As an American, I’m far too used to the concepts of revenue sharing, competitive balance, and their impacts on the sports I follow. As an FC Barcelona fan, I’ve been fascinated by the ongoing discussions in Spain about how to deal with the same issues in La Liga. Sid Lowe has an excellent three-part series which details the current state of affairs—in short, La Liga is behaving similarly to Major League Baseball where despite some revenue sharing, the majority of money is going to the big-market teams.
La Liga though is still more unbalanced than MLB. This is scary. Most Americans are not pleased Major League Baseball’s situation. At the same time, it’s not clear what a better solution is. Most Americans also don’t like all the salary cap shenanigans that occur in the NFL and NBA and the resulting parity in those sports is as frequently complained about as the inequity in MLB.
The funny thing for me is that for all the talk about competitive balance and distribution of revenue, this is almost one of those cases where addressing the symptoms first might be the better solution. There is ample evidence in American sports that even with revenue sharing, ownership does not always spend the money on players. It may make sense that, along with revenue sharing, there should be rules in place which will actually address what fans actually care about.
After all for a league to be competitive, the fans need to be engaged. For the fans to be engaged, you really only need one of two things.
- A legitimate chance at winning something this year—specifically good competitive players right now.
- The legitimate belief that the team is rebuilding and will be competitive in the future—specifically good young players who will stay with the team for a long time.
Right now, Spain’s problem is that only two teams can claim to be in category one and none can claim to be in category two. There are teams with good young players; no one expects those players to stay with their current clubs. And this is really the root of the problem.
It’s one thing for Barça to be successful because they’ve developed the best talent in Spain. And they have. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Busquets, Pedro, and Valdes have never played for another club. It will be a shame if they ever do leave. I’m proud that Barça can afford to keep them and pay them competitive wages. I wish other clubs could afford to do the same.
What I’m not proud about is Barça’s buying—especially the buying from other Spanish teams. I’m annoyed when the best baseball teams accumulate the best free agents. The soccer situation where teams can just buy players without regard to the contractual situation is even worse. How unfair would it be if the Yankees or Red Sox could try and buy your team’s best player any time? And it’s even more unfair when teams send players out on loan with the stipulation that that player cannot play in games where the lending team is involved.
I don’t think these problems will be solved by any revenue sharing agreements. From my point of view, the real problem in soccer is one of player movement. It’s far too easy for the powerful clubs to buy and accumulate players from smaller clubs. I’m not sure how you can create incentives to reward clubs for keeping players longer and to reward players for staying with a single club. But I’d like to see rules put in place to discourage player hoarding. Some ideas.
- Get rid of existing player loans.
- Keep squads small. I like that Spain only allows for 24-man squads right now.
- Players who don’t play in a certain percentage of games/minutes for which they’re eligible (not injured or suspended) become free agents.