Thursday, February 04, 2010

Does it matter that the Yankees keep buying pennants?

As most baseball fans are aware, the New York Yankees have been spending more money on payroll than any other team in the major leagues, by a long shot. In 2009, for instance, the Yanks spent $201 million, about two-and-a-half times the average, and $76 million more than the next highest team (the Mets).

And so, as you would expect, the lavish-spending Yankees have been very successful. The Yankees made the post-season every year but one since 1995. That's 14 out of 15.

In an excellent post in November, Joe Posnanski wondered why fans are willing to put up with this. He gave two reasons:

1. In baseball, unlike football and basketball, a truly dominant team still wins only about 60% of its games. This tends to hide the extent of the dominance:

"I would bet if the Indianapolis Colts played the Cleveland Browns 100 times, and the Colts were motivated, they would probably 95 of them — maybe even more than that. But if the New York Yankees played the Kansas City Royals 100 times, and the Yankees were motivated, I suspect the Royals would still win 25 or 30 times. That’s baseball.

"So you have this sport that tends to equalize teams. That helps blur the dominance of the Yankees. If the New England Patriots were allowed to spend $50 million more on players than any other team, they would go 15-1 or 16-0 every single year. And people would not stand for it. But in baseball, a great and dominant team might only win 95 out of 160, and it doesn’t seem so bad."

And, given that the Yankees should only be expected to win 97 games or so, there will likely be other teams that come close to them, so it winds up looking like the Yankees are one of many quality teams. Of course (and now this is me, not Posnanski), the Yankees are expected to do it every year, whereas whatever team challenges them is probably just a random team that got lucky. But you can't tell that just by watching, so that Yankees don't look all that special in any given season.

2. Under the new, post-1995 playoff system, a team has to win three rounds to win the World Series. But in a short series, anything can happen, and the better team will lose with pretty high frequency.

A team with a 60% chance of winning each game will only win a best-of-five series about 68 percent of the time, and a best-of-seven series 71 percent of the time. (If I've got the numbers right.) So the chance of winning three consecutive rounds, and the World Series, is .68 * .71 * .71, which is about 34 percent.

So even if the Yankees are 60% favorites every game of the post-season -- the equivalent of 97-65 against three of the best other teams in baseball -- they'll win the World Series only about one year out of three. Posnanski:

"And in that way the expanded playoffs have been genius for baseball — not only because they are milking television for every dime but because the short series have been baseball’s one Yankee-proofing defense against the ludicrous unfairness of the New York Yankees. ... They are the best team with the best players every year — that sort of big money virtually guarantees it.

"So, you create a system where the best team doesn’t always win. In fact, you create a system where the best team often doesn’t win. For years the Yankees didn’t win. They lost to Florida. They lost Anaheim. They blew a 3-0 series lead against Boston. They lost to Anaheim again and Detroit and Cleveland — and how could you say that baseball is unfair? Look, the Yankees can’t win the World Series! See? Sure they spend $50 million more than any other team and $100 million more than most. But they haven’t won the World Series! Doesn’t that make you feel better?"


Last week, at the Sports Economist blog, Brian Goff agreed and disagreed with Posnanski's analysis. His agreement was that Posnanski got it right in terms of understanding why MLB did what it did with the expanded playoffs. His disagreement was that, while Posnanski thinks it's a bad thing for the fans, Goff thinks it's a *good* thing.

Why? Because Yankee-haters get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the Yankees lose. And so MLB's strategy is win-win. Yankee fans get to see their team in contention every year, which creates a lot more revenue for the league and utility for fans (since the Yankees have the largest fan base in MLB). And then, Yankee-haters get to see their least-favorite team defeated two years out of three, which makes *them* feel good and open their wallets. MLB deliberately designed the system this way to squeeze more money out of its fans.

That may be true, but I'm not so sure the strategy is still in baseball's long-term interest. The sports economists I've read note that fans spend more money when their team is successful, and, from that, they conclude that it maximizes profit for the league to ensure the cities with the most fans win the most often.

I'm not convinced. That may work in the short run, when the fans still have memories of when payrolls were more even, and playoff berths were earned more by other means than money. But what happens longer term, when the Yankees make the playoffs for 28 of the next 30 years, and it becomes more and more obvious that the Pirates and Royals will seldom (if ever) be able to compete? And what happens when even Yankees fans start to get uncomfortable noticing that there's a lot less to be proud of when your management is just buying all the best players, and a playoff berth is just being purchased every year?

Maybe it's just me, that it's my personal taste that I'd rather all teams have an equal payroll, and that success on the field be "bought" with intelligence, strategy, and luck, rather than money. I've been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs all my life, but if the Leafs finally won the Stanley Cup again, but by spending three times as much as any other team ... well, I don't think I'd really care that much. And I'm sure there are many more like me. And so I wonder if a "we make more money when we rig the system so the Yankees win more often" strategy might backfire.

If you asked me a few months ago, I'd say for sure it would backfire, and fans would never put up with years and years of the Yankees buying pennants. But, after reading "Soccernomics," I'm not so sure. What I learned (pp. 48-49) was that, in the English Premier and Championship Leagues, there is a huge tendency to purchase wins. From 1998 to 2007, Manchester United had three times the average team payroll, and finished second, on average. That's second out of 58 teams, not second out of five teams in the AL East. Moreover, that's not second one year and then tenth the next -- it's an *average* of second, over ten years. They finished first five times, second twice, and third three times.

And they weren't even the highest-spending club ... that was Chelsea, who spent 3.5 times as much as the league mean, and had finished third on average.

The flip side of Man U is a club called "Brighton & Hove Albion," which spent 1/7 the average payroll (and finished 42nd, on average). So, in English soccer, you have the biggest team spending 23 times as much as the smallest team. Compare that to MLB, where the ratio was only 6 times for 2009, and is probably a lot smaller than that when you average out 10 seasons.

Moreover: in baseball, the Yankees stand alone in payroll: last year, they spent almost 50% more than the second-highest paid Mets. In English soccer, there were four teams at double the average (compared to one in MLB), and 13 teams at less than a quarter of the average (compared to none in MLB). And, again, these are ten-year trends in soccer, compared to a single year in baseball, which makes then even more shocking.

(One disclaimer: the soccer teams are, technically, divided into two leagues: the (first-tier) Premier League, and the (second-tier) Championship League. You'd expect that teams in the lower league would pay less. However, every season, as I understand it, the three best teams in the second tier swap places with the three worst teams in the first tier. So, theoretically, even the lowest paid second-tier team has a hope of being the overall champion two years from now. In that sense, it's really one league.)

But, despite the payroll and standings disparities, Man Utd still has a rabid fan base, and, as a result, the club is valued at $1.87 billion, even more than Forbes' appraisal of the Yankees at $1.5 billion.

So, what I'm thinking is: if British soccer fans can tolerate huge pay differences, and accept the fact that it's almost always going to be one of the richest teams that win ... well, maybe baseball fans can accept that too, especially since it's on a much smaller scale. Maybe the New York Yankees can become baseball's Manchester United, the Red Sox can become Chelsea, and fans of the Marlins and Padres can hope to fluke into the postseason and engineer an upset.

Major League Baseball might very well lose me as a fan if they do that, but if they can make it up in revenues from everyone else, who am I to say they're wrong?

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At Thursday, February 04, 2010 11:40:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

What is being ignored in saying that a dominant team will win only 60% of the games in baseball is that in the regular season all teams go with 5 starters. But in the play-offs, you can get away with only using a 3 man rotations, as the Yankees did this last season. Or, if we look back to 2001, you can get away with basically a two man rotation of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in their primes and then basically punt the other games of the series and still win.

Given those facts, elite teams, especially teams with two or three starters that are elite will have a much higher chance of winning a playoff game than their regular season record suggests.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 11:42:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

True. The 60% was for illustration purposes, to make the point that even the best team won't necessarily win that often. Your point underscores that -- it says that the best team in the regular season might not even be the best team in the playoffs.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Chris Migliaccio said...

Interesting post.

One way that English soccer seems to thrive is a real dedication of fans to team. The local team is IMPORTANT to people, even if they're a mid-level, scrappy team that doesn't win very often. I'm not sure baseball can claim that, since most MLB cities have major league teams in multiple sports, and the tendency of owners to threaten moves and demand new stadiums weakens the city-team bond. How long can Pittsburgh, which has the Steelers and Penguins to root for, really continue if the team never has a winning season?

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 12:09:00 PM, Blogger SportsGuy said...

Well, there is relegation in the Championship too. Down to League One. So you could add that circuit too. And of course there is relegation in League One, down to League Two. So you could add that circuit too....... why limit it to EPL(am I breaking a law by not calling it "Barclay's EPL"?) and the Championship?

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 12:11:00 PM, Blogger Hawerchuk said...


On the point of how soccer is organized relative to baseball, I thought it would be interesting to compare attendance between the Premiership and the Championship vs MLB and AAA:

Premiership: 34000 per game
Championship: 18000 per game

MLB: 30000
AAA: 6800

Championship teams are real entities - if some rich person wants to buy one and then acquire the players necessary to compete in the Premiership, you've got a top tier team. In baseball, on the other hand, AAA cities have essentially been neutered as competitive entities: they spend 50 times less than MLB teams do, and they have to give up their good players on a moment's notice; in soccer, at least they'd have to sell their players. But some of them have actually been as good as the worst MLB teams, much like the situation in soccer.

And what's the impact? It cuts fan interest by a factor of about 2.5. The best AAA team can sometimes outdraw the worst MLB team.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...


Two reasons I limited it: first, and most importantly, that's all the data that Soccernomics had. And, second, you gotta draw the line *somewhere*. Does a third-tier team have any hope of winning the premiership? I assume a second-tier team does, at least a small hope.

But I don't know, so I'll trust commenters' opinions.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 12:23:00 PM, Blogger SportsGuy said...

"Does a third-tier team have any hope of winning the premiership? I assume a second-tier team does, at least a small hope."

Winning the Premiership? Not in today's league structure. But big jumps and deflating declines do happen.

You might want to ask the Newcastle fans about that. Ginormous fan base that provides enough $ for the team to be contending in Europe on a regular basis.

Better yet, ask the Leeds United fans. A few years ago they competed in European tournaments. Now they play against overweight middle-aged gin-soaked yokels.

Ok, maybe I exaggerated a bit. On the other side of things ask the fans of Spanish side Alaves how far a team can go on shrewd ownership and coaching.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 1:22:00 PM, Blogger Bill Letson said...

Always having something to play for probably makes a big difference for teams at the low end of the EPL as well, with 18-20 getting relegated.

As of right now, more than halfway through the season, 13th place Sunderland is only 3 points ahead of 18th place Hull City. There is still intrigue there for the smaller teams in the EPL. There would not be for a similarly imbalanced MLB.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 1:32:00 PM, Blogger SportsGuy said...

Relegation Sunday is a blast. A few years ago the bottom 4 EPL teams were still up in the air on the final afternoon. All started at the same time, and in one 30 minute window every one of the four spent a short time in 17th place. The tension was magnificent.

I wish I could recall the specific date. I'm pretty sure Sheffield Wednesday was one of the relegated.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 1:41:00 PM, Blogger Cyril Morong said...


One thing to add to the 60% figure Phil used is that if the Yankees had .600 pct and they were playing a team with a .550 pct in a series, the Yankees chance of winning each game is less than 60% and that in turn would lower the Yankees chance of winning the series.


At Thursday, February 04, 2010 2:41:00 PM, Blogger Will Carroll said...

Phil - the big part you're leaving out here is not that the ManU's and Chelsea's are competing against the B&H's of the FA, but also as part of the Champions League. In that, they're competing against teams like Barca and Real Madrid who have greatly outspent them. While they're likely overspending for the Prem and definitely for the FA, they're in-line for the Champions.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 3:23:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Will, excellent point. It could indeed be that fans are bored by Manchester United winning the Premiership most years, but what makes up for it is the better competition they get in the Champions League.

In baseball, there's no equivalent, so maybe a perennial Yankee pennant might get the fans bored after all.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 3:33:00 PM, Blogger nightfly said...

If there was an independent second-tier league, and MLB relegated three clubs every season (replaced by the top three independents teams), then their attendence would certainly improve.

Incidentally, this wouldn't remove the need for major-league development and feeder systems, so I suspect there would still be A, AA, and AAA ball. The independents would have a lot of the "quad-A" sorts, or players released outright and hoping to get a second chance by proving themselves in regular competition, or people who refused to sign after drafting and went to the team that paid them. (AKA Boras clients.) Anyone who wished to move to the majors would have to have their contract purchased from the independent club, who could set their own price. Of course, the independents in the promotion zone may chose to buy instead of sell, in order to have a squad that wouldn't immediate be re-relegated the very next season.

This sort of system has been on my mind a lot lately because I just read Bill Veeck's autobiography. He was in favor of independent minor leagues like this, though I don't recall that he talked about relegation in any way; he just thought that it made for better baseball in both the majors and minors.

It's interesting to see how such a system could work. The closest to it here in the states is probably hockey - the NHL has its AHL/ECHL affiliations, but there are always players who are directly contracted by those minor league clubs, and many of them are a mix of the two. Those players often have NHL release clauses so if they're signed by big clubs, they move up and their current club receives a compensation payout. (I believe the same applies for overseas players whose rights are not otherwise held by an NHL franchise, though the foreign transfer windows complicate things.) But of course, the Oilers and Leafs are in no danger of being relegated.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 4:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another thing that keeps people putting up with it... is teams with very low payrolls, like the Rays (2008) getting into the World Series and teams like the Twins getting into the playoffs consistently.

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 8:23:00 PM, Blogger upaulo said...

Wikipedia "Premier League" is much improved since I read it a few years ago. The same is true of some neighboring articles, eg "professional sports league organization". (I once helped improve them, perhaps from grade E to grade D.)

These articles are now commendable (read!). They remain silent on the crucial point how the top league can be literally owned by its member clubs and yet participate in promotion and relegation. Evidently shares in the corporation may not be sold or purchased, only lost and won in the standings, which is to say on the field.

three passages from wikipedia "Premier League"
Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with The Football League. The Premier League is a corporation in which the 20 member clubs act as shareholders.
In 1992 the First Division clubs resigned from the Football League en masse and on 27 May 1992 the FA Premier League was formed as a limited company
the Premier League and the new First Division remained on the same terms as between the old First and Second Divisions.

The 22 inaugural members of the new Premier League were Arsenal [and 21 others].

Paul Wendt

At Thursday, February 04, 2010 8:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone done a statistical study that would predict what the success of a team with the Yankees payroll relative to the rest of MLB should be, and if the Yankees actual performance over the last 15 years has exceeded that?

At Friday, February 05, 2010 9:16:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This post makes it seem as if the Yankees being successful is only a recent phenomenon. I mean, Ban Johnson did fight tooth and nail to establish a successful team in New York for a reason, right? Consider this passage from your post:

“That may work in the short run, when the fans still have memories of when payrolls were more even, and playoff berths were earned more by other means than money. But what happens longer term, when the Yankees make the playoffs for 28 of the next 30 years, and it becomes more and more obvious that the Pirates and Royals will seldom (if ever) be able to compete?”

This statement could have been made about baseball anytime from the late-1930s forward (just replace the Browns and Phillies for Pirates and Royals), and yet we refer to that era as the golden age of baseball (off the top of my head, from 1936 to 1964, the Yankees finished 1st in the AL 21 times). Somehow, baseball has survived and prospered. In fact, if you look at attendance and revenue, one of the greatest periods of stagnation took place in the 1970s-1980s, when the Yankees were the least successful.

With all of the mitigating factors in the current setup, a successful Yankee team gives MLB the best of both worlds. This isn’t like the “golden age”, or the Premier League, when you had to finish first. There are 7 other slots for 29 teams when the Yankees make the playoffs. Ignoring that renders your argument as a simple rant against the Yankees, which actually reinforces the notion that rooting against the Yankees can sometimes generate more interest than rooting for a team (MLB needs hooks like that because it doesn’t have the gambling hook enjoyed by the NFL).

Finally, as a Yankee fan, I take great pleasure in every season that the team is successful. Having a high payroll guarantees nothing. Besides, the Yankees are not just trying to win a World Series…they are trying to win it every year. In taking on “the field”, every Yankee team is also competing against the organization’s illustrious history. Yankee haters may not be able to understand that context, but then again, that’s probably one reason they hate the Yankees.

At Friday, February 05, 2010 9:37:00 AM, Blogger Clark Addison said...

My only comment to add the Premiership analysis is that unlike MLB, english football clubs have several "lesser" tournaments and competitions to participate in, like the Carling Cup of the FA Cup. [Don't kill me on this, I know the FA is very presitgious but the facts are Man Utd, et al, don't play their top lineupsuntil late in the tournament and while they don't want to lose, the priority is the standings in the Preimier League]

Also, finishing in the "top four" is an accomplishment that pays divdends, and extra money, the next year in the form of a champions league qualification. Fifth place will earn a Europa league spot (think of it as champions league light). Also, if you are in the bottom three you get sent down - losing some 40 million pounds in TV revenue in the process. So fans of a team like, Fullham for example, can still hold out hope that their team will "win" something, whereas us Man Utd fans, like the Yankees, expect a top four finish and hope for winning the league.

I don't know how we bring this type of incentivization to baseball, but it would be nice if there were some lesser competitions for teams to compete in. Or some sort of MLB 1 and MLB relegation promotion system. I suppose if MLB ever wants to under take a significant expansion, you could divide MLB into a couple of leagues, and have a relegation and promotion system between them. As a baseball fan I dont think I would like that, but it would be an interesting experiment to try.

At Friday, February 05, 2010 9:53:00 AM, Blogger BMMillsy said...

I understand your concern, and the question I'm very interested in is how many fans feel the same way that you do. My inclination is that it's not any majority (as you point out0, and they'll still follow baseball. Despite the lower attendance, the Pirates and Royals still have fans for some reason. I suspect that if they haven't left them yet, they're not going to any time soon.

I agree with William above that this is not a new issue (though, I still find it a fascinating one). To support William's statement (but definitely not his Yankee fandom) above, I'll leave with this quote from Bill Veeck that my first Sports Economics class lead off with for a discussion of competitive balance:

“The symptoms of near disaster are plain enough: The Yankess make an almost annual farce of the AL pennant race…Interest in big-league baseball is on the downgrade. So is attendance, generally, in spite of glowing Yankee, Brave, and Dodger figures.”

Anyone know the year? It was 1958...and it wasn't a new problem then either.

At Friday, February 05, 2010 10:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I've been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs all my life, but if the Leafs finally won the Stanley Cup again, but by spending three times as much as any other team ... well, I don't think I'd really care that much."

Yeah, I'm sure that if the Leafs had won a Cup when the NHL was un-capped spending much more money than teams like the Sabres did, you would have been down on it...please, get real.

The money is an advantage but guarantees nothing. Other teams pocket their luxury tax money and don't care about winning. That's the bottom line. Go ahead and cap MLB, do you really think that would level the playing field? All capped sports still deal with the have's and have nots. As a Yankee fan, bring on a cap!!! Then, when we are still successful, what will the Haters cry about then???

At Friday, February 05, 2010 10:29:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

My perception of the old Yankee dynasty was that there wasn't a perception that they were just buying up all the best players from other teams.

So, let me ask any baseball historians reading this: how DID the Yankees win all those pennants back then? Did they sign many more young players? Spend more on scouting? Did they actually buy great players from other teams? Was it great managing (as Chris Jaffe found)? What was it?

At Friday, February 05, 2010 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...


The question is: how can we find out whether other fans feel the way we do? If the difference between a salary cap and the current situation is (say) 1.5% annual growth in revenues, how would you ever spot that? In 30 years, MLB revenues will be only 64% of what they would have been otherwise ... but even if we somehow noticed a 36% drop from what it "should have" been, we'd never know to attribute it to competitive balance. We might just think it's demographics, kids are playing soccer these days.

My feeling is: the NFL is widely praised for its between-seasons competitive balance. MLB is mocked for how the Yankees spend so much. It could be that the sportswriters and elites like the NFL model better, but the fans like the MLB model better.

I'm not convinced yet, but I could still be wrong.

At Friday, February 05, 2010 11:09:00 AM, Blogger BMMillsy said...


Good questions, and I don't know the answer. I know Rod Fort and Young Hoon Lee recently released a paper in Review of Industrial Organization suggesting the only uncertainty (that we know of right now) that fans seem to care about as a whole in MLB is "Playoff Uncertainty". But that's in-season. Overall, fans don't seem too responsive to dynasties in general, based on the measure they used at least.

Since it's aggregate level, I can't tell you that it's the actual 'uncertainty' of playoff berths that raises interest directly, or the fact that just more teams are in it, so more teams have a higher attendance (I'm thinking it's the latter). In terms of cross-season balance with playoff berths, I think that brings us back to what we discussed with the NFL in one of your previous posts, and I'm not exactly sure of the answer as to how to go about measuring these things...but that's definitnely an interest of mine.

Lee also has a paper discussing American 'addiction' to sport, and baseball in particular. Though some of the methods/theory are over my head at this point, it's pretty fascinating, as it compares us to Korean fans, who don't seem to have the same addictive tendencies toward baseball. If it's the case that we're addicted, perhaps MLB doesn't have too much to worry about after all with the Yankees. This is especially true if the 'addiction' is higher in small market areas for whatever reason.

As for creating a counterfactual for MLB growth, I have no idea if that's possible. I think at best we can take the interest from years past when there were different balance levels and compare them to one another. Balance has gotten better (not worse) over the years, in terms of W% not just playoff berths, so it might be hard to parse those things from one another and say "well what if it was better".

There's another issue there, as different teams have different preferences for winning (at least, I would imagine). If the Royals are Wild Card contenders, would it be worth it to overall league revenues to take the Wild Card from Boston? Maybe fans in some places aren't that swayed by their team winning as much as others (even after controlling for the market size, or number of people in the area).

At Friday, February 05, 2010 11:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just to clear up some inconsistencies
a) there are not 2 tiers in soccer and Brighton and Hove Albion are not in either of the leagues you mentioned. Enlgand has the premiership, the championship, league 1, league 2 and then MANY leagues below that one. For the record, Brighton and Hove Albion are curerntly in League 1 (and may soon find themselves in League 2). It also makes no sense to compare the teams - it's like comparing the outlay of a major league team with thei AA affiliate. As teams move up the leagues, so they get more money from that league which allows them to grow
b) The Yankees - Man Utd comparison, though oft made, is outdated and misplaced, unless talking about global reach and fan base. As much as I dislike Man Utd, they od not throw massive amounts of money at every big name that becomes available. They are also in some serious financial trouble, which makes the comparison even less valid. Chelsea would be a betetr basis for comparison, or, lately, Manchester City.
c) English soccer do NOT like the way the system is set up. The only people who like it are the fans of the wealthy clubs, just like how the people who don't have a problem with the money here arae Yankees fans
d) you are correct however in saying that you can buy success in England (or in Europe in general). Only a handful of clubs (Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and now man City) can win the premiership and there will be no upstart team to catch them, because you win based on contuined excellence over the season, not sneaking into the playoffs and getting hot at the right time. There are domest ic cups however that operate on a knockout basis which represent the best chance for poorer clubs to win something

At Friday, February 05, 2010 12:04:00 PM, Blogger The Boat said...

One other thing that lessens the impact of the same teams winning the league every year in English Soccer is the presence of tournaments that matter and are different from the league title. The FA Cup and the Carling Cup provide the lesser lights the chance to secure meaningful wins at a much higher rate than the expectation of winning the league. For instance Leeds United knocked ManU out of the FA Cup this year and Leeds was a 3rd tier team i think. Thats like a AA team beating the Yankees, but in a single elim tourney that type of result is possible. So that really lessens the impact of the inevitability of ManU, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool winning the league because there are other meaningful things to play for.

At Friday, February 05, 2010 1:12:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Ever since the Yankees “bought” Babe Ruth, they have used their financial strength, fueled by their business acumen and popularity, to maintain a strong team. Not only were the Yankees able to outright purchase star players from lesser teams, but they also had more money to invest in scouting, which in turn produced the steady stream of Yankee greats. Combine that with all of the other factors you mentioned, and that’s how a dynasty is born.

Also, remember that the phrase rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel has been around since the 1950s. The “Yankee problem” has existed throughout the life of baseball. Of course, the irony is the problem wasn’t/isn’t really one at all. If it was, you’d expect MLB to have boomed throughout the late-1960s into the 1970s and 1980s, when the Yankees were the least successful, but that didn’t happen.

The reasons I think the NFL is praised so much is two-fold: (1) the league runs a very slick public relations machines; and (2) more fans are casual, so care little about the details. That’s why no one even thinks twice about steroids in the sport. After all, 300lb linemen who can run 4.6s in the 40 yard are natural, right? NFL’ers don’t like to admit it, but a lot of the sports popularity stems from it being a very short season (so easy to follow) and very conducive to gambling. People with these motivations aren’t really going to fret over things like the integrity of the game. So, they look past the size of these players and the increasingly severe injuries they cause to each other and don’t worry about the integrity of having so many teams make the playoffs with a short schedule or the league’s attempt to promote mediocrity in order to boost ratings. What’s more, they take the salary cap as panacea jargon at face value, when the reality is there are significant economic disparities among NFL haves and have nots (just look at the gulf in the levels of guaranteed money paid by different teams). The bottom line is the NFL is good fun, so why sweat the details (kind of like reality TV).

MLB, however, is held to a much higher standard. We worry about things like steroids and the economic structure because the interest in the game is very passionate. That’s why MLB enjoys the richest heritage of any sport. Its fans are interested in more than a weekly entertainment fix. Rather, being a baseball fan is more like a way of life.

The NFL certainly enjoys a better perception, but the ultimate reality is MLB still is the game’s national pastime. That’s why all the hand wringing about the Yankees is a good thing. It shows that not much has changed between the games connection with the nation. When we don’t hold MLB up to a higher standard, I’ll be concerned.

Finally, it should also be noted that MLB’s revenue has been growing at a faster pace than the NFL’s over the past decade and should shoot past it before the end of this one. Furthermore, the growing Hispanic and Asian demographic of the nation should bode well for MLB because most surveys show those two groups are more likely to be MLB fans. In other words, MLB’s present and future are as bright as its past.

At Saturday, February 06, 2010 7:57:00 AM, Anonymous Will said...

kellemonster, are you suggesting the yankees had a 2nd starter similar to cc? maybe we watched different games... but 1. Pettite wasn't dominant ever, he's good.But not like his prime.

2. AJ Aj was AJ... 1 game amazing, another AWFUL.

And of course CC was CC (who actually wasn't that great in game 1 right?)

At Saturday, February 06, 2010 4:55:00 PM, Blogger No No Nanette said...

Re the statement that Man U's averaging position has been 2nd out of 58. I have no idea where you have got the figure of 58 from. Only 43 teams have played in the English Premier League (EPL). And only 20 play in it each season.

Re comparing Man U with Brighton & Hove Albion. Brighton have never played in the EPL, athough like the other 72 professional teams playing in the lower professional leagues, they do have the chance to be promoted to the EPL.

The EPL and the lowe leagues are run by different organisations. The TV right are negotiated seperately by these different organisations. The last promotion spot each year to the EPL is a playoff game between 2 Championship teams. It is estimated that game is worth 60 million pounds (about US$94m) for the winner (and is referred to as the most valuable game of soccer in the world).

In reality comparing Man U with Brighton is almost like comparing the Yankees with the best AAA in the US, and pointing out the Yankees are the best team with spending X amount of dollars and the AAA team is the 31st best team in North America but they only spend X/Y dollars.

At Saturday, February 06, 2010 8:17:00 PM, Blogger zlionsfan said...

As a fan of a team that endured a Cup drought nearly as long as Toronto's and ended it during my lifetime, I can say I am very happy to say that they "bought" a Cup. (Or four.)

Of course, it wasn't as simple as Mr. Ilitch emptying the vault and signing the top 100 NHL players ... Detroit did acquire several key free agents over the years, but they also invested a lot of money in scouting and produced many quality players from the draft. And even after all that, they had to win four best-of-seven series, and frequently failed to do so.

Their payroll did not dwarf everyone else's as the Yankees has at times, but they have experienced a similar degree of success. Did they "buy" their Cups? Partly ... but that is how the current system is set up. Should the Wings have simply tried to build solely from the draft in order to "deserve" the Cups? Would they still be thinking about 1955 if they'd played that way?

Besides, there are other factors involved in both the NHL and MLB. Not every owner has the same goals. (Sadly, this is true in pretty much every league. If your team is owned by a guy – or gal – who hasn't a clue as to how to win and doesn't care to get one, you might as well just lock your hopes in a vault and wait to retrieve them until the team is sold.) Part of the reason why the Royals have struggled for most of the last 20 years is that David Glass hasn't been interested in spending money on them. (Yes, he's likely to get much less of a return on his investment than Hank will ... but it is certainly possible for him to spend more of his own money in order to compete.) The Pirates have had similar owners in the past. The Twins have been able to compete and even win in spite of Mr. Pohlad's refusal to put in more money.

Limiting what the top teams can spend may address part of the problem, but you can't fix it entirely unless you force teams at the bottom to spend more ... and even then, if they don't spend money wisely, they are no more assured of success than teams like Baltimore and the Mets are.

At Sunday, February 07, 2010 10:44:00 PM, Blogger Ian Simcox said...

Great article. But (and I can tell you're as rusty as English football league structure as I am on the history of baseball), the BIGGEST problem in terms of available money for wages in the European Champions League.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of disparity. The top 4 teams in the EPL every year qualigy for the Champions League the following year. As this is a competition that features the best teams around Europe, there is a significant amount of money raised from being a part of it. Added to the fact that a team gets more money for finishing higher in the Premier League, it essentially means that every season the best teams from the previous year get given more money, thus increasing their likelihood of finishing high that year.

In baseball terms, it is as though any team that makes the League Championship series is given a massive injection of cash as reward for their success. The next season, given that extra money, the same teams are likely to return and receive the cash boost again and so on and so on.

The reason the fans put up with it is that fans of teams outside of Chelsea and Man Utd have lower expectations. They don't aim for winning the league (except Arsenal fans, and they haven't done it for a while). 4th or 5th place is a legitimate aim for most clubs. It is sad, but with the league set-up as it is, we're stuck with it so we have to make do.

At Monday, February 08, 2010 9:46:00 AM, Blogger HeadHammerShark said...

Ian - that is absolutely right.

In fact you could go so far as to say that the EPL is set up to ensure the same teams always win. The only possible way to break into the Champions League is spend hundreds of millions like Man City or Spurs, and they haven't even achieved it yet.

The reason we put up with it is because our clubs are turkeys that keep voting for Christmas. Of course there should be a fairer distribution of money, and attempts at levelling the field (in the absence of drafts or salary caps) but the other 16 clubs who can't win the league don't push for it.

I have a season ticket at West Ham and it disgusts me that I pay as much as a Man Utd fan but I simply have to accept that my money doesn't entitle me to equivalent success.

The best thing that could happen for our game would be for one of the self styled Big 4 to miss out on the CL and start to get into financial trouble. And I take no pleasure in saying that...

At Monday, February 08, 2010 1:59:00 PM, Blogger nyyankeefanforever said...

If the cheap greedy owners of lousy teams like the Royals and Pirates invested some of the luxury tax money they receive from the Yankees in better players and baseball men like Cashman, maybe they wouldn’t continue to toil in mediocrity. Truth is, since the wild card era began the Yankees have made the playoffs every year but one, and MLB has fared quite well without them. Fans who love the game enough to become disgruntled will not turn away from the game — only from their own pathetically run teams, and direct their allegiances elsewhere. Why else would you see Yankee caps and shirts throughout the crowd in every AL stadium the Bombers play in. They can’t ALL be expatriate New Yorkers, can they?

In the 70-plus years prior to free agency when teams owned players outright their entire careers and it was all about picking talent and team chemistry, the Yankees were still the most winning, dominant team. So really, it must simply come down to a commitment to excellence and providing demanding fans a product they will support with their allegiance, ticket-buying and merchandising.

A final thought: "Black Sox" owner Charles Comiskey was by far the most notoriously criminally cheap owner in history, and yet his team probably contained one of the most dominant and successful collections of Hall of Fame-worthy players in one place at one time as any team in history. Under any system at any time, the biggest winners have always been the teams that were able to evaluate talent and deals better than the rest and then make all the pieces click together. And that only takes place in places where the fans are knowledgeable and demand excellence.

Because, honestly, if fans never got to see what nine great players on the same team playing together looked like, how the heck would they know what a beautiful thing baseball can be in the first place?

For a musical comedy tribute to this whole phenomenon, you should check out “Joe’s Job – The Ballad of Terry Francona” at

Go Yankees! 28 in 2010!!!

At Monday, February 08, 2010 6:32:00 PM, Anonymous George, Tom, Abe, & Teddy said...

It’s not the Yankees who are responsible for the lack of competitiveness of some small market teams; it’s a failed owner of a small market team masquerading as a commissioner. Let me elaborate:

I'm a Nationals fan. (OK, you can stop laughing now.) The owner of my team, real estate magnate Ted Lerner, has more money than any other owner in baseball. He could not only spend on par with the Yankees, he could charge ticket prices within shouting distance of the New Yankee Stadium were the Nats a playoff contender. (For proof of this, check out not only the Skins’ history of high-priced ticket and luxury suite sales but the number of sellouts that occur when either the Caps or Wizards sniff respectability.) Yankees or no Yankees, the current baseball structure would allow the Nats to contend for a title. For instance, the Nationals could easily have afforded bettering all offers for John Lackey, Matt Holliday and Orlando Hudson, who along with some other vet depth and rotation help could take the team towards respectability while some of the minor league talent and recent draft picks like Strasburg continued to develop and emerge over the next couple of years.

However, Lerner was put into place as Nats owner precisely because his close personal friend Bud Selig knew that Lerner viewed his ownership solely as a diversification of his and his family’s wealth. Lerner said as much after buying the team, calling the Nats a “family legacy” rather than highlighting the chance to create a winning ballclub in Washington. Selig cut off bidding at $450 million despite multiple offers from other groups that were above $600 million and promised to climb higher, awarding the team to his handpicked friend. Lerner immediately showed his true colors after getting the team, griping about free agent salaries as if someone had held a gun to his head to buy the team. Selig received the power to name the owner (and avoid giving it to someone who might have run the team with a competitive payroll) thanks to MLB’s dubious stewardship over the Expos. It was the Expos’ relocation mess that allowed Selig to further mold ownership situations to his liking, many of which were in smaller markets looking for new stadiums.

In the mid 1990s, the Pirates had played out multiple ownership scenarios and couldn’t find an owner willing to pay market value to keep the team in Pittsburgh. Despite several offers from outside parties willing to buy the Pirates were they able to move the team if a new stadium wasn’t built, Selig chose to allow Kevin McClatchy to leverage the 5% of the asking price he put down in acting general partnership. McClatchy promised to keep the team in town, but he and subsequent ownership configurations have refused to open their wallets despite a new stadium being built. In KC, a multimillionaire was picked by Selig (under the same ‘no move’ conditions) to be the majority owner for an asking price tens of millions below other offers. Like the Pirates, the team has held payroll down to ridiculous levels as well, pocketing luxury tax dollars (paid primarily by the Yankees) and national TV monies meant to go back into the farm system. (Are you seeing any pattern develop?)

At Monday, February 08, 2010 6:36:00 PM, Anonymous George, Tom, Abe, & Teddy said...

Furthermore, even markets that aren't truly small or had small-pocket ownership have posed as such with Selig's assent. In Minnesota, we had what’s known as another small market team (more appropriately called a mid-market with a Nielsen rank of 15th in the nation and high disposable income demos) actually put its money into its scouting and farm system with good results. However, it wasn’t the Yankees or the market size that kept the team at bottom-feeding status, collecting luxury tax dollars and crying poor while contending for playoff spots. It was Carl Pohlad, an owner worth $1.8 BILLION at the time that he offered his team up for planned contraction by his good friend Bud Selig. This was after years of trying to get the 3rd publicly-funded stadium for the Twins in 4 decades built. Pohlad could’ve put up or cobbled together the money himself a la San Fran all along, yet the Twins went from one dubious scheme to another lest Pohlad be denied the sweetheart deal he wanted.

Any one of these teams could be competitive for multiple seasons at a time if they had ownership willing to build the right way. Using the Yankees as a catch-all for the baseball' woes and wishing for more and more constraints on them is the built-in excuse by teams who claim to be major league operations but prefer to use their market status to mask ineptitude and cheapness. It’s not the Yankees’ fault that the league over-expanded before allowing relocation to occur and let some markets who’ve been unable to compete at a major-league level lose their teams. Which would’ve been better for Pittsburgh, who had the Pirates looking to move as far back as the 1980s: the current scenario, or losing the team for a time and then having to pull together a committed ownership group with major league dollars behind it and a plan for a new stadium deal and potentially rescue a team from a troubled market like Montreal?

We could start another discussion just on what markets could vie for currently troubled teams, but the main point is this: if enough markets were forced to step up and carry their own weight, their fans would have a chance to see on-field success a lot sooner than if more measures to cut the Yankees payroll are implemented.

At Wednesday, February 17, 2010 10:45:00 AM, Blogger Hank Gillette said...

Phil Birnbaum said:

My perception of the old Yankee dynasty was that there wasn't a perception that they were just buying up all the best players from other teams.

No, just the ones from Kansas City. :)


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