The “Socialism” of American Sports

The Structure of American Sports

Here in the United States, sports leagues operate with a closed system. There are 32 NFL teams, 30 NBA teams, 32 NHL teams and 30 MLB teams. These may expand with the introduction of a new team here and there, but the teams remain the same regardless of the outcome. 

These teams and their owners will come together to introduce new rules and regulations that will be collectively utilized for the next season. One such collectively agreed-upon factor in all of these leagues is wealth redistribution. 

Wealth Redistribution

In the NFL (National Football League), the owners collectively negotiate television broadcast & merchandise rights to receive the most profit. How does this collective amount get distributed? Do the winners get more? Or is it the team with the most viewership and sales?

No, it’s equally distributed among all of the teams. In the case of the 2022 season, each team got $372 Million of the collective $11.9 Billion.

In the NHL (National Hockey League), the top 10 teams in revenue would send some of their personal revenue into a pool that will then be distributed out to the 22 other teams.  

In the MLB (Major League Baseball), teams will send 48% of their total revenue to a pool to redistribute evenly to the entire league.  

The NBA (National Basketball Association) is no different from the MLB. Each team contributes around 50% of basketball-related income along with a certain amount from non-basketball-related income to a revenue pool that’s redistributed among all teams every season.

While equality of outcome is not Marxist, in fact, the exact opposite, where Marx argues that people should be compensated, on the basis of the effort & contribution they put forth. It does fall under the Fabian branch of Socialism, where the equality of distribution is emphasized.

Salary Cap

Most of the leagues make another economic collective decision with the establishment of a salary cap. The salary cap is a collectively agreed-upon limit for each team to spend in a given season. In the MLB, there is no cap, but there is a luxury (competitive balance) tax. There is an agreed-upon limit to how much a team can spend, but teams can exceed that limit if they are willing to pay a tax, which is redistributed to other teams. 

Winners & Losers

All these leagues have winners and losers. The winners get the glory of a championship and praise. Losers are not punished for their losses, but are rewarded high draft picks; a way to revitalize their fortunes every season. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ future was in peril in the late 90s and early 2000s, with bankruptcy in 1998, with Mario Lemieux and Ronald Burkle saving the team. The Penguins would begin rebuilding, finishing in the bottom three for four straight seasons. It would ultimately culminate with the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The NHL organized an unprecedented draft lottery to set a selection order. The draft lottery, which was held behind closed doors in a “secure location”, resulted in the Penguins being awarded the first overall pick. The event was deemed the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes. The Penguins were rewarded with the next great thing not because they were the best, but because they were the worst. As a result, the Penguins would start a decade-plus of success, resulting in three Stanley Cups.  

Capitalist Sports Leagues

A capitalist-based sports league is possible. The closest system is soccer leagues around the world. Any group can start a club and work their way from the bottom of the system until they reach the peak, the ultimate meritocracy, where risk-takers are rewarded, while the worst are left behind to fend for themselves. Those who can not compete are relegated, losing out on millions of dollars. 

In 1964, a small team called Wimbledon would win promotion out of the 7th tier of the English Football League. Then next season, escaping out of the 6th tier, before spending 12 years in the 5th tier, winning the 5th tier three times before joining the 4th tier in 1977. From there, Wimbledon would quickly rise from the 4th to the top division in all of England in four years. The peak of Wimbledon would be the 1988 FA Cup final, winning it for the first time over the defending champions, Liverpool.

However, Wimbledon became the team left behind. Maintaining a spot in the top league until 2000, where they would be relegated. In 2001, Wimbledon’s owners would work to move the team to Milton Keynes, over an hour and a half away from their area. The owners said it was a move to financially save the club and keep them from closing its doors. The club entered into administration with the threat of complete liquidation becoming more likely after owner Bjørn Gjelsten withdrew his monthly 800,000 pound injections to keep the club going. The move became final in 2004 with a rebrand to MK Dons with new owners. Fans of Wimbledon would create AFC Wimbledon after the announcement of the move. They would restart at the very bottom of the system and would have to fight their way back up the leagues.

There was no bailout for Wimbledon or its fans. They were left to survive on their own. No interference from the governing body. Their system leaves only the best financially and the best run to survive the exact opposite for American Sports.