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.