Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Soccer: commercial free, relegation, and the free market

I'd like to take a small detour from my normal discussion points (Baseball, Basketball, and Beer) and focus on soccer. Specifically the English Premier League.

I find English Soccer fascinating because of a couple of intriguing aspects. Initially, I was drawn in by the lack of commercials and constant pace. Recent studies by the Wall Street Journal have found that there is only about 11 minutes of actual game action in a typical NFL game. You get 67 minutes of players just standing around, and almost an hour of commercials. (Short aside: it's because of this, that I find football particularly boring. I cannot watch a football game that I don't have a horse in, it just bores me to tears. Football, as a sport, is by far, my least favorite of the "big 4" 'Murikan sports) Soccer, on the other hand, has no commercial breaks during the games. It's just 45 minutes of game, followed by a break for halftime, followed by another 45 minutes of game. All-in-all, from kickoff to conclusion, a soccer match finishes in under 2 hours, every time. It's very easy to get wrapped up in a soccer match.

I find commercial breaks to be abhorrent. Obviously, the T.V. networks need to have a revenue stream to re-coop the broadcast rights cash that they dole out, but the over-commercialization of sports kills the flow of the game. Did you like that Olympic hockey? It possibly has to do with the lack of media timeouts during the periods. NBC had to cram commercials in between normal whistles on the ice. The flow of the game, when uninterrupted by artificial media breaks, in massively enhanced. Who hasn't been stuck in football commercial hell? Interception, 3 minute media time-out for the possession switch, score on the next play, extra point, 4 minute media time-out for the possession switch, kick-off, 3 minute media time-out for the possession switch. It makes me want to rip (what's left of) my damn hair out. Don't even get me started on the 2 1/2 minute breaks between half-innings in baseball. What I don't get is why we sit for this shit.

A further aspect is the free wheeling nature of player transfers. Because of the large number of clubs and leagues around the world, there is plenty of competition and options on the player market. You are not forced to deal with your primary competitors in order to improve your team . If an NFL team want to improve their roster, they almost have to talk to another NFL team, which can create an inflated value system.

International soccer leagues are also devoid of a draft system. If you want new talent, it won't come to you, you have to beat other teams to get it. Teams also have youth systems, creating an in-house talent pool that, hopefully, will create the next generation of on field talent. Baseball has started down this path as many teams have youth organizations in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations, specifically to cultivate talent that isn't covered by the draft system.

A final intriguing aspect is the concept of relegation. Relegation is the manner by which soccer clubs are pressured to constantly produce a winner. For example: in the 20 team EPL, the bottom 3 teams in the standings, each year, are relegated (sent down) to a lower league (In this case the Coca-Cola Championship League). This system is in place throughout the English soccer system, down to the smallest recreational club teams. Since higher revenues (and glory) come from playing in higher level leagues, it constantly puts pressure on teams to perform if they want to stay financially viable. Even this past year, traditional power Newcastle United was sent to the equivalent of AAA baseball because they had such a shitty season. No one is safe, there are no free rides. You have to constantly be improving you club and your investment if you want to stay at the top.

In 'Murikan sports, teams (and owners) are protected from such a reality. A prime example are the Florida Marlins. About every 6 or 7 years they spit out a championship level group of talent, then sell it off for scraps. For the next 5 years, the team is typically awful and an embarrassment to baseball. They are enabled in this by the system of revenue sharing. This system, set up with good intentions, essentially rewards a team for repeatedly fielding young, cheap talent, and selling them off before they attain a truly competitive level. The Marlins, and other teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals, have repeatedly taken advantage of this system, throwing their young, cheap talent the the wolves, pocketing the revenue sharing payments, and starting over the next year (To the extent that recently Commissioner Bud Selig has told the Marlins ownership group that they have to start actually spending the money they receive on players, or they will receive less.). No matter how bad a team they field, the clubs are rewarded, rather than punished for failure and excess. Isn't the nature of relegation a little harsh? Sure. But isn't the free market supposed to be harsh? American sports, as currently constituted, make up little more than corporate welfare for the rich backed by tax-payer dollars (Free stadiums, tax breaks, etc...).

While the EPL isn't a perfect league (One of their teams, Portsmouth F.C. is about to essentially cease to exist following this season), it does offer a bunch of different aspects that I feel contrast favorably with the traditional American sports model. With the World Cup coming up, this is the perfect time to give international soccer a chance. I bet you might find something that you enjoy.

No comments: