Competitive Balance in European Soccer

It’s the same old story again in Europe this year. Last weekend Real Madrid clinched the league title in La Liga, its 31st league title overall and its 25th in the past 50 years. Bayern Munich clinched the Bundesliga league title, its 20th title since the formation of the league in 1964. Lyon and Inter Milan, last year’s champions in France and Italy, remained on top of the tables in their respective leagues with two games to go. In England next week’s games will determine whether powerhouse Chelsea or powerhouse Man. U, the top two teams in the standings last season, will be crowned champion. Even in the smaller leagues, the traditional powers are on top. In Scotland, the next couple of weeks will tell whether Rangers can overtake Celtic for the lead. No other team outside the Glasgow pair has won the Scottish league since 1985, and only once in the past 13 years has another team even come in second place.

While the annual races for the championship are usually close, at times coming down to the the last minutes of the last game of the season, interseason competitive balance is notoriously absent in European Leagues using promotion and relegation systems.

Longtime American soccer columnist Paul Gardner sums up his thoughts about promotion and relegation thusly:

The purists keep telling me that soccer will never make it here until we adopt
promotion and relegation. I think they’re dead wrong. I think it’s much more
likely that the rest of the world, this damned, abominably commercial world,
will be forced to recognize the merits of the American franchise system.

Us economists often have a soft spot for promotion and relegation, but Gardner makes some interesting observations about the costs in competitive balance.

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Author: Victor Matheson

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