This questioned can best be answered by going to the sports section in the newspaper “Europe Today” Similar to the “USA Today” salaries database which lists the salary of every professional player in the 4 major US spots, Europe Today also has the salary listed for every Team Handball player in each National League, thus providing an interesting and handy guide to compare and contrast player value.
Oh, if it were only that simple! Such a list doesn’t exist as far as I know. And prior to moving to France I’d never read anything, anywhere which discussed compensation, even in broad, general terms. I had heard, word of mouth, anecdotal information about the great salaries that players had in Europe, but was always skeptical. Now using some data from the French HandAction Magazine and L’Equipe (Lance Armstong’s and my favorite sports newspaper) here’s my analysis of handball salaries along with a few choice questions that can help put things in perspective.
Question #1a: Which is greater, French NBA Basketball player Tony Parker’s 2006 salary or the entire operating budget for Montpellier Handball, the top club program in France?
Answer: Tony Parker. Tony Parker made 9.8M Euros in 2006, and Montpellier’s entire budget is 3.5M Euros. In fact, Tony Parker also could fund the next 3 teams in the French league. And when Boris Diaw of the Phoenix Suns signs a new contract, together, they could probably fund the entire league.
Question #1b: Which is greater, German NBA player, Dirk Nowitzki’s salary or the entire operating budget for Kiel, the Champion’s League winner.
Answer: Dirk Nowitzki. The top German clubs have budgets of 5 to 6 Million Euros. With $13.8M this year the NBA MVP, could also handle the budget for their Champions League opponent Flensburg.
Question #1c: Which is greater, Spanish NBA player, Pau Gasol Salary or Ciudad Real’s entire operating budget
Answer: Paul Gasol. The top Spanish clubs also have a budget of 5 to 6 Million Euros. Paul Gasol with $10.9M this year, however couldn’t fund two top teams like Dirk.
The point of these 3 questions is to once and for all highlight while European Club Handball is the best in the world it is financially small time compared to the major professional sports in the United States. In fact, it could probably be argued that minor sports like Arena Football and Major League Lacrosse are comparable to the European Handball Leagues. This can also be said, however, for just about every sport in Europe except soccer.
Question #2: What’s the average salary for a player in the French 1st Division?
Answer: According to UFF Sport Conseil: 27,000 Euros/year.
While this is the average salary, I think it’s also important to look further behind these numbers. For instance, it’s possible to guesstimate what the athletes make at the top end by looking at L’Equipe’s annual listing of the top 5 salaries for French athletes in each sport. In particular, it’s worth noting that all of the athletes listed are playing in either Spain or Germany and that the 5th place athlete, Barcelona Backcourt player Jerome Fernandez compensation in 2004 was listed at 140,000 Euros. So, it’s safe to say that no one playing in France, with the possible exception of Jackson Richardson is making 140,000 Euros.
Based on the fact that the French League is keeping a few of their top native players home and was able to sign Tunisian standout Wissem Hmam, I’m guessing that there are probably 15 top players making 50-100,000 Euros. This guess is based on the logic that these players need compensation in that range in order to keep them from signing with German and Spanish league teams. Below this top tier there is probably a middle tier of 45 players making 15,000-50,000 Euros/year. These players are not a threat to jump to a foreign league, but they need this compensation to make a decent living in Europe. Rounding out the league, I’m guessing there is a 3rd tier of about 100 players receiving under 15,000 Euros a year. These players are typically the youngest players and are often University students. The composition of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd tier players varies from club to club. I would speculate that Montpellier is composed entirely of 1st and 2nd tier players, while the teams at the bottom of the standings are composed entirely of 2nd and 3rd tier players.
Question #3: What’s the average salary for a player in Germany and Spain’s 1st Division Leagues?
Answer: Greater than 27,000 Euros/year. How much greater, though, I’m not sure. I’m less intimately familiar with the Spanish and German leagues, but I think it’s safe to say that the same three tiers of players apply in these leagues as well, with one significant difference: the compensation for 1st tier players is significantly higher. As France has one of the best National Teams in the world right now, the compensation that Top French players are paid in Germany/Spain is indicative as to what is being paid at the high end in those leagues. Jackson Richardson’s compensation for Spanish Club, Portland San Antonio in 2004 was 530,000 Euros and in 2005 was 425,000 Euros. As an iconic figure in Handball, I would argue that a good portion of his 2004 contract was probably more related to his ability to fill seats, as while he was still a great player, he was on the tail end of his career. Didier Dinart is paid 217,000 Euros for Ciudad Real as a defensive specialist and Jerome Fernandez is paid probably around 170,000 Euros (based on his 140,000 Euros in 2004) So for the top clubs in Spain, the top players are making 150,000-500,000 Euros/year.
In Germany, the Gilles brothers (Guillame and Bertrand) both make roughly 220,000 Euros/year playing for Hamburg. Nikola Karbatic, is making around 229,000 Euros. So for Germany, I would guess that the top players are making 180,000 to 300,000 Euros.
Spain’s top teams, Ciudad Real, Portland San Antonio and Barcelona have been known to outbid German clubs for their star players, but they were recently unsuccessful in luring Karabatic away from Kiel. My guess is that the top players for those 3 Spanish sides are paid more than the Bundesliga stars, but that the Bundesliga has a larger cluster of players being paid around 200,000 Euros. Another factor, however, that would have to be considered is the lower cost of living in Spain that would also translate into a higher salary in real terms.
In terms of salaries in Germany and Spain for the middle tier and lower tier of players, I’m guessing that the overall compensation is higher, but not that much higher than France. The logic being that there are not a lot of 2nd tier players jumping over from foreign countries for a better salary. The big difference is at the top end for the star players at the key positions.
Which player positions get paid more?
Answer: Typically the highest paid players are backcourt players with a proven ability to put the ball in the back of the net from 9 meters. The logic being that you can always find somebody to play circle and wing, but you can’t always find a good scoring backcourt. When a new player starts playing, this is also typically where he’s placed on the court. There is certainly a lot of logic to this and I would bet that this is true for the preponderance of Professional Teams. The very top teams with more of a budget, however, can afford to also pay top dollar for wings, circles, and goalkeepers.
Foreign Player Assumption: I’m guessing that 8 times out of 10 the most compensated player on a team is a foreign player. The logic being that the only reason a club is going to be willing to have a non-native player, who may not speak the language, and will need extra attention to adjust to an unfamiliar environment, is because he’s a really good player. And really good players are usually paid more than just good players.
Final Thoughts: Admittedly there’s a lot of guesswork with these numbers. If anybody has better numbers that can be documented please let me know.
L’Equipe’s Annual Top 5 Salary List for French Handball Players
Calendar Year 2004
1) Jackson Richardson, Portland San Antonio (ESP), 530,000 Euros
2) Bertrand Gille, Hamburg (GER), 225,000 Euros
3) Guillaume Gille, Hamburg (GER), 220,000 Euros
4) Didier Dinart, Montpellier (FRA)/Ciudad Real (ESP), 164,000 Euros
5) Jerome Fernandez, Barcelona (ESP), 140,000 Euros
Calendar Year 2005
1) Jackson Richardson, Portland San Antonio (ESP)/ Chambery (FRA), 425,000 Euros
2) Guillaume Gille, Hamburg (GER), 230,000 Euros
3) Bertrand Gille, Hamburg (GER), 215,000 Euros
4) Nikola Karabatic, Montpellier (FRA)/ Kiel (GER), 197,000 Euros
5) Didier Dinart, Ciudad Real (ESP), 187,000 Euros
Calendar Year 2006
1) Bertrand Gille, Hamburg (GER), 255,000 Euros
2) Nikola Karabatic, Kiel (GER), 229,000 Euros
3) Guillaume Gille, Hamburg (GER), 219,000 Euros
4) Didier Dinart, Ciudad Real (ESP), 217,000 Euros
5) Daniel Narcisse, Gummersbach (GER), 209,000 Euros