The combined salaries of Team America's 18 players amount to little more than the $750,000 Giorgio Chinaglia of the Cosmos makes in a year.
Team America's total payroll is approximately $1.1 million, with the majority of the players making between $30,000 and $50,000.
But through a wide variety of incentives and bonuses, ranging from a unique profit-sharing deal to postgame cash awards to lucrative endorsement contracts, Team America's players can become some of the highest paid in the North American Soccer League.
According to statistics supplied by the NASL Players Association, the average Team America base salary, not including bonuses or incentive clauses, is $41,922, well above the minimum $25,200 for veterans imposed by the league. The base salary of Tony Bellinger, Team America's highest-paid player, is $78,000, and only one other player--Jeff Durgan--has more than a $70,000 base salary ($72,000). Rob Olson, a rookie from Fairfax, is the lowest-paid player at $21,250.
But Team America's lucrative incentives, deemed neccessary by owner Robert Lifton to attract players to the team, can earn the players thousands more.
"We knew we had to make it worth the players' while to come to Team America," said Lifton. "I'm not your average owner. I wasn't out to gyp my players. In fact, when we first started writing out the contracts, I kept saying 'Is that enough? Should we give them more?' "
"There's so much money to be made here," said Tony Crescitelli, Team America's player representative. "Every other team in the league is dropping players and cutting back. But the potential with Team America is unlimited."
The most revolutionary of Team America's incentives is a profit-sharing agreement whereby the players earn a percentage of the team's overall profit. They earn 10 percent of the first $2 million the team turns in profit and 15 percent if it makes between $2 and 3 million. For any profit figure over $3 million, the players earn 25 percent.
Team America, like every other franchise in the NASL, will not turn a profit this season, but Lifton said the team, which has a total operating budget of approximately $2.6 million, will probably make money next year.
"We started so late that we haven't really had a chance to get going yet," Lifton said. "But what we're doing is unheard of in sports. The NFL struck over the idea of players sharing in the profits, and I know some of the owners in this league don't like the idea, either. But this way we're partners. The players have a vested interest in their own success."
"The idea makes a hell of a lot of sense," said John Kerr, president of the NASL Players Association. "It's beneficial for everybody, because everybody gets a part of the pot. We don't have a tradition of sharing like that in business in this country, but maybe its time for a change."
"Everybody either makes it or everybody's out," said Durgan, Team America's captain. "There's a system and we're all connected."
The players can also earn extra money by playing in more than 10 exhibition games, either with Team America or with the U.S. national team. The players receive an additional $250 for every game after the first 10 with Team America, and $500 if they appear with the national team.
The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (Winston cigarettes), one of Team America's major corporate sponsors, also offers the players cash awards for game performances. In a vote taken by the media after each game, Winston awards Team America's top player $500. At the end of the season, the three players with the most votes receive an additional $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500. Team America is the only team with such bonuses.
"The money's not driving players to go out there and win the Winston award, but it's an added incentive," said Durgan, who leads the voting with 33 points.
Team America also has the right to market itself independently, without going through NASL Marketing, Inc., the league's merchandising arm. For instance, 10 of the players signed endorsement contracts with Adidas that included a signing bonus of $4,000 and free equipment.
Any profits Team America makes through such ventures will also benefit the NASL. Through an agreement included in its charter, one-third of the marketing profits will be divided among the other NASL teams and one-third will go to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which helps sponsor Team America.
"Bob (Lifton) is looking in a lot of creative ways," said NASL President Howard Samuels, a longtime friend. "If he can do anything profitable, then he has my support. A lot of the owners have objected to some of the things he has done, but you have to remember these men have lost a lot of money in the past. We have to give them a chance to recover their losses, and what Lifton is doing is right."