Redistribution and Equality: Football versus baseball example
By Josh Sager
Those who study politics often look for models in order to test the effects of policy in society as a whole in the micro scale. Two important concepts, both politically and for the health of our nation as a whole, are equality of opportunity and economic redistribution in order to promote social welfare. The concept of equality of opportunity is simply “does everybody in society have access to a chance for success given work”. The world of sports in the USA gives us two great models of the effects of economic redistribution and equality of opportunity.
Baseball and football are two of America’s most beloved pastimes, having tens of millions of fans each, spread across all fifty states. As I grew up in Boston, I have seen firsthand the borderline religious fervor given to the sports of baseball and football; one only need attend a single Patriots or Red Sox game in order to see the level of dedication some feel towards their local sports team. Despite their mutual popularity, baseball and football, are run in completely different manners and have the potential to illustrate the effects of equality and redistribution on a society as a whole.
Major League Baseball is organized around multiple competing franchises, funded primarily through ticket sales, private funds, and advertising; as such, there are virtually non-existent levels of revenue sharing (economic redistribution) and equality of opportunity between teams. Each team is individually funded, thus the teams with larger venues (New York, Boston, etc.) are able to raise far more money than those with small venues. The teams that have access to more money are able to buy the contracts of the best players by overbidding the smaller teams, thus these teams tend to get the better players. Having a better pick of players in no way guarantees victory, but it does give certain franchises a steep advantage over others by allowing them to steal talent from the opposition (Not to hate on the Yankees, but they are legendary for doing this, right back to the days of Babe Ruth.).
Baseball illustrates a society where those with money and increased access are able to get advantages that those who don’t have resources cannot. There is no redistribution of wealth from the richest teams to the poorest teams, thus there is no guarantee of equality of opportunity. The result of this social situation is that statistically the richer teams have a far larger chance of winning the World Series than those who are poorer. If we consider baseball as a microcosm of society as a whole, we see an individualistic society where the free market controls all resources. While everybody plays by the same rules of the game (analogous to our laws), some are able to gain an advantage before the game even begins. The rich do not pay to advance the interests of the poor, thus the poor are often unable to compete on a level playing field with the rich in the competitive market. Baseball illustrates the right wing concepts of a free market driven society, where the government (MLB) does not interfere to make certain that everybody has equal opportunity.
Major League Football is based around a centrally organized organization (The NFL) which operates using profit sharing and salary caps in order to preserve fairness. While the revenue streams of football are virtually identical to those of baseball, coming primarily from television contracts, advertisements, tickets, and other merchandising, the distribution of money is much more equitable. The money that comes from the NFL media contracts is distributed equally among all teams, regardless of the size of the venue; smaller teams receive the same amount of money from the NFL that larger teams get despite their smaller profitability. When combined with the salary cap on players, this redistribution policy prevents any one team from buying all of the superior players’ contracts. Some teams do have superior talent, but this is unlikely to be due to them spending several times more than any other team to retain such talent. By promoting a level playing field, the NFL attempts to give every team a fighting chance at the Super Bowl and thus advance the sport as a whole.
When translated into a societal model, football is a much more socialized society than that of baseball. In football, having access to large venues and high profits is minimized by the redistribution of wealth between teams, creating a situation where every team has a similar opportunity for success. The most profitable teams subsidize the less profitable ones, thus access to money is less important than teamwork, training, skill and coaching. The NFL revenue sharing situation illustrates how taxes in society redistribute wealth downward, as well as horizontally, so that those without money have increased chances of success. Without the redistribution from top to bottom, the teams/corporations with larger amounts of money reduce the competition in the game/market in order to gain an advantage over others. A society with strong redistributive programs which fund field-leveling programs such as infrastructure, education and a social safety net, will, like the NFL, promote increased equality and advancement based upon skill. The policies of the NFL illustrate the left wing concept that income redistribution in order to boost those with fewer resources can promote fair competition and increase the welfare of society as a whole.
There is no objectively correct answer as to which funding model is superior when we compare football and baseball, nor is there one when we translate the sport models into politics. The argument comes down to the debate between the political right, who want to operate under the baseball model of condensing wealth under a few powerful entities, and the political left, who want to spread resources out in order to promote equity and fair competition.