American Sports Fans are Missing out Bigtime!

The richest game in sports pays the winner a staggering $180 million. It’s played every year on a Saturday in May, and is often contested by teams most people outside the UK haven’t heard of.

Last May was Middlesbrough versus Norwich.

Norwich won, securing the remaining promotion spot to English Premier League, aka the Prem, and a big payday thanks largely to the $2.2 billion annual TV rights.

Losers Middlesbrough remain in the second tier Championship. (Roughly comparable to triple A)

(The top two Championship clubs win automatic promotion, with the next four clubs going into the playoffs.)

What goes up also comes down, with the bottom 3 clubs in the Prem, suffering the ignominy of relegation to the Championship.

Often the relegation dogfights are more gripping than the battle for first place as the three clubs in the relegation zone feel the tension building as their remaining games and hopes dwindle.

And this upheaval happens every season, consistently bad performances are met with dire consequences for both clubs and players.

Outside the largest clubs, many player contracts contain relegation clauses that trigger a wage cut if the club gets relegated, so it’s not just pride that gets hurt.

So great are the financial rewards of being in the Prem that clubs who do get relegated, are given parachute payments of around $90 million over 4 years to help balance their books.

And they need it, the step up is extreme and 50% of promoted clubs get relegated their very first season.

America celebrates winners in all walks of life so it’s a little ironic that losing sports teams get a free pass.

In a country that’s a beacon of democracy, the major leagues operate as a closed shop where the only way in is buying a franchise.

Somehow it doesn’t feel very sporting, but of course pro-sports is big business.

Most brands can only dream about the brand loyalty sports teams enjoy and the valuations prove it.

According to Forbes the average NFL team is worth $2 billion, up a massive 38% since 2014.

The average MLB team clocks in at $1.2 billion and is up an even more massive 48% year over year according to the same source.

With that kind of return there’s no incentive for change, hence teams like the notorious 2008 Detroit Lions who lost every game but stayed in the NFL.

Promotion and relegation does fans a huge favour because the system keeps owners honest.

Imagine the Loser Bowl a play-off between the NFL’s worst two teams with the loser vanquished to a second tier league.

And the winner of that second tier league bringing flesh blood to the NFL.

Of course, it will never happen, but it would give under-performing owners and athletes a little added motivation.

And fans are missing out on some serious fun.

Apart from the small but growing number, watching the Prem on NBC.


The Strange Allure of Losers

In a world enthralled by winners, sport reminds us there are also losers. Last weekend I watched Spurs (that’s Tottenham, not San Antonio) lose their third Premier League match in a row.

Although the team is still in third place, their lead over Arsenal (our arch-rivals) in fourth place, has evaporated to a solitary point, from 10 points, in just two weeks.

As a longstanding Spurs fan this is disappointing, but not altogether unexpected.

It’s the price of following a club with a tradition of swashbuckling football and a masochistic tendency of giving up soft goals.

A club that hasn’t won the game’s top honour since 1961, and could well go another 50 years before winning it again - but still sells out more or less every home game.

In a society that idolises winners, sport may be the only area where associating with losers is considered acceptable.

Even losing sports brands are incredibly powerful, with teams getting passed down through generations of families like blue eyes, or big ears.

In many communities it’s OK to change your spouse but not to change your team.

In sports, even losers have allure.

History, on the other hand, is said to be written by the winners.

Maybe so, but there are losers who capture our imagination across the centuries, with a grip most brands can only dream about.

Napoleon may have lost the battle of Waterloo, yet he’s certainly defeated the Duke of Wellington in the battle of pop culture.

There are innumerable films about Napoleon, including Abel Gance's 1927 epic, in most of them Wellington is relegated to a minor role.

While Wellington can lay claim to a boot and a beer or two named after him “Napoleon” is the term given to a whole category of Armagnac and Cognac.

Oscar Wilde died broken and penniless.

Since then, practically all his work been filmed, he himself is the subject of numerous films and Wildean has become an adjective.

His epigrams endure and he’s the subject of numerous biographies.

Van Gogh never sold a picture in his lifetime and cut off his ear.

But two of his paintings are among the 10 most expensive ever sold, (adjusted for inflation).

And his pop cultural influence ranges from a portrayal by Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life, to the song Vincent by Don McLean and at least 5 other films.

We’re fascinated by Van Gogh’s brilliance, his madness, and his persistence, in death we accord him the place he was denied in life.

Napoleon died in exile, but is still regarded as one of the finest military strategists ever.

Oscar Wilde’s wit overshadows his fall from grace over something as commonplace as homosexuality.

In life, as in sport, the best players don’t win every time.

But sport at least gives us transparency along with victory or defeat.

A transparency that can be missing in life, where sometimes the game feels rigged before it begins.

And there's something heroic about rolling the dice for really big stakes.

Whether the winners write history or not, the losers are often more interesting.

Even if, when it comes to sports, they break your heart every time.