Or consider La Liga in Spain, where Barcelona and Real
Madrid routinely dominate. In the last seven years, only one other team has
finished in the top two, when Villarreal came second in 2007-2008. Yes, that's
the same Villarreal that just lost 5-0 to Barcelona.
In the British and Spanish leagues, success breeds
success. In Spain, for instance, the 20 clubs in La Liga individually negotiate
for television revenues in free market fashion. The predictable result is a
feast for Real Madrid and Barcelona, who receive about half of the total
revenues, while the other 18 clubs share the scraps from the table. In the
2009-2010 season, Real earned $190 million from television revenues, whereas
their rivals Getafe received only a fraction of this amount--nine million
Euros. Real's handsome bounty allowed it to buy the superstar Cristiano
Ronaldo for a staggering $130 million. Ronaldo's contract has a buyout clause
letting him leave Madrid--but only if another club stumps up $1.4 billion, or
the GDP of Belize.
In the spirit of capitalism, the system mercilessly
punishes failure. European soccer is based on a hierarchy of leagues with
relegation and promotion. The worst performing teams slip down a division with
potentially disastrous financial consequences.
The answer to Europe's rampant soccer inequality is to
take a leaf from American-style sporting socialism. American sport is an island
of socialism in a sea of capitalism. All manner of rules exist to help
struggling teams, such as the draft, revenue sharing, salary caps, and no
The logic is basically socialist. The freedom of the
richest and most powerful sportsmen and clubs is restricted for the good of the
collective. Leveling the playing field makes more teams competitive, and helps
the overall league thrive. If wealth and success were concentrated like in
Europe, everyone would suffer in the end, as audiences turned to another form
of entertainment. The teams hang together or they'll assuredly hang separately.
It seems to work. In the last ten years, seven different
teams have won the Super Bowl, while nine different clubs have won the World
Series. The most socialist American sport, with the strongest equalizing
rules--the NFL--is also the most popular. Forbes estimates that the average NFL
team is worth $1 billion: an impressive figure, although not quite enough to
Americans rarely apply this socialist logic in other
areas of life. If Obama announced that the top medical school graduate would be
forced to work in the worst hospital in the country, people would be outraged.
Restricting someone's freedom like that is un-American! But even the most
ardent Tea Partier is quite happy with the NFL draft, which mandates that the
top football star must join a team of losers. And this is no small impediment
when an injury could end a player's career on any given Sunday.