Parity vs. Dominance in MLS

In an interesting recent interview, former U.S. Soccer national team coach Bruce Arena talks about competitive balance in Major League Soccer. While we sports economists talk about the subject all of the time, and the conventional wisdom seems to be, at least in the U.S., that competitive balance is crucial to the success of a sports league, Arena has different views.

“Parity doesn’t bring fans to games. Fans want to see good teams,” he said. “They want to see dynasties and they don’t mind seeing teams struggle and other teams excel. It’s a flavorless product at times, but we do need to have years where there’s the New York Yankees and whoever’s at the bottom in baseball. That’s natural.”

“Parity is a stupid concept,” Arena said. “I really believe that. Two or three dominant teams in this league will be good for the league. I think everyone likes chasing Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, those type of teams. I think it’s great.”

I’m not the reigning expert around here regarding competitive balance, but I think much of what Arena says is supported by the academic literature. I mean, with the dozens of published studies of attendance and league success out there, is competitive balance consistently a significant predictor of league popularity?

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Author: Victor Matheson

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