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Six MLS teams told Grant Wahl how much they spend on development

Written by Will Parchman

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Grant Wahl’s annual MLS Ambition Rankings dropped on SI today, which you can read here. It ranks teams based on criteria like practice facilities, sponsorship and season ticket sales. As usual, specific figures within a league that zealously guards its books were hard to come by.

But there were a few particularly interesting nuggets on the youth development side. Six teams divulged how much they’ve spent on development. This from Grant’s article.

Houston Dynamo
Youth Development: Spent $5 million since club’s program inception in 2007; Signed five Homegrown Players, three of whom have received first-team minutes in MLS play.

Montreal Impact
Youth Development: An average of $1 million per year has been spent since the club’s MLS launch, and a pre-academy with five teams (from U-8 to U-12) launches in April. Club has signed five Homegrown Players.

Philadelphia Union
Youth Development: Club has spent $4.7 million in the area over the past five years, including $1.6 million in 2013. Anticipates spending $2 million a year going forward. Union have signed three Homegrown Players.

Real Salt Lake
Youth Development: Spent about $2 million in the last five years, with almost $500,000 spent on the RSL-AZ academy in the last year; signed six Homegrown Players.

Seattle Sounders
Youth Development: Club spent about $5 million in its first five years in MLS; Will spend about $1.3 million in 2014. Club has signed three Homegrown Players.

Sporting KC
Youth Development: Spent $4 million in the last five years, almost $1 million last year with plans to increase. Club has signed three Homegrown Players.

Nailing down MLS development figures has been a notoriously difficult task. In his state of the league address in December, MLS commish Don Garber said the league-wide expenditure for youth development totals around $20 million per year. This begged a number of questions – how was that money being spent, exactly? In precise terms, how is it being allocated? What does the share look like? – but despite its nebulousness, it caused so many ground tremors precisely because figures are so scarce. Even vagaries are better than silence.

I applaud these six teams for providing some transparency. I’ve seen youth development in this country referred to as a ‘massive beast,’ but a better way to look at it would be as several beasts quarreling for some share of sunlight. The more we can hammer in real numbers, the more transparency here grows. As MLS has learned through a series of recent PR headaches related to the obfuscation around its acquisition rules, the provision of transparency is its next great obstacle.

It’s important to note that while these numbers may seem relatively paltry on an international scale – and relatively speaking, the sums are not lavish – we can only really look at the data in terms of an overall percentage of total money spent. And in steps Merritt Paulson.

If Paulson’s 30 percent is on the money, that’s a high total by global standards, and I’m not sure many leagues in the world do more. For the sake of comparison, London’s monied Chelsea FC, which has one of the highest cash-backed development systems in England, spent roughly 17 percent in 2013 on youth development and infrastructure.

The raw number totals will be higher in Europe of course, but it’s pointless to look at the two figures through the same lens. You would no sooner demean yourself for spending 20 percent of your income on a modest two bedroom home in comparison to a billionaire who spent 20 percent of their income on a personal island. The two examples are not congruent based on rough-hewn, untreated data. The financial burden was just as steep for both of you. In the end, you can only address the figures on their own terms, not someone else’s.

Going forward, getting more and more clubs to divulge their full spending habits on youth development will only benefit the process. By reviewing, comparing and then being able to stack yearly progress atop yearly progress with tangible data, we begin sewing the seeds of progress in a public forum. In the end, that’s the way forward.


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