(above : the face of the American Communist movement)
With the NFL making their annual visit to London tomorrow —- Chicago vs. Tampa, 6pm local time — the Independent’s Chris Szczepanik likens the American football league to “an almost communist system that is designed to ensure competitive balance.” And that’s not a system he’s like to see imported to Premier League soccer, especially if the England F.A.’s top flight did away with relegation.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last appeared at Wembley, in 2009, they were one of the worst teams in the NFL and were lucky to escape with a 35-7 drubbing by the New England Patriots. But despite finishing at the foot of the NFC South that season, they knew they could rebuild without having to descend into a lower league, with no guarantee of a return.
Today they are a vibrant side on the way up, led by the quarterback Josh Freeman, one of the most exciting young players in the game. Could, say, Wigan Athletic do something similar if the Premier League were a closed shop? The trouble with using the NFL as a template is the difficulty of comparing like with unlike.
Instead of having to sell Freeman to survive, by finishing last Tampa Bay guaranteed themselves an early pick in the annual draft of college graduates in 2010, enabling them to strengthen in weak positions. And their fixture list became easier, as they played more teams who finished in similarly low places in other divisions.
Nor did they have to worry about matching the wages offered by more successful teams. The television revenues that fund player wages are split evenly between the 32 franchises, and a salary cap ensured that the Buccaneers could not be outspent by teams from bigger markets.
The New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in that 2009-10 season, a year after finishing bottom of Tampa Bay’s division. But whereas an NFL team can go from worst to first, in the free-market capitalism of the Premier League the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Wigan would be free from one worry in a Premier League with no relegation but, unlike the Buccaneers, they would not be helped to challenge Manchester United and the rest by the League’s structures. No wonder Dave Whelan, the Wigan owner, threatened to pull his club out of a Premier League that banned relegation. Take away the fight to stay up and half the teams in the top tier would have nothing left to play for.