Everyone’s a winner!

by John Quiggin on January 26, 2013

I was way behind the rest of the Interworld in catching up with the Eden Hazard ballboy kicking, but coming late has its advantages. As is presumably well known to followers of this particular competition, but not to others, the “ballboy” is a minor match official whose job it is to return the ball when it goes out of play. Traditionally, this was done by actual boys, aged in their early teens, who volunteered to help out in this way – giving out this coveted job being a minor perk for the senior officials of the club. Naturally, they were supporters of the home team, but this was unimportant.

But, now, it seems, the typical “ballboy” is a young man, under instructions to make life easy for the home side and difficult for the visitors. This is a new twist on the standard practice of grimy visitors’ dressing rooms with unreliable hot water and so on. All of this helps to create a home ground advantage.

This raises some interesting points about the business of sport.

Ultimately, it’s entertainment, and, in sport as in movies, most people prefer happy endings. So, the ideal sporting event would be one at which all the spectators saw their own side win. Given that these events are normally zero-sum games, that’s a bit difficult. But, if you set things up so that there is a substantial home ground advantage, then, most of the audience will go away happy most of the time. The other way to get the desired result is to set things up so that the same teams stay on top for a long time. That way, they attract more followers, who get to see them win most of their games.

TV changes things quite a bit. For a TV audience, there’s no difference between home and away games. On the other hand, and assuming a capitalist form of organization like that of Association football[1], the revenue from TV creates a virtuous circle in which winning teams get more revenue and therefore keep on winning. This process appears to reach a natural limit when two teams achieve complete dominance, while the rest play the role of Washington Generals to the Old Firm’s Harlem Globetrotters.

fn1. As you might expect, given their egalitarian culture, most American sports adopt a more socialist form of organization in which systems such as the draft are used to penalize success. The city-based franchise system ensures followers for teams that never win – in fact, there is even some cachet for teams that haven’t won in decades.

{ 76 comments }

1

js. 01.26.13 at 6:25 am

This process appears to reach a natural limit when two teams achieve complete dominance,

Well, surely you just need a couple more Russian/Middle Eastern oligarchs/owners of imperial American franchises, etc., to make it an entirely fair contest between, umm, five teams? Slightly more seriously, though, once you do have Chelsea/Man City type cases, surely TV revenue isn’t even all that important anymore is it—you can shovel money in any time and way you want. (And, yes, I’m aware of the vaguely aware of the financial fair-play stuff, but, no, I don’t have a clear sense of what it’ll amount to.)

most American sports adopt a more socialist form of organization

I’m led to believe that this is not true of baseball. But frankly, the game puts me directly to sleep, so don’t quote me on this.

2

thomas 01.26.13 at 6:47 am

there is even some cachet for teams that haven’t won in decades.

As Bill Bryson said about the Chicago Cubs, “Mussolini had good years more recently”

3

Neil Levy 01.26.13 at 9:46 am

Something tells me that John Quiggin has not entirely caught up with the context just yet. Unless he thinks that the two teams who achieved dominance are Swansea and Bradford.

Moreover, the extent to which we see much the same names at the top of the league has not altered in a century, and therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with TV revenues.

4

hix 01.26.13 at 10:00 am

Still think a lot of the excitement in watching sports comes from not knowing who wins. Such incidents as the ballboys delaying show that the sport teams are more and more obsessed with winning, disregarding everything else. The top football teams are typically not even profitable.

5

Tony Lynch 01.26.13 at 11:12 am

I dunno. Watching the clip, it doesn’t look good for Hazard. (What else should we rely on?)

6

John Quiggin 01.26.13 at 11:37 am

“Moreover, the extent to which we see much the same names at the top of the league has not altered in a century”

Not true, even in the extreme case of Scotland. Before the mid-80s, the Old Firm missed out on first place every now and then. The now-standard 1-2 result (until Rangers’ unfortunate money problems) was then the exception rather than the rule. As js points out, the English competition is a partial exception to the standard logic.

7

Philip 01.26.13 at 11:49 am

A few points, first most ballboys are still aged from bout 11 to young teens and often play in the club’s youth team. It is not unheard of for them to respond faster or slower to help the home team, this one went further than most by diving on the ball.

There is cachet for supporters of teams who have not won anything for a long time. Sunderland have not won anything for 40 years and most of our trophies were in the 19th century, but still feel a sense of kudos because we get large crowds. Newcastle, our local rival, are in a similar position having to go back further since they won anything but having actually played in European competitions recently.

As has been pointed a rich benefactor can put money into a club to break the cycle of TV money. Manchester City and Chelsea seem to have found ways around the financial fair play rules with large sponsorship deals and the like, it will be interesting to see if UEFA manage to actually punish any club for this. It is widely thought that the FFP rules are to stop anymore clubs challenging those that are already established in the Champions’ League. Tottenham and Arsenal are probably the best run clubs in England with them challenging for a CL place within the revenue they generate, Manchester United have a lot of debt but they seem to be able to afford this. Liverpool could be in trouble if they do not get money from the CL any time soon. Man City’s owners are doing lots for the club and area besides spending lots on players but Chelsea could be in real trouble when Abromavich leaves.

Of course this is all based on the English model. In Italy and Spain the clubs are more connected politically. Clubs like Milan and Juventus have been owned by important business men and politicians. Real Madrid and Barcelona have been helped by the state and generous terms from banks to help their spending. I believe the local government but Real Madrid’s training ground to help them clear their debts. In England football was very unpopular politically (Hillsbrough, hooligans etc.) and clubs had been banned for European competition. So the Premier League and move to big money deals from Sky was to help the top clubs compete in Europe which reduced competition domestically. Now everyone is looking to the German model as the best example, where they have well run clubs, affordable tickets, large crowds, good atmospheres and even standing at matches along side clubs being able to hold their own in European Competitions.

8

Neil 01.26.13 at 11:57 am

JQ. “Not true, even in the extreme case of Scotland.”

I was under the impression we were talking about England. Because we were, in fact, talking about England. So confining myself to England:

14 different teams won the top flight in the first 45 years of the competition prior to television (note that that is 45 times the competition was played, not 45 calendar years: WWI interrupted the competition). In the following 45 years (again, of competition) there were 13 winners.

9

Philip 01.26.13 at 12:08 pm

Moreover, the extent to which we see much the same names at the top of the league has not altered in a century, and therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with TV revenues.

Not really true even in England. Of the winners of the Premier League Man City have 1 league title pre-1950, Man Utd have 2, Chelsea have 0, Arsenal have 6 and Blackburn have 2 that were just about 100 years ago. There’s only really Arsenal who have been consistently at the top of the table for 100 years. Of course a lot of clubs’ fortunes changed after WWII, but even since then clubs like Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday have fallen from the top of the league to the third tier and clubs like Chelsea and to an extent Man City have risen up to be title contenders.

10

Adam Roberts 01.26.13 at 12:28 pm

“Ultimately, it’s entertainment, and, in sport as in movies, most people prefer happy endings”

I follow Southampton; we rarely win, often draw and too often lose. I wouldn’t dream of transferring my allegiance to another club, though; I’d hazard few fans would. More to the point, it seems to me that I wouldn’t get what I get out of football if I followed a megaclub that won all the time. I don’t just mean that, were that to happen, winning would grow banal (or that when my club do win, it’s all the sweeter for being rarer — although there is something in that). I mean that what football does is precisely to enable me to experience all the negative emotions, to do with loss, frustration and despair, that I, as a man shaped by the emotional repression of a middle-class English social milieu and burdened with a Joseph-Merrrick-esque stiff-upper lip like so many of my kind, find so hard to access. I choose to believe that this is a healthful catharsis, unavailable to me in other areas of my life.

The thing about football, compared with other sports (or so it seems to me) is that watching it is very often so largely characterised by frustration. I sometimes wonder if that frustration (your team not scoring, coming close but still not scoring, the other team scoring against you, the idiocy of the referee etc) isn’t the key feature, rather than the main bug, of this particular sport.

11

Neil 01.26.13 at 12:45 pm

Philip, you have read my comment – reasonably enough – as concerning the extent to which the names we see today are the same as the names we see at other times. I meant that the extent to which it is true that a handful of clubs dominate at a time – say over a decade or two – is consistent across time. As my figures show.

12

Agog 01.26.13 at 1:15 pm

Neil,

You have noted that the prominence of a small number of clubs hasn’t changed much over the decades, and concluded that this has “nothing whatsoever to do with TV revenues”.

That’s a bit of an overly strong conclusion. If TV revenues had been distributed differently during the past twenty years, there might easily have been a more diverse set of successful clubs. Clearly TV revenues are only one factor; gate receipts historically were presumably a big factor in maintaining the dominance of the select few. But TV money is so important now that it’s a bit strange to try and deny that it has any impact at all on who wins championships.

13

rf 01.26.13 at 1:17 pm

Well that’s a little misleading. There’s a number of ways of looking at it. In the first 20 seasons post ww2 10 different teams won. In 20 years of PL 4 teams.
Most teams with wins in 20 years post WW2 United with 5. In the PL United with 12.
There also seems to be more diversity in second and third place before PL.

14

rf 01.26.13 at 1:18 pm

Above @ Neil (and all from w*ki, obviously)

15

rf 01.26.13 at 1:21 pm

In 20 years of PL 4 teams.

Should be 5 of course

16

Neil 01.26.13 at 1:23 pm

Agog: Fair enough.

rf: The introduction of TV did not coincide with the introduction of the premier league. JQ was making a claim about television. Perhaps his claim might be true wrt cable tv. Or perhaps revenue sharing arrangements in the PL have led to greater dominance of fewer teams. I don’t know. I was claim that JQ’s original point was false.

17

Agog 01.26.13 at 1:33 pm

Also, “What else should we rely on?”:

Context! Prenton Park during John Aldridge’s time as Tranmere manager was (in)famous having ballboys whose job was to get the ball to the home players as quickly as possible. Visiting players, not quite so much. This was clearly intended to wind the visitors up as much as to gain an advantage by maintaining momentum or whatever.

The Chelsea player clearly could have been a bit cleverer about it in this instance, but I think the reaction has been way way over the top.

18

P O'Neill 01.26.13 at 2:34 pm

Surely the zenith of JQ’s principle is the Manchester United system, where the greatest good for the greatest number is achieved by endless victories for the club affinity of “Seven Trillion Asian fans” or whatever is the latest version of that number breathlessly repeated by boosterish sports journalists?

19

christian_h 01.26.13 at 3:23 pm

In the US, interestingly, the NBA comes closest to the Old Firm model. I say interestingly, because the league actually has a salary cap, and the most important (due to the influence one player can have on the game) as well as skewed towards bad teams draft in any professional US sport. Nevertheless half the championships have gone to two teams – 17 for the Celtics and 16 for the Lakers, with the next most being the Bulls at 6 – and even that understates the degree to which the two dominant teams are the only ones that have competed for the championship throughout the existence of the league.

20

rf 01.26.13 at 3:54 pm

There was a turning point available for the Premier League a number of years ago when Arsenal looked as though they were going to upend the power structure by buying cheap, talented players at a young age, teaching them to play quality football and become upstanding young men (while retaining something of a ‘reasonable’ wage cap – we all remember the ‘invincible’ season, right?) People more expert on the topic can go into how Arsenals ownership structure, up until quite recently, differed from the rest of the PL, and how they managed their finances in a mature and sophisticated manner.
That could have been the future, but instead the oligarchs took over and reinforced the league’s worst aspects. The bubble will soon burst though.

21

Clay Shirky 01.26.13 at 4:28 pm

@js. #1,

“> most American sports adopt a more socialist form of organization

I’m led to believe that this is not true of baseball. But frankly, the game puts me directly to sleep, so don’t quote me on this.”

See, for a counter-example of socialist control, baseball’s odd, century old anti-trust exemption. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history_lesson/2002/07/baseballs_con_game.html

22

PJW 01.26.13 at 4:38 pm

“All of this helps to create a home ground advantage.” (JQ in OP)

In that spirit of trying to gain an edge, for the past 30 years at the University of Iowa’s football stadium the visitor’s locker rooms have been painted pink: http://collegefootball.about.com/od/traditions/a/trad-iowapink.htm

23

chris y 01.26.13 at 6:08 pm

As you might expect, given their egalitarian culture, most American sports adopt a more socialist form of organization in which systems such as the draft are used to penalize success.

And no promotion/relegation, which is almost unique in major national sporting leagues, unless the country concerned is too small. I suspect this is money talking, but money couldn’t close off entry to the English Premier League, much as it wanted to at the time.

24

lamadredeltopo 01.26.13 at 6:54 pm

Philip@7
“I believe the local government but Real Madrid’s training ground to help them clear their debts”
If by but you mean bought I say Nope. R.Madrid assets were not bought by any administration, they were sold to private investors.
You could look at Barcelona CF, whose TV contract was with the regional public TV, and was warranted by the regional government to be as higher as R. Madrid’s even though R. Madrid has the largest TV following in Spain, much larger than Barcelona CF. (At least up to 5 years ago). Or Valencia CF, which is now property of the regional government.
Actually R. Madrid is the only Spanish football club with has no debt of any class with the administration, being up to date on tax duties. Unlike every other sport club in Spain, including F.C. Barcelona.
By the way, did you know that Armstrong’s drug supplier (del Moral) used to work as an external assistant for both Valencia CF and FC Barcelona?

25

Philip 01.26.13 at 7:36 pm

Neil, thanks for the clarification that reading makes much more sense. I think you are right that it’s not TV money in general but the creation of the PL and the selling of its right in particular that is the issue. I just can’t see anyone doing a Brian Clough at Forrest and taking a team from the 2nd tier to League Champions any time soon. I don’t see how this contradicts what JQ was saying. The TV money just amplifies the winning affects for the teams at the top, previously it was gate receipts and prize money. Obviously now the prize money is generated by TV revenue and that is why Champions’ League qualification is so important.

@ Adam Roberts, that’s basically how I feel about supporting Sunderland. I went to Sunderland matches as a boy in the early 90s and enjoyed it even though the football was terrible and it never felt like I made a choice. However there have always been people who have made a conscious choice of which team to support and they have been attracted to more successful clubs. TV does break down the geographic link between a (successful) club and its supporters. So now people who have a choice of club can pick from any team in the league and not just from their local teams. So again the rewards for winning are amplified especially considering merchandising in overseas markets. Also, again, it isn’t just TV but cable, satellite, internet streaming that really distribute the games globally.

26

John Quiggin 01.26.13 at 7:37 pm

“I was under the impression we were talking about England.”

Then I suggest you focus on your comprehension skills, before working any more on your snarkiness. If you didn’t get the point that this post was about sport in general, the reference to the Old Firm might at least have alerted you that I was not talking (exclusively) about England

27

Neil Levy 01.26.13 at 8:47 pm

JQ, I apologise for the snarkiness. Which was entirely uncalled for. Still, it seems reasonable to take England as a prime case, since the match that triggered your reflection was an FA Cup match.

28

P O'Neill 01.26.13 at 8:50 pm

since the match that triggered your reflection was an FA Cup match.

Capital One Cup.

29

Neil Levy 01.26.13 at 8:52 pm

D’oh! Sorry, still excited by non-league Luton town in the FA cup.

30

rea 01.26.13 at 9:28 pm

In that spirit of trying to gain an edge

Talking a bit about the much-scorned baseball, back in the 80′s the Detroit Tigers were known for letting their infield grass grow long, to slow down the ball. Nowdays, they adopt the opposite strategy, to suit their present mix of players.

http://www.blessyouboys.com/2013/1/19/3894866/unsung-hero-heather-nabozny

31

Philip 01.26.13 at 9:29 pm

lamadredeltopo , I didn’t see your post before and yes I meant ‘bought’. I’ve just been doing some googling and see that you are right and I believed an urban myth. The government changed the planning permission which helped RM make enough money to clear their debts. I was aware that there was a link between del Moral and Barcelona but not Valencia. Still what you say confirms my general point that clubs in Spain have stronger political connections than in England. Having said that Sunderland did benefit with EU funding towards our stadium.

32

John Quiggin 01.26.13 at 9:29 pm

Neil, no problem.

Chris: Actually, I think promotion/relegation is the exception rather than the rule. It’s unknown in Australia, for example, and doesn’t apply in the main Southern Hemisphere rugby competition. Even in the UK, I believe, County Cricket has a fixed set of participants.

A question on this: Does it (still) happen that clubs make it from second-division via promotion to a first-division championship? Or do those promoted usually end up being relegated again?

33

John David Galt 01.26.13 at 9:47 pm

Those who call practices like the NFL and MLB drafts “socialist” seem to be conflating competition in sport with economic competition. They are two different things entirely.

Most teams get the bulk of their revenue from two sources: ticket receipts, and local TV stations (which generally show only the away games, except for teams that consistently sell out the stadium at home games). Network TV and merchandise revenues are handled by the league as a whole and shared among the teams, but are a minor part of the team’s revenue.

As a result, each team’s economic competitors are not other teams in the same league — they are other sellers-of-entertainment in the team’s own metropolitan area, including teams of other sports, theaters, and competing TV programs.

Of course where the team’s “local” TV station has a national cable presence (TBS, WGN) that changes things. The owners of teams that have them get rich, especially when the team owner is also the station owner as in the above two examples. And if the league doesn’t impose a payroll cap, it lets them buy enough good players to consistently lead the league, too. I’m far from the only person who hates the Yankees for having this advantage.

You see, there’s nothing wrong with one company in the marketplace having an advantage over others, if it earned that advantage rather than getting it by lobbying. But there is something wrong with a sports team having that kind of advantage over the rest of its league. It’s not only unfair, it makes the games more predictable, less interesting to fans, and therefore less profitable, an effect that spreads to every team that plays against the rich team even if there isn’t any direct financial reward for winning games. So I don’t think the drafts are going away anytime soon — and I expect that baseball will soon have to enact a salary cap, as the NFL has already done.

Rule changes in the game can also make the game less interesting. This is why the NHL owners had to lock out the players, both in 2005 and again just now, to impose rules that made the game less violent — it will reduce injuries, but it also drives away fans, which is why the players didn’t want to go along with it. I will be surprised if the NHL ever recovers the popularity it has lost as a result of these lockouts.

34

Philip 01.26.13 at 9:55 pm

Last season all three teams promoted to the Premier League stayed up which is unusual. Though quite often teams get relegated in their second season. Out of the three teams now in their second season Swansea are 9th in the League and in a cup final, Norwich were looking okay but are on an horrendous run of form and have been knocked out of the FA cup by non-league Luton, and QPR are bottom of the league but have shown some signs of improving with a change of manager. The clubs that have been promoted recently and stayed in the PL > 2 years include Sunderland, Newcastle, Wigan, Stoke and WBA, but Wigan seem to be the new Coventry in just managing to avoid relegation every year.

35

rf 01.26.13 at 10:07 pm

“I suspect this is money talking, but money couldn’t close off entry to the English Premier League, much as it wanted to at the time.”

And there’s still the European Super League proposal which, IIRC, would consist of a two league system (sometimes one, depending on who’s proposing) for the elite European clubs which, imo, will eventually come into place

“Does it (still) happen that clubs make it from second-division via promotion to a first-division championship?”

Can’t think of any since Blackburn/Newcastle in the 90s (went up 1/3 divisions and eventual PL winners/ challengers) and Fulham in the late 90s early 00s (also 3 divisions, I think) – All with rich owners, of course
After that can’t think of any teams that went on runs (up) the top 3 divisions

36

John Quiggin 01.26.13 at 10:24 pm

JD Galt reveals himself as a closet socialist when it really counts. Worth writing the post just for that!

37

Michael 01.26.13 at 10:27 pm

John Galt @33:

Most teams get the bulk of their revenue from two sources: ticket receipts, and local TV stations (which generally show only the away games, except for teams that consistently sell out the stadium at home games). Network TV and merchandise revenues are handled by the league as a whole and shared among the teams, but are a minor part of the team’s revenue.

That’s correct for MLB, but wrong for the NFL. According to one estimate, in 2009, 63% of total NFL revenue came from the national level (primarily TV, plus some licensing, etc).

See here:
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/econ/faculty/Vrooman/VROOMAN-NFL.pdf

38

djr 01.26.13 at 10:43 pm

JD Galt @ 33 also ignores the economic relationship between owners and workers when he talks of economic competition vs sporting competition. Won’t somebody think of the oppressed, downtrodden players of the NFL?

39

christian_h 01.26.13 at 11:06 pm

In Germany is has happened in recent memory that a club came up from 2nd Division and won the Bundesliga Championship … and as I write this I check and see that “recent memory” means “1997/98 season”, a.k.a. I’m old. Actually of the 14 championships since then, Munich has won 8 (! and boooh) and Dortmund 3. This year I believe all the clubs that came up are in acute danger of being relegated again.

40

rf 01.26.13 at 11:15 pm

And even the – amateur – Irish Hurling Championship went from being pretty competitive in the 90s to being dominated by one team in the 00′s. Is it just coincidence that this has all occurred post Euro?

41

Tony Lynch 01.26.13 at 11:42 pm

Agog, I think I have a Final Solution to the problem you point to with your “context” remark. Do as the Australian Football League do and have the umpire/referee blow his whistle when the ball goes out, signalling to the timekeepers that this is “stoppage time” and to stop the clock until the ref/umpire blows the whistle again, signalling the (re)start of play. It seems to work well here.

42

dsquared 01.27.13 at 12:43 am

After that can’t think of any teams that went on runs (up) the top 3 divisions

Wigan Athletic. Also Charlton were promoted to the Premier League around the same time as Fulham but later relegated. Swansea City were nearly relegated to the Conference in 2001. Manchester City were in Division One in 2002 and are now challenging to win, but that doesn’t count because cough mumble oligarchs.

43

rf 01.27.13 at 3:47 am

And of course Wimbledon, the standard bearer of football fairy tales (and not unrelatedly the last team to actively recruit players from London early houses)
Also went bust in the early 00’s

44

realdelia 01.27.13 at 10:54 am

JD Galt’s opening sentence is spot-on.

Scotland is an example of a football league not (very) dependent on TV money. There, a Premier Division, then Premier League, was formed largely in order to enable clubs to keep all the home gate money. Writing as a supporter of Celtic, playing as we do in a stadium bigger than any other British club bar Manchester United and with more season ticket holders than the rest of the league put together, it seems to me that this has been a Bad Thing. I have tried to put this point to fellow fhans on a relatively thoughtful Celtic blog and have been met with a blizzard of hostility and abuse. Football supporters will rarely concede any advantage to their opponents (in Glasgow, never), even if the longer-term outcome would be to their benefit.

I am pretty sure the ball-boy is a hero in West Wales.

45

Tim Worstall 01.27.13 at 11:02 am

“As you might expect, given their egalitarian culture, most American sports adopt a more socialist form of organization in which systems such as the draft are used to penalize success. “

That rather amuses. For the point of the cartels in most US sports is precisely anti-socialist.

In a free market system and also a tournament system, where the player/worker being just 1% better than the other players/workers, makes a difference, one would expect all of the money to flow through to those players/workers. Promotion/demotion also aids in this process.

Which is pretty much what does happen in association football (soccer). The players make their fortunes and the clubs are always on the verge of bankruptcy (oligarchs aside).

The way to change this is to have a cartel, one that limits the amount that players can earn (usually, in the US, a salary cap for the team). This then ensures that capital, the owners, can grasp some of that river of money flowing through the system.

Which is rather what the UEFA “Fair Play” rules are about. If the rules are fixed so that profits must be made and losses not then that means there are in fact profits for the capitalists to get their hands on.

Yes, I know JQ’s use of “socialist” was snark. But it’s better than just that snark. The structure of US sports is to ensure that the workers don’t run off with all the money. It’s the capitalist cartel all over again.

46

Guido Nius 01.27.13 at 11:26 am

The only important lesson to draw from this incident is to pronounce Eden’s name right: a long Dutch ‘e’ followed by a stressed French ‘den’. He is only a couple of golden balls, & one world championship, away from reuniting Belgium.

The ball boy tactic itself was just a metaphor for the UK view on Europe: do not let them get the ball, apply this tactic long enough and time will run out in favor of Big Capital vs. Big Europe.

47

Eli Rabett 01.27.13 at 7:52 pm

Frankly Hazard would be Eli’s hero if he told the FA to go stuff it. If the ball boy wants to play, he can get kicked like the players on the field.

Won’t happen tough, the pearl clutchers always win

48

Tom Hurka 01.27.13 at 8:37 pm

Is this accurate about the business of North American sports?

Up until the 60s or 70s it was run by the owners, for their benefit. There were no players’ unions, no free agency, and (in hockey at least) when you went in to negotiate your salary you couldn’t bring anyone with you. Player salaries were low and many players had to take other jobs in the off season to make ends meet. (First Division English footballers did too — that’s why some, including some big names, came to play in a minor league in Toronto one summer in the early 60s.)

Then, starting in the 60s and 70s, the balance of power started to shift to the players, with free agency, unions, and more. Salaries went way up, both for the stars and for the grinders. The recent moves to institute salary caps have been a swing of the pendulum back in the owners’ direction, but to nothing like the original system. And in some sports, certainly professional hockey, many teams still lose money.

It hasn’t been a system that has always worked to the benefit of one side — the advantage has swung back and forth.

49

faustusnotes 01.27.13 at 10:07 pm

Tim W, perhaps you could try a Marxist analysis of the conditions of the “workers” in the lower leagues of the glorious FA free market?

50

rf 01.27.13 at 10:33 pm

Tim has a point though, the old system of wage caps and no freedom of movement wasn’t exactly a Utopia for ‘the workers.’ At every level they’re (probably) still much better of with an endless stream of petrodollars than Billy Merediths ‘little shopkeepers who rule our lives.’

51

john b 01.28.13 at 4:45 am

“The introduction of TV did not coincide with the introduction of the premier league.”

This is true in a narrow, literal sense, and yet at the same time almost entirely missing the point.

Before Sky, UK telly featured three publicly owned channels and one private-ish but highly regulated channel (under different ownership in different regions, but with more-or-less common programming). In that environment, sports rights have relatively limited value to broadcasters, the cosy cartel arrangement means that the price paid will be lower still, and it’s not possible or desirable to show more than a few major matches live.

Once you have a new-entrant broadcaster that’s capable of showing all the games, and desperately in need of a reason to persuade people to fork out large amounts of cash for a dish and a subscription, the value of the rights is far higher, and there’s a strong incentive for the newcomer to bid the price up.

So while TV wasn’t invented in 1992, it might as well have been in terms of its financial impact on the sport.

52

Trader Joe 01.28.13 at 2:42 pm

Whatever the specifics of execution, the American approach to major league sports (NFL and MLB) revovles around the value of league franchises as a whole appreciating (and growing the related revenue pie) rather than individual franchise appreciation. Most franchises do not return significant profits as a percentage of revenue to the owners on an annual basis.

Naturally there are differences and large market franchises are more valuable than small market franchises (as a general rule), but the results on the field are quite egalitarian.

Going back to 1970 for MLB which is the dawn of modern free-agency and roughly concurrent with modern TV contracts – 20 of the 30 to 32 teams have won at least one World Series.

Since the formation of the NFL 18 of 32 have won a Super bowl and 28 of 32 have appeared in them.

The formulas have varied for both leagues over the years – but reverse order drafts (i.e. worst teams get first pick) salary caps and league wide revenue sharing are key features of the formula. The NFL has a “hard” cap and “hard” minimums which are based on league revenues. MLB has a ‘soft’ cap, which can be crossed – but owners who cross it then additionally pay a reasonably expensive “luxury tax” to the other owners to help even things up a little.

Notably both the NBA and the NHL have adopted similar principals over the last two decades. Someone pointed out the lack of parity among NBA franchises – if one focuses only the 1990s to date – the parity looks much better (though still not as good as NFL and MLB). Hockey only adopted most of these features within the last 10 years so its too soon to judge.

Baseball is more benefitted by local market TV/Radio/Cable revenue than football (which as someone pointed out is about 2/3 the pie in NFL), but despite this apparent advantage falling to markets such as LA, NYC and Boston – teams attempting to “buy” titles have only been marginally more successful than those not pursing that strategy (To be fair, they have been more successful in reaching the playoffs however).

In the NFL long-term franchise success seems to be more governed by good and stable management than by the whims of wealthy owners…indeed in the NFL some of the least successful franchises are owned by the owners who appear to meddle most in the operation of it.

My experience of the finances of the PL and Euro-football in general is more limited, but my understanding is there is greater disparity in team specific profitability which drives the greater ability to pursue incremental talent and there is proportionally less penalty for exceeding salary caps (to the extent they exist at all). This works to the benefit of the most valuable franchises (and their fans)….but does little to raise the value of the median franchise. To that extent the NFL and MLB operate more like a cartel than monopolists (although they surely are the latter).

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rf 01.28.13 at 3:05 pm

From my very limited knowledge of the NFL though it seems the players have very limited ‘rights’, particularly in relation to protecting their long term health (So they make a lot of money but die young/end up with serious brain injuries etc)? Is this the result of the way the league is run, concentrating power in the league and club authorities?

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Trader Joe 01.28.13 at 3:28 pm

rf – the sport by its nature is far more violent and health-detrimental than most of the other major sports. The issue of long-term health and head injuries is most definitely an emerging issue resulting from the strength and speed of modern athletes.

A lawsuit joined by approximately 3000 past NFL players alledges the league was aware that helmets don’t provide adequate protection and seeks compensation. The NFL obviously sees it differently and at this stage of discovery its hard to tell what the league may or may not have known, when they knew it and what they did about it….so far nothing has been released along the lines of a ‘smoking gun’ and various medical studies (all independant) of brian injuries have produced mixed conclusions.

When the league’s players went on strike in 1987, one of the things they “won” was a substantial compensation fund (over $1B) for past players. This was no small concession and it had generally been viewed as adequate until the latest round of concerns about head injuries and concussions emerged.

I’m not sure if these issues can be viewed as a by-product of structure or not – its definitely the case that there is a “labor vs. management” divide in the NFL and there always has been, which is no small part of the sport’s popularity among the masses.

Even the athletes themselves, in public comments, differ on the validity of the aforementioned helmet lawsuit. For every guy who signs up to it, there seems to be another player that says something along the lines of “Everyone knows football is a tough sport and that you can get injured playing it – no one makes you do this, you do what you do to win and the glory that goes with it.”

I’m honestly not sure. I don’t know if this is an issue like thinking about smoking in the 1960s where eventually we look back and say “how obvious” or whether the game has actually changed faster than the equipment and its a matter of learning what can/should be done and then doing it.

I wouldn’t look for the courts to decide though – the NFL will settle with the players at some point, its only a matter of getting sufficient clarity (by both sides) about what they are settling and why. Both sides have every interest in protecting the ‘golden goose’ of league revenues.

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rf 01.28.13 at 3:47 pm

Interesting Trader Joe, thanks

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TheSophist 01.28.13 at 3:56 pm

Given what appears to be the plethora of CT-ers from the British Isles, I find it slightly amusing that it takes a reader from Phoenix AZ to point out that there is indeed promotion/relegation in English cricket (both in the 4-day game and one of the one-day competitions.)

Also worthy of note is that all four major North American sports use a hybrid of the league and the knockout (FA Cup et al) system in which after x games the top y teams play a knock-out competition and everybody else goes home. This leads to interesting anomalies such as the Florida Marlins, who have won two World Series titles, but have never achieved the best regular season record in their division (American divisions being (more-or-less) geographical entities rather than a rank-ordering.)

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Dave Timoney 01.28.13 at 6:43 pm

The ballboy is not a “minor match official”, any more than a programme seller is. Timewasting by ballboys has always gone on – it’s not a “new twist”. If blatant, the actual match official, the referee, simply adds on stoppage time to the half.

Association football used to be a “free market”, insofar as anyone could form a club and teams could choose whom to play and when. The creation of the FA and the Football League in the 19th century were triumphs of regulation and central planning (the season’s league fixtures are nowadays planned by a “computer”). The UEFA Financial Fair Play proposals can be thought of as a five-year economic plan.

@TheSophist. Football is (by a country mile) the number one sport in the UK, in terms of spectators, TV viewers and participation. County cricket is a minority interest that attracts very few spectators, but disproportionate coverage by the media, which feeds the stereotype. The game only becomes of general interest when there is a chance that England might beat the Aussies.

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Carl Weetabix 01.28.13 at 7:22 pm

“The city-based franchise system ensures followers for teams that never win – in fact, there is even some cachet for teams that haven’t won in decades.”

Yes, but akin to the Washington Generals analogy, some win all the time, eg: New York Yankees.

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Abdulrahman M. Ghodayah 01.28.13 at 9:31 pm

some of them win all the time

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Trader Joe 01.28.13 at 10:10 pm

Carl
Contrary to popular perception – the Yankees have not actually “won all the time.” In the last 10 years the Yankees have won the World Series only once and have played in it only twice. Indeed, the team has only 5 World Series wins since 1980.

The perception that they “win all the time” results from four of those five wins coming in a short time frame (1996-2000) and the club having a history of a) making the playoffs regularly and b) winning world series in bunches when they do win. While it wouldn’t be accurate to discount their success, their record is far less dynastic than many of the major European football clubs.

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Tony Lynch 01.28.13 at 11:28 pm

“Timewasting by ballboys has always gone on – it’s not a “new twist”. If blatant, the actual match official, the referee, simply adds on stoppage time to the half.”

So do as the AFL do & fix it! (What’s wrong with the rule makers here?)

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Tom L 01.29.13 at 1:37 am

In most professional team sports leagues, the league is the main product, not the individual sports clubs and their teams .

Taking the Premier League as an example, the broadcast rights for the league are sold as a bundle and provide a huge chunk of the clubs’ overall revenue.

Match day receipts are split 50/50 for the home and away sides in the Premier League. Not only that, but the player market is massively distorted by the clubs making huge losses (Chelsea and City, currently), and many clubs’ owners pursue a loss or break-even vs capital growth strategy with respect to their investments.

The clubs compete economically but not generally on a basis where they actually want to wipe each other out, as they would if they were, say, technology manufacturers.

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Tom L 01.29.13 at 1:38 am

Hmm, bit incoherent – sorry. Take the match day receipts statement as a parenthetical (and even then it’s probably still not quite sensical).

64

John Quiggin 01.29.13 at 2:00 am

Stoppage time is beside the point, if the stoppage favors one side or the other. In most sports where it matters, the ball is returned to the field by a neutral official (in AFL, a boundary umpire) – that’s why I referred to the ballboy as a minor official. Contra Dave Timoney, the fact that he’s not recognised as such doesn’t mean he isn’t one.

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P O'Neill 01.29.13 at 2:58 am

Stoppage time is beside the point, if the stoppage favors one side or the other.

We MU haters always knew about Ferguson Time, but then, at least once, it was proven right!

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Michael 01.29.13 at 3:46 am

In support of JQ@64, it should be noted that while not true of the Hazard case, one of the more important forms of ballboy[1] time-wasting is delaying a counterattack, giving the defense more time to get back in position. This cannot be rectified by the referee except through extreme measures (cautioning the bench, etc.).

IMHO, it is also the case that, since the advent of the stoppage time announcement boards, referees are far too reticent in adding additional time to the announced time. Once they’ve out a big 3 up on the board, they seem to stop taking account of stoppages. Though I have nothing more than impressionistic evidence, I would suggest that this problem is at its most egregious in the international game, followed by the MLS, and perhaps best accounted for in the EPL (among the three leagues I watch most often).[2]

[1] I’ve played in and occasionally watched games with ballgirls, but boys/young men do seem absurdly overrepresented.
[2] I am excluding US HS games, which use a “hard” scoreboard clock in many states, and college games, which use a scoreboard clock in all games for which it is available.

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faustusnotes 01.29.13 at 4:05 am

I remember reading somewhere that a lot of the craziness vis a vis player salaries was related to a late 90s decision by a European court about players’ rights. Could it be that the subsequent spiral in players’ wages has been a driving force behind the need for successful teams to find ever more dubious funding sources?

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Bill Murray 01.29.13 at 7:27 am

Trader Joe @ 68

The Yankees were said to win all the time because from 1923-1962, they won 20 of 40 World Series titles including 7 of 10 between 1947 and 1956 and 6 of 8 from 1936 through 1943 (or 13 of 21 from 1936 to 1956), this was prominent way before their most recent short run of the late 90s

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Tim Worstall 01.29.13 at 10:52 am

“I remember reading somewhere that a lot of the craziness vis a vis player salaries was related to a late 90s decision by a European court about players’ rights. “

Correct: “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosman_ruling”

Roughly comparable to free agency in baseball. The workers have rights, fancy that.

70

Shelley 01.29.13 at 4:29 pm

“The business of sport” says it all.

The more everything becomes corporate-owned and profit-driven, the more we all have to face every day in our lives countless attempts to cheat and gouge us.

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Dave Timoney 01.29.13 at 7:32 pm

@John Quiggan (#64), the fact that you call him a minor official doesn’t make him one. In football (ball-propelled-by-foot variety), officialdom ends at the “line”, i.e. the edge of the field of play, with the one exception of the fourth official, who polices the “technical areas” where the coaching staff prowl. Ballboys (or girls) inhabit the same no-man’s land as photographers and stewards, and have the same status as far as match officiating is concerned, i.e. none.

The equivalent of a “boundary umpire” is the assistant referee (formerly known as a linesman), who flags for a throw-in or foul. He (or she) is prohibited from returning the ball as this could open them to a charge of unwitting bias. As an unbiased person is not readily available, clubs have historically nominated children to do the job, on the dubious grounds that they are more likely to be innocent and less likely to be set upon by the crowd.

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David 01.30.13 at 1:15 am

Further reinforcing my view of soccer as an uncivilized sport.

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faustusnotes 01.30.13 at 1:31 am

Tim W, it appears that that particular right can lead to massive wage inflation… there’s a little hint for opponents of workplace- or industry-wide bargaining, that individual negotiations don’t always work out for wider economy …

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Colin 01.31.13 at 6:58 am

“The city-based franchise system ensures followers for teams that never win – in fact, there is even some cachet for teams that haven’t won in decades.”

In England many people still support a ‘local’ team as long as it’s not too pitiful, especially if there are no stronger ‘local’ teams around. You’ll still find plenty of Leicester City fans in Leicester, for instance.

The strangest setup I’ve seen from a geographical point-of-view is the VFL/AFL in Australia. I can’t think of any other professional sport whose history is so overwhelmingly focused on one city.

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John Quiggin 01.31.13 at 7:12 am

@Colin The AFL and the National Rugby League grew from the local competitions in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. The AFL managed to do this without closing any existing clubs, by adding expansion teams from Adelaide and Perth (the other two major AFL cities) and persuading/forcing the least viable Melbourne teams to move to Sydney and Brisbane (where rugby league was historically dominant). There was plenty of outcry about this, until the moves were rewarded with premierships, at which point everyone in Melbourne remembered the historical continuity between Fitzroy/Brisbane and South Melbourne/Sydney.

The process wasn’t managed nearly so well by rugby league, which tried to move to the full city-based club model through forced mergers in Sydney (bitterly resented) and lots of expansion teams, many of which failed. Effectively rugby league is still a two-state competition, whose major event is not the club competition but the “State of Origin” series between Queensland and NSW (team membership based on birthplace/first club rather than current location).

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Tim Worstall 01.31.13 at 9:43 am

“Tim W, it appears that that particular right can lead to massive wage inflation”

Indeed: common in all sorts of tournament industries. Investment banking for example.

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