(Warning: the following is an attempt by the author to write something free-market related on the day after his Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl. It may be interrupted by sudden outbursts of weapons-grade joy.)
By the way, did I mention that the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl last night?
After the game, I tweeted the following:
“In all seriousness, the fact that Green Bay, WI can have a Super Bowl champion is why the NFL is now America’s pastime.”
And it’s true. People in every corner of the U.S. are fully invested in football now, because they know if a town whose population is less than the stadium in which Super Bowl was actually played can host a champion, any city can.
Almost immediately, I received a response from someone pointing out that the cretinous Bill Maher had chalked the NFL’s success up to old-school socialism. Because the league shares revenues between its large and small markets, it augurs well for socialism in other contexts. See for yourself here:
Again, this clip is essentially a game of “find the hidden joke.” But while Maher is usually a moron, in this case, here’s merely wrong. (Actually, I just watched the clip again. Scratch that – he’s still a moron.)
Football isn’t like socialism in any way, shape or form. First of all, the teams aren’t funded by a group (say, a government), who forcibly takes money from people in order to pay Peyton Manning’s salary. Football teams make a lot of money because people love to watch it – the NFL works within the market of entertainment.
Football has figured out what its product is: It sells competition. Just like McDonald’s sells burgers and Kohler sells toilets, competition is what people buy from the NFL. In order to make some semblance of parity happen, the league tries to make each team as equal as possible – and when fans in every city that has a team thinks their team has a chance to win, your league’s popularity will continue to grow.
This is what baseball hasn’t figured out, and why fewer people watched the last World Series than read Snooki’s autobiography. In baseball, large-market teams spend more on players than teams in small markets. It’s why the Brewers’ Prince Fielder is going to be playing on a team in Boston, New York, or Los Angeles in 2012. A team’s success generally doesn’t depend on its management, it depends on how many television sets it has in its media market. (There are, of course, outliers – big spending teams such as the Mets and… cough… the Cubs continue to reek, while teams like Tampa Bay and Minnesota occasionally sneak into the playoffs. But those small market teams generally fight for the one playoff spot left over after the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels have secured theirs.)
Football knows that teams can’t compete against each other in the same way that Best Buy competes with Target or Macy’s competes with Nordstrom. The NFL as a league is competing with the NBA, Major League Baseball, movies, and all other forms of entertainment for dollars. That’s why it knows it has to sell competition as its product, and do it better than the other sports leagues. And thus, it created the hard salary cap and revenue sharing – to make sure fans in Green Bay can be just as excited about their team as the fans in New York.
To see the contrast, just look at the Super Bowl. The Steelers have been to three NFL championship games in five years; yet the Pittsburgh Pirates are a lifeless organization scraping by with one of baseball’s smallest payrolls. Fans in Pittsburgh have no reason to go see their baseball team, and every reason to see their Steelers. Same goes for Wisconsin, where the Packers are a way of life, but the Brewers have made one playoff appearance in 29 years. In order to get more fans out to see baseball games, the league has had to build new stadiums that feature everything but baseball. Furthermore, fans will root for their own team, but have absolutely no interest in seeing any other teams; thus, the lifeless playoff baseball ratings.
But football’s success has nothing to do with “socialism.” (Although Roger Goodell would probably order certain people to their death, if he could.) To suggest it does, and then extrapolate that to society as a whole, is idiotic. Football operates in a free market with all other forms of entertainment – it simply knows what product it sells and does it better than any other league.