without endless corporate cash to prop up sport is not going to accept a league where 2/3 clubs dominate and others come and go depending on finance.

        What player is going to play for a smaller club like Central Coast with limited funds, when Victory can offer double even if they can’t guarantee playing time?

        We are not like Europe in a football sense and people need to realise this before calling for an end to the cap so we can dominate in Asia in the ACL

        Just on the ACL, it would not be unfair to say that at the moment the large majority of people do not care about it one way or the other. It is not in any way the same as the European Champions League in that Clubs want that the most as their prize for the season.

        While the ACL will grow at the moment everyone seems more concerned with the own leagues and the ACL is an afterthought.

        • December 18th 2013 @ 2:00pm
          Aljay said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

          This post captures just about everything I think about the salary cap in the A-League.

        • December 18th 2013 @ 2:17pm
          Towser said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

          Afterthought or not,pointless being in it unless you want to win it(ACL).
          So I take it from your comments that in regards to my comments 1.57 pm below you fall into the secondary Asian competition camp for the A-League.
          Just also on your we are Australia lets snub our noses at the hand that has fed us since 2006(AFC-the body that provided hefty revenue from International World Cup & Asian Cup qualifiers on home soil). Try going back to Oceania & scraping a subsistence farming existence again.

      • December 18th 2013 @ 1:20pm
        nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        FU….on the inflexibility of the cap and exempt players …its distorting the wage structure at big clubs…your average squad player at MV, WSW etc are being short changed, payed so similar to the bottom clubs. The players union is putting egalitarian ideology ahead of rewarding success at big clubs…a gap of only 15pc between top and bottom when u take out marquees? Doesnt seem all that flexible or incentivised…not to mention could become fairly destabilising on a dressing room.

      • December 18th 2013 @ 2:31pm
        Kasey said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

        No matter how big our Salary Cap was, the best players would always want to test themselves in the crucible of European football. Brazil has much more footballing heritage than us and no Salary Cap, but Santos couldn’t keep Neymar when FC Barcelona came calling.

        • December 18th 2013 @ 2:42pm
          nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:42pm | ! Report

          Yes but not as many would leave us for mid tier leagues for a pay day. More players could sign upgraded deals at the bigger clubs and share the fruits of those clubs successes.

          Your Neymar example is a poor one. He stayed at Santos a lot longer than he would have if the Brazilian league were capped. They were able to keep him longer than would be the case here.

        • December 18th 2013 @ 2:46pm
          Matt F said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

          Exactly. Incidentally, how much more money do people seriously think that the bigger A-League clubs will spend even without a cap? I can’t see SFC etc suddenly spending a extra $2+million on players. Most clubs aren’t rolling in cash at the moment, though the new TV deal has helped add stability, and I don’t think any of them have owners willing to prop up massive losses like they can have in Europe. Sure they’d spend enough to dominate the smaller A-League sides but many Asian teams would still outspend us so I doubt it would suddenly lead to A-League sides starting to dominate Asia.

          At the end of the day the A-League is where the game needs to grow from as that is where consistent revenue can be generated on a regular basis. It needs to be strong and that means being a competitive league. If the league continues to grow as it currently is then media deals will increase which will bring more $$$ into the game and the cap can rise so that all clubs can spend more and attract better talent.

          • December 18th 2013 @ 2:49pm
            Kasey said | December 18th 2013 @ 2:49pm | ! Report

            More to the point, Our successes thus far in growing the media deal have been based on a ‘product’ (God I hate describing the game as a product:( ) that any given club could beat any other given club if they play well and get their tactics right.
            Fox already has the rights to a bunch of leagues where the top grouping of clubs is known before a ball is kicked in anger; why would they want another one played at a lower standard?

            • December 18th 2013 @ 3:07pm
              Matt F said | December 18th 2013 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

              Very good point. The new deal was because the A-League had more value and is a better product, generating more interest.

              Also agree about describing the league as a ‘product.’ Horrible term! But I suppose it’s also an accurate one to some degree. Professional sport and all that…

            • December 18th 2013 @ 3:10pm
              nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

              “Fox already has the rights to a bunch of leagues where the top grouping of clubs is known before a ball is kicked in anger; why would they want another one played at a lower standard?”

              Yes and awful unequalised leagues those other ones are too! 😉

              • December 18th 2013 @ 3:14pm
                Kasey said | December 18th 2013 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

                Are you deliberately being obtuse because I disagree with your economic theories? Or is it a failed attempt at humour?

              • December 18th 2013 @ 3:20pm
                nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

                No im just pointing out that those leagues are very interesting and popular even as uncapped leagues. People here are so reflexively against this sort of change, despite the fact that leagues all over the world do well with it. Just reminding u that they are successful leagues and uncapped! 🙂

      • December 18th 2013 @ 3:56pm
        Slane said | December 18th 2013 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

        How much more money do you think any clubs could afford to spend? Football in this country was literally on it’s knees a decade ago. Now we have the 4th or 5th best attendances in the country. AFL and NRL both got billion dollar TV deals, we got a 10th of that. We are still small fish in a smallish pond. Wait till the clubs are turning profits before we throw open the doors on spending.

        • December 18th 2013 @ 4:10pm
          nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 4:10pm | ! Report

          Its just as much about not enforcing the wage floor as it is about “throwing open the doors on spending” at the top. Let each club find its own version of sustainability rather than trying to find it collectively through anti competitive red tape.

          Its also a philosophical question of should the league administration even be intervening to contrive equality, which is why i think the issue gets the response it does from a variety of angles.

          Those of us on the wrong side of populism take heart….we’re still in the ‘setting’ phase…

          “Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handful of men: the philosophers. Others follow their lead, either by conviction or by default.” @AynRandBot


    • December 18th 2013 @ 11:01am
      Australian Rules said | December 18th 2013 @ 11:01am | ! Report

      Agree Rusty.

      A lot of people salivate at the global market and think that the ALeague is being stunted by the salary cap. It in fact protects and nurtures the competition.

      If it was scrapped, MV, SFC, WSW & BR would assume the positions of ManU, City, Chelsea and Arsenal…and CCM, PG, NJ and Nix would forever be Sunderland, Fullham et al. The big clubs would run up millions in debt (as the big Euros do) and the small club would play to crowds of 2,000 loyal followers who *know* at the start of the season that their club has no chance of winning.

      It’d be the death of the ALeague within 10 years.

      • December 18th 2013 @ 1:17pm
        nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        Upside is there’d be a lot more of those Sunderland, Fulham type clubs to begin with. Mariners, Newcastle, Phoenix all have lower levels of support than some other teams and their base wage bills need to better reflect that….thats reality or at least should be. And it will continue come back on them over and over by denying that reality. Relegation and potential promotion next year is better than relocation or handing the franchise back.

        Would Australian football fans buy into more small clubs in a two division Aleague at the cost of no equalisation? Fans of big clubs wont see their teams held back, more regional areas can sustainably come into the mix. Can actually be a more open competition rather than the death sentence narrative so popular with some.

        Debt is something common to our economy…im no fan of it myself….football clubs in Europe are just doing whats happening around them. In Australia the model is to talk people into sinking millions into clubs of their own hard earned. Or feasting at the government table. At least its the banksters getting burned in other parts of the football world.

        At some point the cord needs to be cut and A-league franchises need to become clubs….at all ends of the scale…

        • December 18th 2013 @ 4:48pm
          Australian Rules said | December 18th 2013 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

          “At some point the cord needs to be cut and A-league franchises need to become clubs”

          Well… what’s your definition of “club”?

          Because the “club” you’re advocating seems to be based on the Man City model…an unregulated rich man’s spendathon. Sure, it may buy trophies and have lots of fans willing to buy the kit, but they have no ownership or any true influence over the entity. It becomes a mere “team” of individuals with a wealthy financier. And that’s the quickest way for a “club” to lose its soul.

          The AFL system may not be perfect, but at least they are real “clubs” that belong to the members. Tonight at the AGM, the Brisbane Lions Members will vote to revert the logo and jumper back to the traditional lion logo from the Fitzroy era.

          It might seem a small thing for some, but the logo and jumper is the single most important brand of the club’s identity…and it’s the members who directly decide what they want their *club* to look like.

          Right now, CCM, AU, PG, NJ & Nix are simply not big and strong enough to survive being perennial losers, like the smaller clubs do in the EPL.

          • December 18th 2013 @ 5:05pm
            nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 5:05pm | ! Report

            The definition of club would be what works for each of those clubs. Let them find what works for their situation. Member based, full private owners, mix of both? Different entirely to the regulation driven approach but doesnt that make more sense, economically at least? What works for one doesnt work for another necessarily.

            I much prefer an EPL or Man City style competition to an AFL, American set up and i think deep down a lot of football people agree. The influence of money is not automatically bad, nor does it lead to soulless clubs. Are u saying EPL clubs are soulless? Not quite up there with Bundesliga for being fan friendly, but still on par ….or imo actually ahead of… AFL clubs.

            As for the smaller clubs in the EPL…i’ll once again go to the point that under an AFL type system those areas would not even be represented, as the central planners dont deem them populated enough for the equalised model.

            For small clubs here…living beyond their means…

            “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”


            • December 18th 2013 @ 5:44pm
              Australian Rules said | December 18th 2013 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

              “Are u saying EPL clubs are soulless?”

              I gave City as an example…and yes, it’s soulless. Ask most Man U fans if the Glazers were a “good” thing for the club.

              Again, what works for the EPL (in a football obsessed country of 60M and literally hundreds of established clubs), will not work for Australia’s fledgling competition with 10 teams.

              • December 18th 2013 @ 6:11pm
                nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

                But the open competition model works well in places other than the EPL. It doesnt need to have the exact same market parameters as England to function well.

                As for Man City, well their fans would disagree for the most part. Lemme guess….you’re a Guardian reader? Money is bad in football, etc etc….

                If we want to stay a competition with 10 teams, then sure things stay as is. If we want to engage the whole football pyramid of Oz football with the top tier, the model used around the football world would be better suited.

                Which will absolutely mean some clubs are more financially capable than others….welcome to reality…

              • December 18th 2013 @ 6:46pm
                Australian Rules said | December 18th 2013 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

                I’m all for money in football, but if you allow toddler to eat what it wants, it’ll O.D on sugar within a year.

                You propose that in order to “engage the whole football pyramid of Oz football”, you need super rich ALeague clubs vs poorer state-based ones.

                I believe the opposite. An FFA Cup will *only* work with an enforced salary cap because it limits the gulf separating the big and the small.

              • Roar Guru

                December 18th 2013 @ 6:57pm
                Ben of Phnom Penh said | December 18th 2013 @ 6:57pm | ! Report

                Not a bad analogy, AR. The cap has its role and certainly the open flagrancy of the English system isn’t going to work in the economic and demographic environment that the A-League finds itself in.

                It would be good if we could eventually move to a Bundesliga model however there are a number of preconditions that need to be met before we can consider this.

                Nordster is correct in that the cap does hold back some of the clubs, however the general assessment at this stage is that the benefits of removing the cap are far outweighed by the costs.

              • December 18th 2013 @ 6:59pm
                nickoldschool said | December 18th 2013 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

                “if you allow toddler to eat what it wants, it’ll O.D on sugar within a year.”

                AR, you have just compared the yanks and aussies to kids, which is a comparison European often makes too 😉 (as they are the 2 countries which use salary caps the most.)

                Maybe there is really a cultural aspect about the salary cap rather than just the sport played or country itself after all? What seems to work ‘fairly’ well in all other countries might not be adapted to North America and Oz.

                Or maybe they just don’t know how to use it well, within their means, hence the need for ‘a cap’ (at least less than other nations which aren’t perfect either )

              • December 18th 2013 @ 7:46pm
                nordster said | December 18th 2013 @ 7:46pm | ! Report

                “You propose that in order to “engage the whole football pyramid of Oz football”, you need super rich ALeague clubs vs poorer state-based ones.”

                And everything in between….the Oz model so far is just super rich (relative to the base) HAL/AFL/NRL and a disconnected base of the pyramid….smaller and even some mid tier regional areas need not apply to the top division effectively….priced out.

                In order to fully integrate club football….yes, the richer clubs do need to play the poorer ones.

                Which is preferable to the cartel we have in Oz sport now….protects established big clubs at the expense of a sporting league based on a competitive means of access…promotion on the pitch.

              • December 19th 2013 @ 10:46am
                Australian Rules said | December 19th 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

                nick, the main difference between soccer in USA/AUS and Europe, is that soccer is absolutely entrenched as the number 1 sport in Europe…at every level.