Monday, February 8, 2010

Open platforms versus cartels in professional sports leagues

What makes a sports league more competitive? More interesting? And more profitable? We have two basic models out there. The European model, with open entry, promotion and relegation on mostly athletic grounds, and the American model, a cartel with regulated entry and no exit except on economic grounds. Basic economics should tell us that an American league should be more profitable but of lesser athletic quality, while the European one should be providing more value, both in terms of quantity and the quality of the good (say, athleticism and entertainment).

Helmut Dietl and Tobias Duschl confirm this conjecture. Indeed, the six top revenue generating teams are European, but some of them are still not profitable, and as in the case of Manchester United, despite significant athletic success. Dietl and Duschl use platform organization, a form of two-sided market theory, to get some better understanding of sports league organizations. In this regard, European leagues can be compared to open source like Linux, open and performing, while American leagues are like Windows, underperforming but most profitable.

Table 2 from the paper summarizes well the differences between the leagues. In European ones, most clubs are members' associations that try to maximize wins. Leagues are open (promotion/relegation), there is full market coverage, hardly any relocations (I cannot think of one), and no salary caps. As a consequence, value (as defined by athleticism or entertainment) is maximized. Contrast this with American leagues, where clubs are privately owned and maximize profits. League are closed, there is rationing, frequent relocation and a salary cap. Thus, American leagues maximize value appropriation.


Paul Lockett said...

The only relocation that comes to mind is Wimbledon moving to Milton Keynes and the ferocity of the reaction showed just how alien that was to the game.

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