Adam Silver | The NFL is … socialist


The Silver Lining | As Baltimore celebrates, let us reflect on the world’s most socialist sport: NFL football


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Adam Silver
The Silver Lining

Photo by Adam Silver


In the 12 years since the Baltimore Ravens’ last Super Bowl victory, eight different teams have won the big game.

In other words, since 2001, a quarter of the NFL has won the Super Bowl. Compare that to Spanish soccer, a league that has seen only two teams win its title since 2004.

Every year, every NFL team has a reasonable chance of going to the playoffs and even winning the Super Bowl.

How does the NFL manage to give everyone a chance?

It’s simple: socialism.

Throughout the season, advertisers pay big bucks to have their time in front of hundreds of millions of NFL viewers. Last year, 111.3 million people watched the Super Bowl, and 23 of the 25 most watched shows on all television programming were NFL games. That’s a lot of advertising money — and it is all shared.

The NFL splits the revenue by the number of teams in the league. In 2011, the league brought in nearly $4 billion from broadcast deals. Under this revenue sharing model, each team gets around $125 million.

Even though more people watch exciting teams like the Green Bay Packers or Houston Texans, their slice of the pie is equal to boring teams’, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, or my hometown team, the Arizona Cardinals (I don’t want to talk about it).

Even revenue from paraphernalia like posters and jerseys is shared. That means that Mark Davis, owner of the mediocre Oakland Raiders, makes money from the sale of Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III’s jersey.

Teams are also kept on an even playing field through the salary cap, essentially an “allowance” which limits the total amount franchises can spend on player salaries. Because of the cap, the Dallas Cowboys — who have discovered hidden paths to unshared revenue through various sponsorship deals and are valued at $2.1 billion — can’t use their extra cash to attract better players and get better results. Money doesn’t mean championships in the NFL.

Among professional sports, the NFL is unique — a look at the different financial structures of other sports leagues makes the NFL’s socialist tendency even more apparent. Although Americans call European soccer a socialist sport, it is far more capitalist than our beloved NFL.

Money dominates the other “futbol.” In soccer, teams are not limited in the amount spent on salaries or on getting players to join their squads. While they still share TV revenue, the teams at the top take a larger portion.

Without a salary cap, teams can spend themselves into bankruptcy or buy a championship squad — neither of which an NFL team can do. Manchester City, an English Premier League soccer club, has spent £426.3 million purchasing new players since 2008. The result of their treasure hunt: last year, City won the title.

A laissez-faire policy in sports clearly impacts the season’s end. Since the Ravens last won the Super Bowl, only four teams have won the English soccer title and only five teams have placed first or second. As a matter of fact, in my lifetime, only once has a team other than Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City won the title.

European soccer’s capitalistic financial structure has deprived the majority of the league of a shot at success. Meanwhile, at the outset of the socialist NFL season, you can’t count any team out (except for maybe the Buffalo Bills).

Again, since the Ravens’ last championship, every team in the NFL but one has made the playoffs (you guessed it, the Bills). In the same period, 16 teams — half the league — have played in the Super Bowl.

The redistributed wealth, coupled with the salary cap, has led to a basically fair distribution of player talent and thus, success.

I prefer the NFL results. If my team sucks one season, I can still realistically cheer for a playoff team the next.

I’m a capitalist in every way (much to the surprise of my column’s online commenters), but when it comes to the NFL, call me a socialist because next year, the Cardinals are winning it all!

Adam Silver is a College junior and master of public administration candidate from Scottsdale, Ariz. His email address is adamsilver0601@gmail.com and you can follow him @adamtsilver. “The Silver Lining” usually appears every other Thursday.

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