Pro football salaries rose during pandemic despite promises to government
Despite the KNVB, football clubs, and players promising to make wage sacrifices when applying for coronavirus support from the government, Eredivisie players continued to earn more money in recent seasons. “It seems that the clubs have used part of the government support to maintain or even increase salaries,” sports economist Willem de Boer told the Financieele Dagblad.
When applying for coronavirus support in 2020, the KNVB and Eredivisie clubs set up a plan to cut costs. The plan included an agreement with the Association of Contract Players that professional footballers would sacrifice some of their salaries. The players earning the least would give up 2.5 percent, and high earners up to 20 percent. Players’ holiday pay would also decrease, according to the plan. In the end, Eredivisie clubs received over 100 million euros in wage support and 23 million euros to cover fixed costs from the government.
But according to FD, wage costs only increased at the eleven clubs that have been playing in the Eredivisie for some time. During the pandemic, wage costs rose over 17 percent, from 273 million euros in the 2019/20 season to 319 million euros in the 2021/22 season.
Decreasing the wage costs wasn’t impossible, sports economist Willem de Boer of the HAN University of Applied Sciences told the newspaper. “At the end of the season, about 40 percent of the contracts expire,” he said. That allowed clubs to say goodbye to more expensive players or negotiate lower salaries. According to him, this looks like “the clubs have made little effort to reduce costs.”
The KNVB disputed that conclusion. According to the Dutch football association, clubs did everything they could to keep costs low, for example, through different contracts and smaller selections. “Many clubs and players also committed to the collective wage sacrifice,” the KNVB told FD. And several football clubs let people go.
The fact that wage costs increased is not due to the clubs, but due to footballers’ bargaining power. “Certainly, at the top, players often have a choice of employers, and salary is only one element in overall negotiations. Although there is understanding from all sides for the special situation, it is not automatically true that a player will hand in up to 20 percent of the agreed-upon wage,” the KNVB said.
That reasoning seems to check out. According to FD, wage costs rose primarily at the top clubs during the pandemic. Ajax’s wage costs rose 19 percent to 109 million euros, PSV’s 17 percent to 45 million euros, and Feyenoord’s 23 percent to 48 million euros. These clubs’ workforce also grew by an average of 5 percent from 2020 to 2021.