This is the time of year when titles will be decided on both sides of the Atlantic. A culmination of months of toil, and the chance to see those dreams of glory harboured in the autumn come to fruition.
As a football [soccer] fan, seeing your team spend money in the close-season brings increased excitement for the season ahead. The feeling of being a contender is intoxicating, though for all but a small minority the expectations are crushed long before the trophies are brought out of their display cases.
Hopes and dreams are the staple of any fan, but in reality should most fans even dare to dream that their team has a chance of success?
Statistics show that fans of US sports have more reason to be optimistic when a new season comes around. In the last twenty years, only six teams have won an English Premiership title. Spanish fans are even worse off with twenty championships shared between five clubs.
Of the major European leagues, France fairs best with eight winners; but this disguises the fact that the last seven have all gone to one club.
In the US, NFL, NHLand MLB all have healthy double-figure lists of teams who have won it all in the last two decades. What can be attributed to this? In Europe, the overriding theme is cash. Those that can spend, win. Those that win, get more money through turnover from popularity, but mostly through TV deals.
Smaller clubs sell their best players to the big clubs just to survive; and the big clubs then win even more; receiving more money for it, while talent in other teams is diluted and weakened.
The domination of the rich is assured, until a benefactor comes to the rescue of a minnow. Even then it is money that brings trophies as cash is needed to assemble a competitive squad.
In the US a system of fixed leagues devoid of promotion and relegation keeps teams constant and shares league revenues; while the draft system distributes talent. However, we all know that there are big and small market teams in the US, and the difference in earning power is marked.
Salary caps quash that affect and create further parity, but why then does baseball, where arguably the draft has least impact and the biggest loophole to salary cap regulations, have the most different championship teams in the last twenty years; while the NBA where draft picks are most likely to be thrown into ailing teams, is the most exclusive party with only seven different winners.
I believe the answer lies with the players. Marquee players have more of an impact in the NBA, than in any other sport. They can win a game on their own and shape a season easier than their MLB counterparts.
One player does not make a championship team in any sport, but one superstar supported by a couple of able assistants can—especially in a possession sport like basketball.
In baseball too much is out of a star player’s control and dominating consistently game after game is impossible; bringing into question whether one baseball player’s influence over a season is enough to justify the vast annual salaries given to the elite.
Having a payroll of $200m can go some way to making you a champion, but it is far from a guarantee as the Yankees are discovering in this last decade.
However, bring Kevin Garnett to an already competitive team, or get some support for someone like LeBron James, and you are as good as locked for a title.