Premier League vs. American Team Sports

To illustrate that US professional sports have a lot of “hilariously anticompetitive interferences in the market” compared to the English Premier League, Daniel Davies constructs an artificial sports league based on all major professional teams in “Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington DC” in order to achieve a comparable population and economic basis to compare to the UK.

The Mid-Atlantic region has 7 NFL teams (Ravens, Bills, Jets, Steelers, Giants, Eagles, Redskins), 4 NBA teams (Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Wizards), 6 Major League Baseball teams (Orioles, Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Pirates) and 7 National Hockey League teams (Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Sabres, Capitals). That’s a total of 24 major sports teams, split up as seven each for New York and Pennsylvania, four each for DC and New Jersey, two in Maryland and none for Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia.

Using this league, he notes that the teams rarely play each other and that they’re overly concentrated in huge metropolitan areas as compared to the Premier League.

Despite the fact that I absolutely agree — indeed, take as self-evident — that drafting, salary caps, and other mechanisms to achieve parity are indeed anticompetitive, this thought experiment doesn’t buttress the argument.  It’s simply not useful to make up a league and then compare how its teams play outside the league.

As Davies himself notes, “When making any such comparison, though, one has to remember that the USA is not the size of the UK; it’s roughly the size of Europe.”  So, it’s ridiculous to construct an artificial Mid-Atlantic All-Sports League while ignoring that fact.

Of course Delaware and West Virginia lack teams; they simply don’t have a sufficiently large television market to sustain one.  Virginia doesn’t, either, although Northern Virginia has DC’s Redskins in their market and southern and western Virginia is likely in the market for the Charlotte teams (as is West Virginia).

Similarly, it would be odd for the NFL teams in the imaginary Mid-Atlantic region to play most of their games against one another when they play in an actual League that’s spread across a giant continent.  And, of course (as Davies concedes) basketball teams seldom play baseball and football teams, what with their being different sports.

It is noteworthy that the Premier League’s 20 teams for 60 millionish people is a greater concentration than seen in American team sports.  Largely, though, that’s a function of scalability.  If the NFL were to have a team for each 3 million people in the United States, it would have 100 teams.   Even with the present 32 teams, several years may go by without a team playing a given team outside its conference.  With 100, it wouldn’t be a “league” in any meaningful sense at all.   And the playoffs would either have to become NBA-interminable or 70 percent of the league would be eliminated from competition very early in the season. Neither would be workable.

To be sure, there are quirks in the system that are partly a function of monopoly power.  Most obviously, Los Angeles lacks an NFL franchise.  As recently as 1995, it had two but refused to fund a decent stadium out of taxpayer funds and was outbid on that score by Oakland and St. Louis.   Otherwise, though, there are very few metropolitan areas without a team who could sustain one over the long haul without seriously jeopardizing the survivability of a current team.  Indeed, the most recent rounds of expansion and/or relocation have put teams in places like St. Petersburg, Oklahoma City, Columbus, San Jose and Nashville; it’s not at all certain that’s wise.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    To illustrate that US professional sports have a lot of “hilariously anticompetitive interferences in the market” compared to the English Premier League,

    Why in the world would he need to compare US leagues to the EPL to come to this conclusion??? It is pretty much self-evident.

    One thing that makes his analogy problematic is the global nature of football vs. the popular American sports (American football & baseball).

    There really are no global competitors to the NFL and MLB. Whereas most domestic European leagues are like the EPL–dominated by a small number of big-payroll clubs. Players jump from the EPL to La Liga to Serie A and the other top clubs in the French, Dutch, and German leagues.

    All of the leagues basically suck, but the top clubs from each league are basically pretty competitive with each other–which is why I only pay attention to the Champions League. I will watch Liverpool in EPL games since I’m a fan, but only if there aint anything else going on. During the Champions League run, however, I would cancel all appointments to make sure I caught a match.

    Same goes for this afternoon’s matchup between United & Barca.

    My prediction: Barcelona 3, Man U 1

  2. dsquared says:

    Of course Delaware and West Virginia lack teams; they simply don’t have a sufficiently large television market to sustain one.

    I don’t see this at all. Delaware has 800,000 people, which makes it roughly twice the size of Liverpool. Liverpool FC obviously has a massive international fanbase, but Everton FC doesn’t, and it is sustained perfectly well.

    In any case, surely “a sufficiently large television market” is begging the question, isn’t it? Delaware isn’t a large enough market to buy an NFL franchise under the current cartel arrangement, but that’s the whole point! If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same. There’s nothing intrinsic that says that a region of 800,000 people can’t have a world-class sports team – Amsterdam, Liverpool, Lisbon and Glasgow are all smaller television markets than Delaware.

    With 100, it wouldn’t be a “league” in any meaningful sense at all.

    The Football League has 92 clubs, and is a league in a meaningful sense. It’s divided into divisions, with promotion and relegation.

  3. James Joyner says:

    The Football League has 92 clubs, and is a league in a meaningful sense. It’s divided into divisions, with promotion and relegation.

    And we do that with baseball’s minor leagues and, of course, the various college sports that serve as de facto minor leagues. By “meaningful” I mean “competing against one another for a championship.” The Football League is, despite its name, actually a hierarchy of leagues much like we have in Organized Baseball.

    That said, while not a spectator, I absolutely love the Football League concepts of relegation and promotion. I’d love to see genuine minor leagues develop with the very best able to secure a spot in the majors relegating the likes of the Detroit Lions and Sacramento Kings to the minors.

  4. dsquared says:

    The Football League is, despite its name, actually a hierarchy of leagues much like we have in Organized Baseball

    Relegation and promotion make a difference. Clubs like Blackburn and Oldham really do come from the lower leagues to hold down respectable slots in the Premier League and clubs like Leeds United really do go from Champions to the third division.

    And that’s without considering the FA Cup, in which all the teams in the Football Association (including ones that aren’t even members of the Football League) compete in the same knockout tournament, with even the Premier League champions only getting a bye for the first couple of rounds.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Delaware? If it were in England, it would have been merged with Pennsylvania (which would then be divided in half) under one of the many internal boundary reform laws.

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t England have one major sport, while the USA had three? It doesn’t strike me that the intensity level of fan support is the same for football in all parts of the country (see L.A.), as is “football” in all parts of England.

  6. dsquared says:

    UK has cricket and (two codes of) rugby as well – I ignored them because I was netting off against college sports in the USA, but actually they support another 20 or 30 professional teams, albeit at somewhat lower salaries than the Premier League.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    I now notice hockey was included on the American side (which I don’t consider a major sport, though certainly very popular among some), so cricket and rugby probably are at least comparable, no?

  8. Of course Delaware and West Virginia lack teams; they simply don’t have a sufficiently large television market to sustain one. Virginia doesn’t, either, although Northern Virginia has DC’s Redskins in their market and southern and western Virginia is likely in the market for the Charlotte teams (as is West Virginia).

    The “reach” teams have that varies with their success and history is interesting. The Redskins have a reach that extends down to Hampton Roads (where the newspaper treats them as a home team). However, no other teams from DC have that situation.

    Similarly, here in Jacksonville, there is still a notable contigent of Dolphins fans, but no other Florida team (from any pro sport) can claim a similar backing.

  9. James Joyner says:

    The “reach” teams have that varies with their success and history is interesting. The Redskins have a reach that extends down to Hampton Roads (where the newspaper treats them as a home team). However, no other teams from DC have that situation.

    Quite true. As a Dallas fan, one of the interesting things I learned is that the then-owner of the Redskins bitterly opposed expansion to Dallas in 1960 on the grounds that the Redskins were the South’s only NFL franchise and their market would be weakened. And, indeed, I was talking Monday with a fellow in his 60s who grew up as a Redskins fan as a child in North Carolina precisely because the ‘Skins were the only game in town.

    Nowadays, not only are there plenty of other teams in the South but nobody considers the Redskins among them!

    Similarly, here in Jacksonville, there is still a notable contigent of Dolphins fans, but no other Florida team (from any pro sport) can claim a similar backing.

    Yeah, the success of the Dolphins under Schula, especially in the formative 1970s, is why. Ditto the Cowboys, Steelers, and Raiders. The teams that were great in the heyday of Monday Night Football and the explosion of the NFL still have huge, national followings.

  10. Rick Karr says:

    Triumph at 7:53 am above:

    There really are no global competitors to the NFL and MLB.

    True for NFL — the European league failed (while garnering significant support in, e.g. Berlin), and the Canadian version of the game strikes most Yanks, in my experience, as … lame. No offense intended. (One could also say that of CFL rules.)

    But MLB — I wouldn’t be so sure. First of all, like all North American leagues but the NFL, it’s an international league, albeit limping along in that regard. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea all have major leagues. Mexico’s is the equivalent of a AAA league in US terms. And who has the best national team in the world right now? Cuba. Followed by the RoK. In fact, the U.S. has not yet won the World Baseball Challenge. (In part, that’s due to MLB franchises’ worries about player injuries in international play.)

    I’d love to see some kind of international cup in baseball — pit the MLB teams with the best records at the end of the regular season (i.e. ignore the playoffs; best record in AL and NL go) against the top-of-the-tables teams from Japan (top in CL and top in PL), S. Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, and a wild card from the Caribbean or elsewhere.

    For that matter, I’d love to see a couple of Mexican teams added to MLB (and maybe even a tream for the Dominican Republic and/or Puerto Rico — and certainly Cuba once relations thaw). Make the World Series a world series.

    Okay, I’m enough OT now. Thanks for a solid post following up on the interesting but purely academic one at CT.

  11. ideasman says:

    I think it all stems from what sport is in Europe and america. In america it is a viable business. In Europe outside a few examples it isn’t. The point is that in America owners invest in a team to make a profit and the winning is secondary, in Europe Billionaire owners invest their hard earned to win, and in many cases teams can’t be owned by individuals only by their own fans. This means many clubs run in debt, and survive by constantly restructuring debt, or selling off their best players. That’s the difference. The big clubs are very profitable.

    In Europe you are considered mad for investing in a football team. As money isn’t guaranteed.

    The reason why the national leagues are uncompetitive are down to a few things.

    1. TV money- Until the 90s there was literally minimal TV coverage in most countries. If you wanted to watch a game you had to go to the stadium. Then we had the TV boom. Unfortunately TV money was never split equally, the EU said that teams had to sell their rights separately as selling them collectively was akin to a cartel. Unfortunately this lead to bigger clubs getting much more money. In England we compromised with a position based split. MEaning that the top club onkly earns around double of the bottom club, compared to 7 times the difference in Italy and spain.

    2. Bosman ruling. Similar to free agency. It basically pushed up wages, and as we had no salary cap, the small clubs were literally forced to sell their best players to the big clubs before their contracts ran out and losing them for free. A salary cap is considered unworkable as the big clubs are now so powerful they hate the thought of relegation. The fact is big clubs could genuinely be relegated and by big clubs i mean the super clubs like Manchester United.

    3. The champions league- the fact is that in your sports as far as i am aware, you don’t earn more TV/sponsorship money if you qualify for the playoffs… The champions league is literally the European playoffs in which teams can literally double their money. That money clubs reinvest to make sure they qualify the next year and block teams trying to qualify. Hence why in England our top 4 have a virtual monopoly.

    4. abolition of foreign quotas- until the 1990s many countries limited foreigners in their leagues, so it was near impossible to build a dream team. infact foreigners were banned in spain and italy for part of the 1960s and most of the 1970s. This meant that smaller nations could keep their best players and the teams in these nations could compete.

    5. break up of eastern bloc- just imagine the USA was split up into 50 countries and each country had to form it’s own sports leagues. The Dallas cowboys wouldn’t be that attractive anymore. That’s what happened when Yugoslavia and the soviet union split. Once competitive leagues were split into basket cases, only really the russian league has survived.

    They are the basic reasons why our domestic leagues are uncompetitive, there are plans to change this but i don’t hold my breath.