MLS owners are reportedly discussing an increase in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for the 2018 season. This is far from a bad thing. Giving teams more money to spend on players will keep the current lot happy and help attract more talent to the league as a whole. However, as MLS continues to give the teams more Monopoly money to throw around, one has to wonder if these artificial figures are even necessary at all.
MLS TAM Increase is Great, but Not Enough to Bring the League to the Top
TAM, for the uninitiated, is just one ingredient in the alphabet soup of MLS funny money. It can be used to purchase players, much like it’s cousin General Allocation Money (GAM), but it can only be used on designated player (DP) level contracts. It can be used to buy down a DP deal to the maximum salary charge and can also be sent between teams as part of player trades.
The league currently issues $1.2 million worth of the stuff to each team and over $42 million of it has been used since it was created in towards the end of the 2015 season. No word was given on how much more each team would get in an increase, but a decision is expected to come by the end of the season.
The existence of TAM, GAM, DP contracts, and the salary cap are part of MLS in order to retain financial viability while allowing the league to still attract star talent. Those acronyms accomplish that, but they come with a few side effects. They artificially keep player salaries down in order to make sure teams aren’t over spending on players. They keep all teams more or less on an equal playing field with each other, while holding them back against the more free spending Mexican sides in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Other terms like allocation order, waiver priority, and discovery claims also exist to create this artificial image of parity while making player acquisition a bureaucratic nightmare and holding back the potential of a potentially great league.
MLS has aspirations of becoming one of the largest leagues in the world as soon as it can, but it’s Byzantine roster rules are the major thing holding it back. Many claim this is why the league fails to reach its aspired heights despite being one of the most well attended leagues in the world. In reality, it isn’t the most popular soccer league in its own country and has a lot of changes to make if it wants to overtake the foreign leagues in popularity.
These aren’t new arguments. They have been used by soccer fans around the United States whether they are supporters of MLS or not.
Unfortunately for the critics, the league isn’t ready to completely eliminate these restrictions and they probably won’t be for the foreseeable future. However, another proposed increase in TAM does indicate the league is ready to loosen its self imposed chokehold on itself.
The league can do this by cutting down on the various acronyms that have come to dominate financial discussion in the league and replace them all with one, easy to follow number. We can call it “spend cap” or something, but you can think of it like your transfer and wage budgets in FIFA (or Football Manager, if you’re a more sophisticated soccer gamer). It would be equal to the salary cap, GAM, and TAM combined and teams could spend it however they wanted. They could use it to buy foreign players, pay player salaries, and include in deals with fellow MLS teams. Designated Players could still count as only the minimum salary agaisnt “spend cap”, but non-DPs would no longer be limited to a $480,625 salary. They’d just count more against the “spend cap”.
Combining all the forms of “Garber Bucks” would be but a small step towards growing MLS into a world recognized top level league. It’s still limiting the amount of cash teams can spend, but it at least frees up how they want so spend it. If a team wants to spend more on player salaries, nothing can stop them. If they want to go big after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, wish them the best of luck. If they covet another team’s captain and want to use a briefcase full of little pieces of paper with Don Garber’s mug on them to lure the team into selling, have at it.
If the constant increases in TAM are any indication, the league will increase this “spend cap” every season to the point where teams have a seemingly unlimited budget. Then, the “spend cap” can be eliminated entirely and teams can become free to do what they want with their hard earned real money. At that point, and only at that point, can we begin to think about calling MLS a top league in the world.