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BTB Mailbag: Is Parity Bad For The NFL?

Once again, we dip into the BTB Mailbag to answer one of our readers' questions. Today, we address the question of parity in the NFL, looking to other, less parity-driven leagues for answers.

8-8 leads to an increase in fan rabidity
8-8 leads to an increase in fan rabidity
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

From Dave Silliman: "Do you think the outspoken, win-by-all-means fans will undermine or halt the positive progress this team is undergoing? The NFL wants all teams to be 8-8, that proves close competition. Fans need to understand that while one team dominates, the other team loses its fan base."

Another reader question sufficiently intriguing for both myself and O.C.C. to take a stab at it. This time around, the Cool One leads us off with a look at European football leagues, and I follow up his fine work by taking a gander at Major League Baseball.


OCC: I generally don't think fans have any kind of influence on well-run teams. Where fans can sometimes influence teams is when the teams are badly managed, and key people in the organization are insecure in their positions.

As to teams losing fans when another team dominates, this is typically something you see when you have a lot of bandwagon fandom.

But allow me digress a little with regard to NFL parity, which many Cowboys fans seem to perceive as a negative thing - perhaps because they believe that once Jerry Jones is allowed to spend whatever money he wants, the Cowboys would find back to their winning ways. But it would also make for a supremely boring league. Over the last 22 years, since the Cowboys won their first of three Super Bowls under Jerry Jones after the 1992 season, the NFL has seen 13 different Super Bowl winners, and only the Cowboys and Patriots have managed to win three Super Bowls a piece.

Compare that to the Premier League in England, which coincidentally was founded in 1992. Their 22 championships have been won by six teams in their 20-team league:

Manchester United: 13
Arsenal: 3
Chelsea: 3
Manchester City: 2
Blackburn Rovers: 1

But the Premier League is not unique in its lopsidedness. Here's a look at the champions of the last 22 seasons in the other top European soccer leagues:

German Bundesliga (18 teams)
Spanish La Liga (20 teams)
Italian Serie A (20 teams)
Team Titles Team Titles Team Titles
Bayern Munich 12 Barcelona 10 Juventus 8
Borussia Dortmund 5 Real Madrid 7 Milan 6
SV Werder Bremen 2 Atlético Madrid 2 Internazionale 5
VfB Stuttgart 1 Valencia 2 Roma 1
VfL Wolfsburg 1 Deportivo La Coruña 1 Lazio 1
FC Kaiserslautern 1 - - - - - - - -

In European soccer, many fan bases haven't wasted a single thought about winning their league titles in any of the last 22 years. In the NFL, every teams starts the season with the hope that this could be the year. As a league, that's not a bad place to be in.

Rabblerousr: Allow me to add Major League Baseball to O.C.C.'s argument. It's been oft pointed out - and nowhere more eloquently than in Michael Lewis' Moneyball -  that MLB consists of haves and have nots. The teams with big media markets (and big TV contracts) have more financial power than small market clubs, who generally struggle to compete. Coincidentally for our purposes, this trend emerged in the early 90s, with the demise of the great Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays teams, which followed a similar drop off in Kansas City, where the Royals had been an annual contender throughout the 70s and 80s.

However, I'm not looking solely at championships here, because baseball's playoff format tends to be unkind to favorites. As a consequence, I want to consider 90-win seasons and number of times a franchise has the most wins in its respective league as additional markers of success. Here goes:

Team Titles 90+ Wins Most League Wins
American League
Yankees 5 15 10
Red Sox 3 11 2
Blue Jays 2 2 2
White Sox 1 4 1
Angels 1 6 1
A’s 0 9 3
Indians 0 8 3
Twins 0 7 0
Rangers 0 6 0
Mariners 0 5 1
Rays 0 5 1
Astros 0 4 1
Orioles 0 2 1
Tigers 0 3 0
Royals 0 0 0
National League
Braves 1 16 9
Cardinals 2 8 4
Giants 2 9 1
Marlins 2 2 0
Phillies 1 5 2
Diamondbacks 1 5 1
Dodgers 0 5 1
Reds 0 5 0
Mets 0 3 1
Brewers 0 3 1 (2014)
Rockies 0 2 1
Nationals 0 2 1
Cubs 0 2 1
Padres 0 3 0
Pirates 0 1 0

Notice which teams are at the bottom: the aforementioned Royals and Pirates, notoriously under-funded small-market teams. On the other hand, the Yankees and Braves have dominated their respective leagues, followed by clubs like the Red Sox, Cardinals and Giants. Although there have been more World Series winners than there have been Bundesliga champions, the distribution, especially when we consider the other markers of success, correlate well.

MLB is closer to the NFL in terms of total champions (13 to 11). More importantly, however, is the bald fact that many franchises enter every season devoid of any realistic chance of playing for a championship. In almost every NFL city, on the other hand, fans can make a case that their team will be much improved and - should everything go right - be able to "make the tournament" and compete for a Lombardi.

The takeaway here? Assuming that a team's bandwagon gets loaded up when they have a realistic chance to make the playoffs, the NFL's drive to parity, rather than decreasing certain fanbases, increases fanbases all across the league. Parity brings hope. Want proof? Look no further than the videos of Cleveland fans celebrating after the Browns selected Johnny Manziel.



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