I was posed a question last night about the Premier League by a casual American observer. “Why don’t they have a salary cap?” While on the face of it I know that in some ways the comparisons aren’t entirely fair, it certainly is a fair question. My knowledge of the economics of the Premier League isn’t as intricate as that of the NFL; however, I have a reasonable grasp. Being a lifelong devoted fanatic of American football, and a recently converted, but obsessed follower of English football, I now find the fans who annoy me most are those on either side who have no regard for the other one. If only the governing bodies of each major professional league were keen to take notes off each other.
Here’s part one of my series:
Since 2000, fifteen different NFL teams have represented their respective conference in the Super Bowl, and eight teams have won the championship. By contrast, only three teams have topped the Premier League in that span, and only members of the “Big Four” have finished in the top two. I will certainly entertain an argument for the value of sustained excellence; however, I think a neutral observer would prefer to see more teams, cities and fans participate in the thrill of a championship run.
There are many factors that created the financial success and stability of the NFL, and the cap-imposed competitive equality is a major factor. The maximum amount of money each of the NFL’s 32 teams could spend on player’s salaries last season was $128 million. The NFL’s deliciously lucrative TV contracts contributed $116 million to each team’s bank account, before a ball has been kicked, or thrown as the case may be. The labor dispute on the horizon between the team owners and the player’s union will be mostly about how to distribute an obscene amount of money amongst hundreds of millionaires.
If only the Premier League had such worries. There is no possibility of a Leeds United situation in the NFL. Sure, it’s possible that teams may relocate cities, or certain teams may fold, leading to the creation of a new franchise. But these unlucky teams and cities end up being replaced by markets that are even more lucrative (cough, Los Angeles, cough), and the overall financial health of the league is unlikely to be in question in the next decade.
Of course, the Premier League’s promotion/relegation system, a fixture in the worldwide game of football, is an entirely foreign concept in American sport. The totem pole/pyramid of the Football League down to Conference and non-league sides is a terrific, living, breathing, sporting meritocracy, where a new or old club is afforded success on its ability, acumen and luck. The NFL has its fair share of almost purely mediocre franchises, such as the Detroit Lions, where the ludicrous management decisions have been sustained by the rest of the league’s success, in what could conceivably be a misguided study in psychological torture of a mass population.