Why are American sports leagues so socialist in nature?

#1 Posted by Aljosa23 (24782 posts) -

Europe is believed to be way more socialist than the US and in some ways that is true, but why is this not true when it comes to the professional sporting leagues? For example, here are some policies that the 4 major leagues in the US have:
- Salary cap
- Player unions
- NBA/NFL/NHL/MLB have a strong hold over their respective leagues
- No relegation or promotion (all teams stay in the highest divisions)
- Parity between large and small market teams isn't a big problem
- Expensive to create a new team or "franchise"
- Worst team gets a chance to have the best pick in a draft consisting of the most promising young athletes, thus "tanking" is a legit strategy
- TV revenue is more evenly split
- No team ever goes into bankrupt or administration due to franchise security

Now compare this to something like the top Soccer leagues in Europe whose leagues are based around the very capitalist policies:
- Salary caps don't exist
- No drafts
- Clubs sign whoever they want when they want (as long as it's during the transfer period)
- Players regularly get bought and sold for $ instead of traded for another player
- The gap between rich clubs and smaller ones is getting bigger
- No player unions
- Promotion and relegation are very important (worst teams get relegated to a lower league, best teams from a lower league move up)
- TV deals vary between clubs - For example, Real Madrid and Barcelona take about 50% of all the TV revenue in the Spanish league
- The best teams play in a second league outside of their country's league (Champions League or Europa League) and get extra revenue from that
- Opening a new club is cheap (obviously operating it isn't though)
- It's not uncommon to see a club dissolve because of financial issues

Some external links
A Short Animation About How the NFL Is Like Socialism
European Soccer Needs a Dose of American-Style Socialism
Nate Silver: "American sports are socialist"

So basically what I want to know is why do you think the league structures are so different? Do you prefer one or the other?

#2 Posted by deeliman (2403 posts) -

Americans are socialists deep down but afraid to admit it

#3 Posted by Aljosa23 (24782 posts) -

@deeliman said:

Americans are socialists deep down but afraid to admit it

It is odd how socialist policies are considered the boogeyman yet the NFL, the most watched and richest league in America is comically socialist and at times almost authoritarian.

#4 Posted by thegerg (14917 posts) -

Private organizations agreeing to a set of rules and regulations is now socialist? When did the definition of socialism change?

#5 Posted by EPICCOMMANDER (442 posts) -
@Aljosa23 said:

@deeliman said:

Americans are socialists deep down but afraid to admit it

It is odd how socialist policies are considered the boogeyman yet the NFL, the most watched and richest league in America is comically socialist and at times almost authoritarian.

This isn't directly relevant to this discussion, but if any sports organization in the world deserves the title of authoritarian, it's FIFA.

#6 Posted by chaplainDMK (6780 posts) -

@thegerg said:

Private organizations agreeing to a set of rules and regulations is now socialist? When did the definition of socialism change?

Actually yeah, pretty much Guild Socialism.

#7 Posted by Aljosa23 (24782 posts) -

@Aljosa23 said:

@deeliman said:

Americans are socialists deep down but afraid to admit it

It is odd how socialist policies are considered the boogeyman yet the NFL, the most watched and richest league in America is comically socialist and at times almost authoritarian.

This isn't directly relevant to this discussion, but if any sports organization in the world deserves the title of authoritarian, it's FIFA.

FIFA is in a league all of its own, man. They are more akin to an organized crime syndicate. :P

#8 Posted by EPICCOMMANDER (442 posts) -
@Aljosa23 said:

@EPICCOMMANDER said:
@Aljosa23 said:

@deeliman said:

Americans are socialists deep down but afraid to admit it

It is odd how socialist policies are considered the boogeyman yet the NFL, the most watched and richest league in America is comically socialist and at times almost authoritarian.

This isn't directly relevant to this discussion, but if any sports organization in the world deserves the title of authoritarian, it's FIFA.

FIFA is in a league all of its own, man. They are more akin to an organized crime syndicate. :P

Heh, yeah that's what I was originally going to say, but I decided to tone it down a little bit. Authoritarian is for sure a euphemism.

#9 Edited by Master_Live (14250 posts) -

MLB has no salary cap.

#10 Posted by GamerForca (7079 posts) -

The US is a much bigger country than any one European country, and almost every team in those American leagues is in a very big city (and even the few that aren't are either CLOSE to big cities, or they're the only team in the state). While you could certainly say that the NY Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys (etc) are much more supported than some of the other teams in their leagues (opposed to teams like the Miami Marlins or the Jacksonville Jaguars), overall, the teams in the American leagues are highly supported throughout, and all have significant fan bases. While Europe certainly has some BIG leagues with BIG teams, like La Liga or the EPL, even those bigger leagues don't have the DEPTH of support that the MLB, NFL, etc have. The smallest teams in American leagues are MUCH bigger than the smallest teams in even the largest European leagues.

For instance, the highest attendance in the EPL this year was Man U at 74,394, and the lowest was Swansea City at 20,406. That's a difference of nearly 54k people on average. In La Liga, the leader was Barcelona at 73,739, with Getafe at the bottom with 6,467, a whopping difference of about 67k on average. At the end of last year's MLB season, the LA Dodgers led attendance with 46,216, while the Tampa Bay Rays were last with 18,645, a difference of about 28k (and keep in mind that the MLB is the least "socialist" of all the American leagues, with no salary cap). In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys led with an average attendance of 88,043, and the Oakland Raiders brought up the rear with a still-impressive 50,444, a difference of a little less than 38k.

The European leagues pretty much have no choice but to let the bigger clubs do as they will. A tiny club like Getafe would never be able to afford elite players with such a small attendance, so what would be the purpose in a draft or anything to try to give them an edge? It's not like their attendance will jump up or anything. Madrid already has much bigger clubs to watch. Whereas in the US, giving everybody a shot at equal glory will keep attendance UP for all the big cities that have teams (and as I said, pretty much every team is in a highly populated area), and that way they're driving up revenue from all over the country. (yeah, long explanation, but with European family who are sports fans, I've had to think about this quite a few times)

#11 Edited by LJS9502_basic (150475 posts) -

Owners wanting to control spending. Can't believe that is a hard issue to understand.
Parity is a problem without caps. Not sure what you mean by "highest" division. The basis of the sports may be different but that doesn't equal socialism. Each season the teams advance based on performance. Though if you understood US sports you would know there are minor leagues or colleges for the athletes to come up in. Teams have lost money and have been sold. Also many teams folded in the history of the sport.

Really stretching here dude....

#12 Edited by Aljosa23 (24782 posts) -

@GamerForca said:

The US is a much bigger country than any one European country, and almost every team in those American leagues is in a very big city (and even the few that aren't are either CLOSE to big cities, or they're the only team in the state). While you could certainly say that the NY Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys (etc) are much more supported than some of the other teams in their leagues (opposed to teams like the Miami Marlins or the Jacksonville Jaguars), overall, the teams in the American leagues are highly supported throughout, and all have significant fan bases. While Europe certainly has some BIG leagues with BIG teams, like La Liga or the EPL, even those bigger leagues don't have the DEPTH of support that the MLB, NFL, etc have. The smallest teams in American leagues are MUCH bigger than the smallest teams in even the largest European leagues.

For instance, the highest attendance in the EPL this year was Man U at 74,394, and the lowest was Swansea City at 20,406. That's a difference of nearly 54k people on average. In La Liga, the leader was Barcelona at 73,739, with Getafe at the bottom with 6,467, a whopping difference of about 67k on average. At the end of last year's MLB season, the LA Dodgers led attendance with 46,216, while the Tampa Bay Rays were last with 18,645, a difference of about 28k (and keep in mind that the MLB is the least "socialist" of all the American leagues, with no salary cap). In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys led with an average attendance of 88,043, and the Oakland Raiders brought up the rear with a still-impressive 50,444, a difference of a little less than 38k.

The European leagues pretty much have no choice but to let the bigger clubs do as they will. A tiny club like Getafe would never be able to afford elite players with such a small attendance, so what would be the purpose in a draft or anything to try to give them an edge? It's not like their attendance will jump up or anything. Madrid already has much bigger clubs to watch. Whereas in the US, giving everybody a shot at equal glory will keep attendance UP for all the big cities that have teams (and as I said, pretty much every team is in a highly populated area), and that way they're driving up revenue from all over the country. (yeah, long explanation, but with European family who are sports fans, I've had to think about this quite a few times)

Right but all of that has to do with the league policies and the structure. The reason those smaller market teams in the NFL are big is because of the revenue sharing policies that divide up evenly among all the teams. Imagine if this never existed. There wouldn't be a reason for a high quality player to go to a small market team like Cleveland, St. Louis, and even then Green Bay would never have been the NFL juggernaut that it is right now. The MLB is the odd man out and their situation is a very unique one since baseball is seen as more of a regional thing yet they are very much pro-competition and less about equality yet have the more diverse list of World Series winners than the NFL does of Super Bowl champs, at least in recent history.

Another reason why smaller teams have more support is because of how fragmented fans are in Europe. Take England for example, London also has something like 30+ clubs that play in the league, that's a lot of teams lol. Again this all goes back to the way everything was structured when the leagues were created, my question is more about WHY was it formatted like that and why did the American pro leagues change so much.

@LJS9502_basic said:

Owners wanting to control spending. Can't believe that is a hard issue to understand.

Parity is a problem without caps. Not sure what you mean by "highest" division. The basis of the sports may be different but that doesn't equal socialism. Each season the teams advance based on performance. Though if you understood US sports you would know there are minor leagues or colleges for the athletes to come up in. Teams have lost money and have been sold. Also many teams folded in the history of the sport.

Really stretching here dude....

I know the reasoning behind salary caps, I want to know why they wanted to control spending and have different policies than Europe. What I mean by "highest division" is in European association football, every team plays on the same "pyramid" and can gain progression to a higher division or get knocked to a lower one. Look at last year's Houston Texans; if they were a Football club in Europe they would be kicked down to the second division and a team from that division would take their place. You don't have this in America, all the teams will stay in the NBA/NFL/MLB/NHL regardless of their performance.I know there are minor leagues and colleges but those aren't considered professional sports and are run by their own governing bodies, thus are ultimately irrelevant to this thread. You're absolutely right about teams losing money and being sold that's true, but it doesn't happen as often as it does in Europe. I was going to fix that in the OP after I posted but editing the OP is a huge pain lol.

There is nothing wrong with the policies of American leagues so please don't look at this as another America bashing thread. -_-

#13 Posted by GazaAli (22550 posts) -

The US is a much bigger country than any one European country, and almost every team in those American leagues is in a very big city (and even the few that aren't are either CLOSE to big cities, or they're the only team in the state). While you could certainly say that the NY Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys (etc) are much more supported than some of the other teams in their leagues (opposed to teams like the Miami Marlins or the Jacksonville Jaguars), overall, the teams in the American leagues are highly supported throughout, and all have significant fan bases. While Europe certainly has some BIG leagues with BIG teams, like La Liga or the EPL, even those bigger leagues don't have the DEPTH of support that the MLB, NFL, etc have. The smallest teams in American leagues are MUCH bigger than the smallest teams in even the largest European leagues.

For instance, the highest attendance in the EPL this year was Man U at 74,394, and the lowest was Swansea City at 20,406. That's a difference of nearly 54k people on average. In La Liga, the leader was Barcelona at 73,739, with Getafe at the bottom with 6,467, a whopping difference of about 67k on average. At the end of last year's MLB season, the LA Dodgers led attendance with 46,216, while the Tampa Bay Rays were last with 18,645, a difference of about 28k (and keep in mind that the MLB is the least "socialist" of all the American leagues, with no salary cap). In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys led with an average attendance of 88,043, and the Oakland Raiders brought up the rear with a still-impressive 50,444, a difference of a little less than 38k.

The European leagues pretty much have no choice but to let the bigger clubs do as they will. A tiny club like Getafe would never be able to afford elite players with such a small attendance, so what would be the purpose in a draft or anything to try to give them an edge? It's not like their attendance will jump up or anything. Madrid already has much bigger clubs to watch. Whereas in the US, giving everybody a shot at equal glory will keep attendance UP for all the big cities that have teams (and as I said, pretty much every team is in a highly populated area), and that way they're driving up revenue from all over the country. (yeah, long explanation, but with European family who are sports fans, I've had to think about this quite a few times)

I'm not knowledgeable at all in professional sports and their regulations as I don't care much for sports in general, but this is a very nice explanation of the points Aljosa made in the OP. I applaud you for that.

#14 Posted by GamerForca (7079 posts) -

@Aljosa23: Regardless of revenue sharing, the smallest teams in the NFL are still a lot bigger than the smallest teams in the EPL or La Liga. When the smallest team in the league can average 50k people a game, then there's still plenty of reason for a big-name player to go there because that's a lot of money to go around. I mean, geez, Oakland's average attendance would put them third in the EPL, just ahead of Newcastle. They must have some money to spend on big players then, right?

Actually, your point about the European leagues being more fragmented is exactly the point I'm making. Many teams in the American leagues are in a big city by themselves, and if there are more than one team in a city, it's because those cities are freaking huge. This allows every team to have a significant fan base, significant attendance numbers, and therefore significant money to spend on players. You wanted the reason why the American leagues have revenue sharing and salary caps, and I've given it to you already (check the last paragraph above, "Whereas in the US, giving..."). The leagues know that every fan base is significantly large, and they want the fans for EACH and EVERY team to keep showing up. So they use revenue sharing and salary caps to ensure that things stay even, and that the fans keep coming back (that's also why we don't "relegate," when Oakland is bringing in 50k people a week in LAST place for attendance, why on earth would you want to bring up some smaller club that won't bring in half of that?). You can't do that in Europe, because (as you said) there are a crap load of teams in all the big cities, and most of these teams are really small. Unless they're gonna start building 50k seat stadiums for every single team (which they can't do, because there aren't enough people in those countries to support so many big teams), then revenue sharing and salary caps won't happen there. The only thing that might change that is a permanent Champion's League, with 4 or 5 teams from England, 2 or 3 from Spain, Italy, France, and Germany, 1 or 2 from Portugal and the Netherlands, etc. That would be the only thing that could compare to an MLB, NBA, or NFL.

Btw, Green Bay isn't a great example there. It's the only team in Wisconsin, and people come from all over to watch them. They average 77,947 per game, third in the league. They'd be able to afford great players regardless of revenue sharing (in fact, I'm sure they're giving away more than they're getting..)

#15 Edited by Master_Live (14250 posts) -

And why are you calling baseball a "regional" sport? If baseball is regional, then American Football is definitely regional.

#16 Edited by Aljosa23 (24782 posts) -

Everything you said makes perfect sense, so thanks for the thought out reply.

I just want to comment on this specific part because I REALLY hope it happens. Some countries might only have 1 (maybe 2) top class teams and the only way they can get bigger is to play in some kind of European SuperLeague. Scotland for example has been dominated by Celtic and Rangers (last time a team besides them won was in 1984) so if they played in that SuperLeague it would be great for everyone. It's certainly a possibility since I've read about all kinds of execs and managers saying such a league will come in 10 years. Whether or not it happens with the co-operation of UEFA remains to be seen.

And why are you calling baseball a "regional" sport? If baseball is regional, then American Football is definitely regional.

TV contracts for the MLB are handed out, for the most part, regionally (the Blue Jays are only on Sportsnet here, no where else) and unless you're paying for premium channels, getting out of market games costs a bit of money. Baseball games that do get broadcast nationally are only on FOX now and those never get close to the ratings of an NFL or even an NBA game. Even the way divisions and the NL/AL are structured favours a regional set-up more than the other big 4.

#17 Posted by Master_Live (14250 posts) -

You are grasping, how are the MLB divisions more regionalized than the NFL and NBA (I leave the NHL out since even the characterization of the league as a "big" anything is pushing it).

NBA TV contracts are handed pretty much the same way, individual team local tv deals plus an ABC/ESPN and TNT national deal which would be the equivalent of FOX and ESPN/TBS for baseball. So how is the NBA any less regional than baseball?

#18 Posted by Aljosa23 (24782 posts) -

You are grasping, how are the MLB divisions more regionalized than the NFL and NBA (I leave the NHL out since even the characterization of the league as a "big" anything is pushing it).

NBA TV contracts are handed pretty much the same way, individual team local tv deals plus an ABC/ESPN and TNT national deal which would be the equivalent of FOX and ESPN/TBS for baseball. So how is the NBA any less regional than baseball?

Just look at the ratings: nationally televised baseball games have been on a downward slope for a long time. Too many games and people just don't care to watch it and those that are big fans are more likely to attend a game in person than any other sport of the big 4. Coupled with the fact that the season is structured so a team will play 76 of the 162 games against teams in their division/region but in the NBA only 16 of the 82 is played against the other 4 in the division. The MLB clearly is structured more around regional appeal than other sports.

#19 Posted by hoosier7 (3780 posts) -

I only found out that the American sports don't have relegations recently and though it was weird.

I don't understand where the incentive is not to finish low in the league if you're not competing for honours especially if draft picks (which i don't really get either) are given to bottom place first? Or is that not how it works?

All i do know is relegation always gives awesome matches every year in every division. Pretty horrible if it's your team that it's in a relegation scrap but entertaining for the rest of us.

#20 Edited by LJS9502_basic (150475 posts) -

@Aljosa23 said:


@LJS9502_basic said:

Owners wanting to control spending. Can't believe that is a hard issue to understand.

Parity is a problem without caps. Not sure what you mean by "highest" division. The basis of the sports may be different but that doesn't equal socialism. Each season the teams advance based on performance. Though if you understood US sports you would know there are minor leagues or colleges for the athletes to come up in. Teams have lost money and have been sold. Also many teams folded in the history of the sport.

Really stretching here dude....

I know the reasoning behind salary caps, I want to know why they wanted to control spending and have different policies than Europe. What I mean by "highest division" is in European association football, every team plays on the same "pyramid" and can gain progression to a higher division or get knocked to a lower one. Look at last year's Houston Texans; if they were a Football club in Europe they would be kicked down to the second division and a team from that division would take their place. You don't have this in America, all the teams will stay in the NBA/NFL/MLB/NHL regardless of their performance.I know there are minor leagues and colleges but those aren't considered professional sports and are run by their own governing bodies, thus are ultimately irrelevant to this thread. You're absolutely right about teams losing money and being sold that's true, but it doesn't happen as often as it does in Europe. I was going to fix that in the OP after I posted but editing the OP is a huge pain lol.

There is nothing wrong with the policies of American leagues so please don't look at this as another America bashing thread. -_-

What does the pyramid have to do with anything? In US sports some teams make the playoffs and some don't. As the playoffs continue.....teams are eliminated until one is left standing. I really don't see what the difference is. I always found moving teams around in divisions to be silly. At the start of each season every team should be equal. Last year doesn't count.

#21 Posted by Iszdope (9759 posts) -

^ dat's racist.

#22 Posted by GamerForca (7079 posts) -

@hoosier7 said:

I don't understand where the incentive is not to finish low in the league if you're not competing for honours especially if draft picks (which i don't really get either) are given to bottom place first? Or is that not how it works?

Why would a club need "incentive" to not be at the bottom? Isn't being the laughing stock of the league bad enough? American clubs go into every season expecting to be #1. The ones that are struggling go in expecting to improve, get a good draft pick, and compete for #1 the year after that. The divide between big clubs and little clubs isn't nearly as vast in America as it is in the European leagues. Everyone expects to compete for "honours."

#23 Posted by hoosier7 (3780 posts) -

@hoosier7 said:

I don't understand where the incentive is not to finish low in the league if you're not competing for honours especially if draft picks (which i don't really get either) are given to bottom place first? Or is that not how it works?

Why would a club need "incentive" to not be at the bottom? Isn't being the laughing stock of the league bad enough? American clubs go into every season expecting to be #1. The ones that are struggling go in expecting to improve, get a good draft pick, and compete for #1 the year after that. The divide between big clubs and little clubs isn't nearly as vast in America as it is in the European leagues. Everyone expects to compete for "honours."

There's still got to be plenty of teams who drop out of contention someway through the season so what's left for them? Especially those near the bottom why not just drop into last to take best draft pick?

Also what's wrong with honours?

#24 Posted by LoG-Sacrament (20397 posts) -

@hoosier7 said:

I don't understand where the incentive is not to finish low in the league if you're not competing for honours especially if draft picks (which i don't really get either) are given to bottom place first? Or is that not how it works?

In most American sports, higher draft picks are given to teams that do worse than others. With that said, it isn't always that simple. In our top Basketball league, there is a lottery for the best picks and the worst teams simply have a higher chance to get the most coveted ones (although the best teams will never get the top picks unless they trade for them). In Baseball, the draft is a shitshoot because apparently nobody knows how to scout.

Anyway, the general reason to compete even if you know you won't win the championship is that the owners want to make money. A game where the teams are putting effort into what they do is a better product. Even then, that really applies more to front office. Individual players want to play well if nothing else than to keep their job or get a better salary. It doesn't always work that way (in a contract year, an established athlete might play to stay healthy rather than to prove themselves), but generally it does.

With that said, some leagues do have problems with teams intentionally not competing. Scouting is much more reliable in Basketball and American Football so the worst teams are often "competing" to get the highest draft pick who is likely to be a very good player. Still, it's hard to call it that much of a problem. If the front office knows what they are doing, it can lead to fast turnarounds (a few years ago, my local Basketball team did bad enough to get a top pick, they traded it away for a veteran player, signed some other veterans, and won the championship the very next year). If the front office doesn't know what they are doing, those are usually the few teams that dissolve or move.

#25 Edited by GamerForca (7079 posts) -

@hoosier7 said:

@GamerForca said:

@hoosier7 said:

I don't understand where the incentive is not to finish low in the league if you're not competing for honours especially if draft picks (which i don't really get either) are given to bottom place first? Or is that not how it works?

Why would a club need "incentive" to not be at the bottom? Isn't being the laughing stock of the league bad enough? American clubs go into every season expecting to be #1. The ones that are struggling go in expecting to improve, get a good draft pick, and compete for #1 the year after that. The divide between big clubs and little clubs isn't nearly as vast in America as it is in the European leagues. Everyone expects to compete for "honours."

There's still got to be plenty of teams who drop out of contention someway through the season so what's left for them? Especially those near the bottom why not just drop into last to take best draft pick?

Also what's wrong with honours?

They still have rivalry games that they don't want to lose. They still want to win so that their stadiums stay packed with fans instead of half empty. Teams losing on purpose for a high draft pick pretty much never happens, so it's not even a problem worth mentioning. And yeah^, NBA teams aren't guaranteed the top pick for finishing last. And the MLB draft really is a crapshoot, plus teams can go out and sign players from other countries without those players even being in the draft, so it's not a problem there either. And I don't know what your last question is asking; I never said there was anything wrong with them.

#26 Edited by dave123321 (33829 posts) -

The dollar

#27 Edited by chessmaster1989 (29116 posts) -

Actually Aljosa from what you're saying, you should actually be comparison monopolistic sports leagues (US) to competitive sports leagues (Europe). Not an issue of socialism vs capitalism really.

#28 Posted by Mercuria1_King (276 posts) -

That's a new way to look at sports, way to go OP!

#29 Posted by -Sun_Tzu- (17384 posts) -

I leave the NHL out since even the characterization of the league as a "big" anything is pushing it

lolno