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Competitive balance

From BR Bullpen

Competitive balance refers to the opportunity which each team in a league has of winning the championship. In a situation of perfect competitive balance, each team would win the championship at a regular interval. In contrast, in a situation with no competitive balance, the same team would win the championship every year.

In professional sports, the National Football League is known as having very good competitive balance, with a regular turnover of teams who play in the Super Bowl and no team mired in the basement in perpetuity. In Major League Baseball, there have been periods of strong competitive balance (for example, the 1980s), and others where it was almost absent (e.g., the American League from 1947 to 1964, when the New York Yankees won almost every pennant, and the same two teams, the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics and the Washington Senators were always last).

Generally, competitive balance is considered a good thing, because too much predictability leads to fans of the weaker franchises becoming disaffected and fans of the perennial champions to become blasé, lowering interest overall. It is no coincidence that attendance in the American League fell well behind that of the National League starting in the middle of the Yankees' era of dominance in the 1950s, and did not recover until the mid-1970s. That said, perfect competitive balance is no great shakes either, as complete unpredictability is not conducive to building fan loyalty.

A number of measures have been introduced or contemplated to increase competitive balance. The first were the bonus rule and then the amateur draft, introduced to prevent a few teams from signing all the best young players, and later various forms of revenue sharing. More radical proposals such as a salary cap, were never implemented. The introduction of these elements is always controversial, and along with the issue of limiting salaries, has been at the center of the labor strife which plagued Major League Baseball from the 1970s to the early 2000s.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ronald W. Cox and Daniel Skidmore-Hess: Free Agency and Competitive Balance in Baseball, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2006.
  • David J. Gordon: "Competitive Balance in the Free Agent Era: The Dog that Didn't Bark", in Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 49, Nr. 2 (Fall 2020), pp. 48-57.