Off the Crossbar: A competitive culture

While the United States has one of the world’s most successful capitalist economies, its sports leagues take a surprisingly egalitarian approach. Each of the four main leagues has a draft every year that rewards the worst teams from the previous season by giving them higher picks. There is practically no financial penalty for bad performance.

But in almost every other professional soccer league in the world, poor performances are punished, rather than rewarded. Rather, the worst three teams in the league are relegated to the second division. Continued poor performance can lead to a downward spiral of relegation and sometimes even bankruptcy. There is no draft where bad teams can turn their franchise around by acquiring a transformational talent, so teams actually try to win every single game. In the English Premier League, the only thing that is rewarded is success. With success comes financial rewards, allowing a club to attract talent.

Financial support also comes from the owners of clubs, whose influence cannot be understated. One only needs to look at the impact of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea or Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. By pumping millions of pounds into their respective clubs, these owners were able to acquire talented players and expedite the rebuilding process for their teams. Now, City and Chelsea are two of England’s “Big Six.”

In 2016, Leicester City pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history to win the Premier League. Its odds to win before the season were at a staggering 5000-to-1. Before and since, though, the Big Six clubs (City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United) have dominated the league. This campaign, for the third consecutive time, these six will occupy the top slots in the league table. But while Leicester hasn’t broken into that upper echelon, its success in 2016 helped provide security to the club.

Many forget the Foxes were mired in the relegation zone for much of the 2014–15 season before dramatically winning seven of their last nine games. Claudio Ranieri then worked his magic with the squad to lead them to the title the following season. The club received a lot of money for winning, which it reinvested into building a stronger squad, and the Foxes have now become a solid mid-table side — one that doesn’t have to worry about relegation on a yearly basis. It may seem unspectacular, but Leicester’s success on the field was the key to its financial stability.

Similarly, Wolves have been the story of the league this season as they made their return to the English top flight. Using the award money from winning the Championship, manager Nuno Espirito Santo made the right signings and has his side firmly in the race for “Best of the Rest” outside the top six.

At a time when many American sports franchises have started losing games intentionally to get draft picks the next year, the Premier League has managed to uphold its standing as the most competitive league in the world, while still giving underdogs like Leicester and Wolves chances to succeed.