Sports and economic systems

There has been increased attention paid to the issues of economic justice and college sports this Fall, spurred in part by the publication of an essay in the Atlantic by Taylor Branch, excerpted from his book The Cartel. I am a big sports fan and have written a bit about the role and tradeoffs of big time college sports in Universities, and made a proposal for how some college athletes could be paid that emanated from discussions with Harold Pollack.

One big picture question has always fascinated me, and I am wondering if there is scholarship or reader thoughts about this question:

  • Why does the USA have more economic control in our professional sports of football, basketball and baseball (free agency, salary caps, hard constraints to entry) than Europe has in its top sport of Soccer?

This seems ironic if you go with the assumption that the USA has a more market based economy than does Europe. While this insight is fairly obvious and therefore maybe not novel, it fascinates me that in a nation that values markets, we have so much economic control in our professional sports. And in Europe which has more governmental economic intervention, they have an essentially unfettered market in their top sport of Soccer. If I had a Billion dollars to spend, I could buy a lower flight or struggling top flight English Soccer club and could buy my way to star players and presumably improved results in a quite straightforward manner (the limiting factor would be how much money I had, and it would take some time). In the U.S., it would be very hard to buy a team, and even if I managed to do so, I would face many barriers to spending my way to the top.

Why is this the case? Has there been serious scholarship (economic, sociological, historical) that explains the seeming disconnect between the overall economy and the economics of sports in the USA and Europe? Is the existence of big time college sports in the USA somehow part of the answer?


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