How Socialism Made the NFL into America’s True Pastime
Who is the person most responsible for making the National Football League into the world’s richest and most successful sporting entity?
Try this one on for size.
That’s right, Karl Marx — otherwise known as the father of the global movement referred to as “socialism.”
This Sunday, more than 100 million people will tune into the Super Bowl. Among those watching will be red-meat ravishing Red Staters and stalwart conservatives, their minds all chained to the Dystopian conservative philosophical mantle insisting that acute competition between businesses and among individuals combined with the prioritization of profits breeds widespread economic prosperity.
That’s certainly not true in professional sports. Fact is, the NFL has enjoyed unparalleled success because it adopted virtually all of the principles of socialism.
The NFL is a socialist enterprise.
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The National Football League is a juggernaut.
It’s the richest and most successful sporting institution in the history of the world. It’s the true national pastime.
Forget Major League Baseball — which slipped off the pedestal as the nation’s premier spectator sport half a century ago and has a future about as bright as archery.
Football initially surpassed and eventually supplanted baseball as the national pastime way back in the 1960′s, when television became the new barometer of popularity. Now, both college and professional football demolishes baseball in ratings to the point where Major League Baseball now avoids scheduling its post-season games against the NFL regular season. Consider that nine of the top ten most-watched television programs of all time are Super Bowls. By contrast, the World Series of Baseball’s highest rated game ever in history ( played in 1986) drew about a third of what an average Super Bowl attracts.
How did this remarkable transformation come to be? Two words — revenue sharing.
If football has a Karl Marx figure, it’s most certainly former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. I suppose it’s Friederik Engels would then be Lamar Hunt, who held the same power over in the American Football League (AFL). When the two pro football leagues signed huge national television contracts, Rozelle and Hunt had the tremendous foresight to divide profits and share the millions in revenue equally between all teams. That meant money from CBS and ABC would be divided into equal shares between New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — and places like Green Bay. Despite the bigger market teams enjoying significantly greater numbers of fans and viewers, Rozelle and Hunt (along with team owners) understood that the overall game would be much better off if all teams were given an equal chance to compete, win, and proper. In 1970, the two leagues merged and adopted this same policy for all teams.
Today, all NFL teams receive roughly an equal share of the profits generated from the league. For this reason, Green Bay (population 70,000) can compete with New York (population 8,000,000). Both teams can also be just as profitable.
By contrast, baseball maintains an economic system reminicent of the robber baron days of Jay Gould and J.P. Morgan, an area of “haves” and “have nots.” In baseball, big market teams reap and keep the lion’s share of their television money and merchandicing. Accordingly, powerful teams like the Yankees, Mets, and Dodgers can buy up all the talent every year when players around the league become free agents. Smaller cities like Kansas City and Pittsburgh — with far less money to spend on good players — simply can’t compete. The competitive imbalance causes fans in some cities to lose interest. The entire league suffers.
Indeed, while professional football is based on the princples of socialism, baseball remains very much weilded to the principles of capitalism. And based on any tangible metric, the evidence is abundantly clear as to which system is more successful.
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Socialism is all about sharing and cooperation.
Let’s examine how the NFL operates as a business. Consider the following:
REVENUE SHARING — All 32 NFL teams share television money in equal shares.
MERCHANDIING PROFITS — Until 2010, NFL teams shared most of the royalties earned from merchandise sales. However, courts recently ruled that this policy violated anti-trust laws. Now, the 32 teams will be able to make their own deals, which ruins a system that has worked well for the past fifty years.
THE NFL DRAFT — Every year, the weakest teams are given the opportuity to make the first picks when drafting new players. This gives bad teams a greater opportunity to improve and perhaps become better. By constrast, the best teams must pick last in the draft.
SCHEDULING — The best teams are required to play tougher schedules the following year. The worst teams play a weaker schedule.
GAME DAY — All teams play games on the same day at the same time (in rotation). No team is permitted to schedule its games apart from the rest of the league. The league stictly dictates the NFL regular season schedule and game times.
Virtually everything the NFL does is patterned on the principles of sharing and cooperation. Profits are divided equally. Teams needing help are given competitive advantages. And teams that consistently perform well are asked to sacrifice more.
Indeed, this all sounds a lot like socialism.
Note: I was glad to see Bill Maher and Jon Stewart essentially deliver this same message on their shows the last few years. But I wrote about this subject more than ten years ago, so I’ll go ahead and take some credit for coming up with this idea first.