Major League Soccer vs The Chinese Super League

The development of Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League follow a similar trajectory; the leagues were both started in powerhouse countries without a history of dominant soccer teams, struggled initially to be taken seriously but gained traction with increased investment, and have continued their growth as subordinate leagues to the established ones in Europe. That is, although the United States and China are the world’s two biggest economic engines, MLS and the CSL are still only on the margins of global soccer. Interestingly, despite these similarities, MLS and the CSL have very different economic approaches to growth. This website attempts to decipher and compare the corporate structures of these two leagues through the examination of revenue and expenditure flow, salary cap policy, state investment, and expansion.

Please use the chart below to help begin understanding and navigating these business models.


Major League Soccer

Chinese Super League

Business Model
  • Single Entity Structure
  • Teams and players are owned by the league itself
  • Shareholder model
  •  Each club is a shareholder and controls the majority of their finances


  • Founded in 1993
  • First season took place in 1996 with 10 teams
  • 26 teams currently
  • Founded in 2004
  • First season took place with 12 teams
  • Utilizes a promotion and relegation system, so 31 total teams have competed in the CSL but only 16 current teams
Revenue and Expenditure Flow
  • Investor-operators of each member club share a percentage of their revenue with MLS
  • MLS covers salaries and allocation money
  • MLS distributes financial returns if league is profitable
  • Each member club is largely self sufficient and can allocate money as they please
  • CSL distributes financial returns if league is profitable
Expansion Fees
  • Expansion fees have grown twenty fold
  • Currently 26 teams with 4 more teams contracted to compete by 2022
  • Investors paid at least $150 million to establish each of these 4 teams
  • Started with 10 teams, but there have been 16 teams since 2009
  • Expansion fees are not a significant portion of revenue
Salary Caps
  • No individual can earn more than $530,000 annually excluding designated players and allocation funding rules
  • Recently salary cap imposed at $3.3 million per year
State Investment
  • Public funding from taxes generated near property of stadium
  • No other significant investment from U.S. government
  • President Xi Jinping made soccer a national priority in 2015
  • Government-owned or associated corporations are primary investors in the league