Life's a pitch: Is it time for a salary cap in the ailing PSL?


Life's a pitch: Is it time for a salary cap in the ailing PSL?

It would level the playing field and ensure the financial sustainability of the league

Nick Said

A well-respected figure in South African football told me a few years ago that in his expert opinion the Premier Soccer League was a bubble waiting to burst and that it was only a matter of time before many teams started to run into serious financial difficulties.
The current problems suffered by Bloemfontein Celtic are perhaps the start of that, and while their example is extreme, not being able to cover signing-on fees of players and reportedly short-paying coach Veselin Jelusic a few months of his salary, they are most certainly not the only side under pressure.
In fact, it would be reasonable to say that most PSL sides are feeling the pinch in what is in a sense a false economy brought about by the big-spending of Mamelodi Sundowns in recent years, which has inflated wages and transfer fees to the point that many clubs are battling to keep up.Sundowns, and to a lesser extent Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, BidVest Wits and SuperSport United, have created a scenario where clubs are having to extend themselves beyond their means just to stay competitive.
If they cannot meet the demands of players, they cannot sign the right quality, and face the same fate as Moroka Swallows or Santos, fading into the footnotes of South African football history.    
It is the reason the Bafokeng Nation sold Platinum Stars to the consortium headed by coach Roger de Sa, and why the Mokoena family were so eager to sell Free State Stars this time last year.Chippa United, Polokwane City, Lamontville Golden Arrows, Ajax Cape Town and Maritzburg United are all others who have spoken of the difficulty in operating in the current environment.
For all, Celtic especially, the country’s lagging economy has not helped either, with sponsors pulling out of the game, leaving teams reliant on their Premier Soccer League grants, meagre gate takings and how deep the pockets of their owners are.
Because Sundowns have the means, and the desire, to pay wages and transfer fees that other teams cannot afford, they have created an expectation of what a player’s worth is, and in many instances it is unrealistic and unsustainable in the South African context.
And so it begs the question: For the PSL to flourish, is it time that we consider a salary cap, not only to level the playing field on the pitch, but also to ensure the financial sustainability of the league?A salary cap is not as scary as it sounds to die-hard capitalists, and can come in two forms: either as a maximum a player can be paid as a wage, or the maximum total that each team can spend on salaries in their entire squad.
In the second scenario you could still have some marquee players earning the same salaries they are now, but teams would have to balance that by paying other players more modest incomes.
Salary caps are widespread in the US, where American football, ice hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer and rugby all have a form of a salary cap.
There it is based on a total salary bill for the squad being capped. In 2018, American football teams could not spend more than US$177.2-million (about R2.2-billion) on their total wages for the whole squad per season. So it is still a sizeable wage that the players get.
In rugby, salary caps are quite extensively used to keep clubs sustainable, including in England’s Premiership, France’s Top 14 and even our own Super Rugby. All the major Twenty20 leagues across the world, including the Indian Premier League, have team salary caps.In soccer, the use is less so, but Italy’s Serie A and the Football League in England have reportedly been considering implementing one.
South Africa is also a different scenario to most of Europe. Yes, there is a lucrative television deal in place involving SuperSport that essentially keeps local football afloat, but there is not the same corporate spend at clubs to help them get by.
I do not have enough knowledge of the facts to suggest what a suitable salary cap in the PSL would be, but it seems logical in a league where many teams are struggling and some are on the brink of collapse, that it would be a way to protect clubs from financial ruin.
The best implementation would also be a team salary cap, rather than capping individual salaries, though the danger is that this does lead to exploitation, with some players being offered a pittance.
Perhaps at the same time as introducing a salary cap, there should be a minimum wage implemented for PSL clubs as well to ensure they do not take advantage of young or desperate players to balance the books.

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