It all started with David Beckham signing with LA Galaxy and it’s progressing with Inter Miami’s addition of Lionel Messi this season.
Under the current MLS rules, each team is allowed three designated players on the roster.
With the addition of Messi to the league, it’s possible that changes.
Let’s dive into it.
The Designated “David Beckham” Rule
Ahead of the 2007 season, Major League Soccer got the bright idea to allow its teams to be more competitive on the international market.
However, broad salary caps wouldn’t allow teams to go out and spend Premier League (or Saudi Pro League) money to bring in top talent.
The idea is that the league wanted to be fiscally solvent, but competitive nonetheless.
So, before Beckham negotiated a $6.5 million contract with the Galaxy, the league had to amend its rules.
Thus, the designated player came to fruition.
The rule allows all MLS teams to sign up to three players whose salaries don’t count against the annual salary cap imposed by the league.
In 2023, the MLS salary cap is $5.21 million. That’s what they have to spend on players’ salaries.
Safe to say, it would be hard to bring top international talent to the United States to play for $90,000 per year — just above the league minimum — when many of them make that in a week.
The designated player rule allows three players to earn significantly more than the league average without it counting against the salary cap.
By only allowing three, it maintains some sort of financial integrity for clubs to not spend outside their means… looking at you Premier League and Serie A.
Soccer news is rife with reports of teams violating FIFA’s Financial Fair Play rules — such as Manchester City, Inter Milan and others.
Major League Soccer didn’t want to repeat what happened to the North American Soccer League in 1985.
The Designated Player Rule Could Be Changing
Last year, Spanish media outlet AS.com suggested that due to the partnership with Apple, Major League Soccer could expand its designated player rule from three to four and increase the salary cap for teams to around $7 million.
But that never actually happened.
Well, the rumor has resurfaced thanks to Inter Miami luring Messi to South Florida:
Inter Miami’s deal with Messi is a bit complex and involves many different parts, including a percentage of subscriptions to AppleTV’s MLS package and another percentage of jersey sales from Adidas.
That’s how Messi can earn the money he earns in South Florida without Inter Miami breaching the salary cap.
Of course, adding a fourth designated player spot would help the rest of MLS attract international talent… like Paris-St. Germain’s Kylian Mbappe… but it would take a little more creativity by clubs to not overspend on this kind of talent.
Major League Soccer has to be very careful about treading into this kind of territory.
What makes the league sustainable is that clubs aren’t able to go out and throw money at international talent the way European or Saudi clubs do.
While the issue has come back to bite clubs in the Middle East (mainly because of how they are funded), it has forced penalties to European ones. Barcelona is a prime example.
The squad is yet unable to register its recent transfer signings as the club struggles to find the financial resources to play players.
Will adding a fourth DP slot for teams break the bank? No, but the league has to make sure its fiscal house is in order to allow clubs a fourth player that can earn an enormous contract.