Today, FIFA published its Global Transfer Market Report, summarizing and analyzing global soccer transfers in 2016. The major headlines have so far revolved around the news that English clubs have, for the first time, surpassed the billion dollar transfer mark, spending a whopping $1,372,800 ($1,060,000 net) on transfers in 2016. Deeper in the report are some interesting details about soccer in North America.
The men's national team rivalry between the United States and Mexico has approached something like parity in recent years—since 2010, the teams are 3-3-3 in competitive competition—but national team performance continues to obscure the lingering disparity between the size of the soccer market in the two nations. That professional soccer is bigger in Mexico is not news, but with the continued high-profile investment and big spending in the United States, it's easy to get the impression soccer north of the boarder is beginning to catch up. FIFA's report shows that's not necessarily the case.
According to FIFA, US clubs signed more players than their Mexican counterparts—358 to 292, respectively—but the dollar amount those transfers represented was far higher in Mexico. Mexican clubs invested $77,900,000 on new players, placing Mexico at number 11 in the world's top 15 highest spending nations. The US didn't make the list, meaning it spent somewhere below Greece's $59 million. Mexico's net spending of $55 million far outweighed the US's $9.1 million, with Mexican clubs also earning more selling players.
Mexico has always been the biggest market in CONCACAF, but that disparity has grown in recent years, as FIFA's report indicates: "Off the pitch, [Mexican] clubs have shown their financial strength in the transfer market. From USD 10.6 million in 2011, spending has grown to USD 77.8 million in 2016. During this period, Mexican clubs have always accounted for more than half of the confederation's total spending on transfer fees…Last year, the spending by Mexican clubs was more than double that of all other CONCACAF clubs combined."
Transfer spending isn't a perfect measurement of overall market size. And Major League Soccer clubs are forced to adhere to a salary cap that doesn't exist in Mexico. (It's also unclear how or if MLS player trades are represented in FIFA's report.) But it looks like US clubs are farther behind than MLS' narrative might have you believe. If MLS wants to look like anything other than a minor league for Mexico, that salary cap will have to loosen considerably. Don't believe me? In 2016, more players went to Mexico from the US than the other way around. The US to Mexico "transfer stream" was the world's 14th largest, a +92.6% change.
The Mexico to US stream? It didn't even make the list.