Tuesday, June 07, 2005

why are US sports different

It is plain that the US does sports differently - the main team sports are ones that are essentially unique to the US (ok, basketball is spreading, but is only barely competitive outside US), baseball is only played in US, Canada and nations occupied by US; and US football is essentially unique (ok, it is a variation on Rugby but has diverged by now to be essentially a different species).
There are further differences: US sports tend to need a lot of equipment (even basketball requires a basket, which is not as simple to improvise as a soccer goal of some sort for a street game); the games are structured, with frequent breaks, player called time-outs and effectively unlimited substitution (TV has driven a lot of that, but the elements seem to have been there from the start, and, yes, you can show soccer games on advertisement supported television); there is essentially no international competition in any of these sports; but, the strangest thing is that the leagues are fixed - there is no promotion or demotion - you can have catastrophical sequential losing seasons and you still get your main revenue stream (shared TV revenue) with no penalty - in the rest of the world the team games are ranked leagues and any team can be demoted from the first rank leagues and if things go badly a championship team can slide to oblivion in only a few years of bad management and player disaffection.

Why does the US structure its team leagues so there is no movement in or out of the first rank leagues? Why no demotion playoffs or rotation of the worst premier teams with the best second rank leagues?
On odd days I suspect this is telling us a lot about the culture.

Or not.


Blogger Tom Raworth said...

Good points: but (baseball) when did the USA conquer Cuba..... was I asleep?

1:37 AM  
Blogger Steinn said...

1898 - hope you weren't asleep then...
It is how the US came to acquire a rather long term lease on Guantanamo, Cuba.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two possibilities, one practical and one more cynical, both of which involve the driving force behind American sports, aka money.

While it wouldn't be an insurmountable problem, no American sports league is prepared for relegation/promotion. The NBA and NFL have no minor leagues (several basketball leagues that would have worked as such have gone bankrupt). Baseball's minor league team staffs are controlled by the major league teams, so the changes of control would be vexing (we used to have this thing called hockey, which Canadians seem to enjoy as well, but it's busy proving its irrelevance).

Furthermore, there is a reason that all minor leagues in America are regional, rather than national; we have a whole lot of not much in this country (I speak from experience in Champaign, I know State College is very similar). There is no way to fly teams cross-country on a minor league budget, and it's too far in some cases to use a bus.

More cynically, sports is too big a business for the various financially interested parties to allow smaller cities to go up and bigger ones down. Even when they are terrible, teams in big cities generate a ton of cash for a league, in ways that most minor league cities can't. The exception is football, which has the national TV contract to keep everyone in the black. If anything, most leagues seem to want to contract teams away right now rather than expand into markets with diminishing returns. It's been cited as a reason that hockey (a sport played in Europe and formerly in the Americas) is having troubles in its negotiations.

Honestly, I think it would be fun to see some fights to avoid relegation amongst league bottom-dwellers, so long as the NY Mets got some sort of major metropolis exemption. Doubt it will happen, though.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Steinn said...

I agree the root cause is money, the question is why the league owners got to and remain in a position to control this.
Even with regional minor teams, you could have promotion/relegation battles, with the winners of various minor leagues doing a playoff series at the end of the season, and the worst major league team or two then having a do-or-die playoff with the winner of the minor leagues.
And the question of market size is important, but even State College can attract over 100,000 people to 6-8 home football games per season; as can Green Bay Wisonsin - whereas Los Angeles apparently can not?

And there are lots of large cities which could have a presence, and more medium and small cities that could draw on nearby large cities. If Pittsburgh and Kansas City have teams, why not Albuquerque, Oklahoma or Portland? I suspect you could go as small as Las Vegas and still have a major team, which allows for 50+ teams to compete for the majors; probably 100 total if you allow for multiple teams in some cities and teams in cities near big cities.

Might have done the Mets some good if they had to fight for their lives and identities once every 10-20 years.

10:59 AM  

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