Lessons From the West: Parity


I previously wrote about La Liga’s head-to-head tiebreaker system and found myself attacking the league’s system. Then I started thinking about all the various things that make a league what it is: the format, the structure, etc. Then I started thinking about how that compares to other leagues around the world, both within the footballing world and in other sports as well. In researching this, I came up with potentially more questions than answers, but I think they are valid questions and comparisons that need to be made if we’re to understand, in the end, La Liga from the ground up.

Since 2000, there have been 6 different Super Bowl winners* and 5 different NBA champions**. During that same period in La Liga there have been 3 different title winners***. Why is it that the NFL has such a larger number of teams winning titles than anyone else?

There are certainly major differences between the playing structure of the NFL and that of La Liga, not the least of which is the tournament structure of the playoffs that, at least on the surface, would appear to aid one-off teams to beat heavy favorites (see the 2007-08 Giants beating a previously undefeated Patriots team) whereas the points structure of La Liga would, again at least on the surface, lend itself to the team that was best over the course of the entire season.

In reducing the effects of an “upset,” La Liga places the value squarely on the long-term abilities of a team rather than the short-term. It is a staple of American sports that the “anyone can win on any given day,” but the unspoken part of that is “and that actually matters.” In La Liga, each team invariably loses a couple to a lot of games per season, but, as with Barça last year, those losses are made irrelevant by the other wins. In the NFL, championships don’t necessarily mean much relative to a given team’s regular season efforts. The Giants, when they last won the Super Bowl, were a wildcard team with a 10-6 record. Compare that to the obviously superior Patriots at 16-0, who, despite this perfect record (they were 18-0 heading into the Super Bowl), were beaten by what amounted to a team that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. So, before we proceed, how do we define “parity”?

To me, parity is not a longer list of past champions, but rather a league whose teams are incapable of maintaining dominance over a long period of time because the talent pool is evenly distributed throughout the teams. This is clearly not the case in La Liga, but does that create less competition or does it, in fact, create better competition between the teams who concentrate the talent? Is parity the likelihood of a team that has not previously won a championship (or hasn’t for some defined number of years) ending up with the trophy?

Given that the structures of the leagues are different, let’s look at the NFL since 1999 and see who had the best regular season record (and thus is the regular season champion, so to speak): Jaguars (1999, 14-2); Rams (2001, 14-2) Eagles, Packers, Buccaneers (2002, 12-4); Steelers (2004, 15-1); Colts (2005, 14-2); Chargers (2006, 14-2); Patriots (2003, 14-2; 2007, 16-0); Titans (2000, 13-3; 2008, 13-3). Note that only the 2003 Patriots and the 2002 Buccaneers won the Super Bowl.

Compare that to the worst teams in league over those same 10 years: Browns (1999, 2-14); Chargers (2003, 4-12; 2000, 1-15); Panthers (2001, 1-15); Bengals (2002, 2-14); Cardinals, Giants (2003, 4-12); 49ers (2004, 2-14); Texans (2005, 2-14); Raiders (2003, 4-12; 2006, 2-14); Dolphins (2007, 1-15); Lions (2008; 0-16). Note there is one crossover (Chargers) that took place over a 3 year period. During that same period, one team, the Giants, had the worst record during this span and also won the Super Bowl. It is perhaps noteworthy that there are four teams—Giants, Panthers, Raiders, and Cardinals—that at one point had the worst record in the league and also lost in a Super Bowl during that period.

Bow before that which is greater than you
Bow before that which is greater than you

In NCAA men’s basketball, it is rare (as in has only happened once in the 80-year history of the tournament) to find all four number one seeds in the Final Four, but that, to me, is not suggestive of parity. Rather, it is suggestive of the volatility of a 64-team, single-elimination tournament. To better understand, this, let’s look at all of the Copa del Rey champions from the last 10 years: Espanyol (2), Zaragoza (2), Depor, Mallorca, Betis, Sevilla, Valencia, Barça.

While the CDR is by no means the feature competition of Spain, it is certainly an important enough cup that teams who otherwise have no business earning silverware have a shot at winning it. It’s not just the eventual victor, however, but also the early-round upsets that are actually important here. Last year, Real Madrid lost to Real Union, a nothing and nobody team; while it’s not strange for a Big Gun to lose to a smaller squad (Numancia beat Barça last year, for instance), because of the format, RM’s campaign was over thanks to that one-off loss (played over two legs, yes, but still a knockout phase).

The Champions League quarterfinals and beyond is generally comprised of teams with economic parity and there has never been a repeat champion. That ManU made it to the final last year after having won the competition the year before was an impressive feat that many felt was worthy of mention before, during the match, and afterwards. That suggests that economic parity creates at least the semblance of sporting parity—last year the quarterfinals were comprised of Schalke 04, Barcelona, Roma, ManU, Arsenal, Liverpool, Fenerbahçe, and Chelsea; the year before it was Barcelona, ManU, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Porto, and Villarreal. Obviously there is some variation and this is a very small sample, but that 5 of those teams were repeats is fairly suggestive of some level of parity between those specific teams. Variation is reduced further when you look at the semifinals, (3 of 4 were the same). I don’t want to read too much into that since this post is still ostensibly dealing with La Liga’s parity, so I’ll leave it at that and let you come up with the numbers over the last 10 years as well as what they mean.

The NBA has a lower number of champions, but it also has a quirk to its tournament that none of the other leagues we’ve discussed have: instead of a tournament with a one-off or home and away leg format, each team must defeat their opponents in a best-of-5 or best-of-7 series. It seems to be generally accepted that this eliminates many of the factors associated with upsets because it allows the “better” team to have a bad game or two, yet still, over the course of the series, assert dominance. Given that “better” teams will likely do better over the long term, it makes sense that in the regular season and the Champions League group stages, the bigger teams generally wrest control of the standings from the minnows.

Now, let’s talk about who those big teams are and why they’re capable of such dominance. In the NFL, there’s a hard salary cap that, in essence, forces teams to choose between players rather than contracting them all. Thus the talent base is more widely spread out across the league and only particular factors such as a team’s “philosophy” makes the real difference. Given that talent is not uniform even within the front offices, it is still likely that one team will end up being “better” than the others, it’s just not as likely that that team will be enough better than the other teams to render the games they play moot.

In La Liga, no such restrictions apply, so only the rather mundane issue of player contracts keeps teams like RM or Barça from hording players en masse. Because there are enough players and the talent pool is large enough, scouting is hard to do, thus smaller teams become the feeders for larger teams because they reduce the risk of failure incurred by bringing on a promising yet unproven talent. But because money is not really a problem, the larger teams merely buy up the talent once it is proven and incur none of the risk and get most of the return from that player. Thus the talent pool is effectively reduced to those teams who have enough money to purchase said talent and everyone else is left out in the cold. Given the fairly recent rise of TV revenue as a major and vital source of income for clubs, it’s not surprising that there were more non-big two (or big four, depending on your league) champions until a couple of years ago.

But, let’s look at win percentages over the last 10 years in the NFL and La Liga. Please note that I included ties in the NFL as losses because they are specifically not wins. Since there were only 2 such results (affecting 4 teams), this won’t actually affect the calculations enough to matter (2 games is 1% of the 165 games that the Patriots played in my data set (this is where I got the numbers from). Another note is that these numbers include the playoffs. I then took all of the final standings from La Liga since the 2000-2001 season and combined them by team.

Obviously the number of teams in La Liga stays constant from year-to-year, but the teams themselves are shuffled around by relegation and promotion. Since 2000, there have been 33 different teams in La Primera. Of those, six teams have played just one season up top: Rayo Vallecano, Sporting Gijon, Cadiz, Real Oviedo, Tenerife, and Gimnastic, meaning they have only 38 possible wins. And yes, I know that Gijon and Tenerife are both playing in this year’s top flight, but I didn’t include this year in my study. There were 9 teams that have played in all of the seasons (342 matches): Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Depor, Villarreal, Mallorca, Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol, and Osasuna.

Standard Deviation assuming a normal distribution (Wikipedia)
Standard Deviation assuming a normal distribution (Wikipedia)

So, then, to the numbers, which are possibly somewhat amateur since I’m doing these things for the first time and might not have as solid a grasp on them as I think. That’s your warning; certainly feel free to correct/point out any mistakes I may have made. In the NFL, the average Win Percentage (Win %) was 49.62% and the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_deviation standard deviation was 9.89%. In La Liga, the average Win % was 33.65% with a standard deviation of 9.69%. For those of you who think Points-Earned Percentage is more important (that is, points earned divided by games played times 3), that number is 41.80% and the standard deviation is 9.54%.

That means that, were the distribution to be normal, roughly 68% of all the teams in La Liga would be in the Win % range between 23.96% and 43.34%. That’s a fairly wide group, in my estimation. That Real Madrid and Barcelona sit at 60.23% and 55.26% means they’re 26.59 and 21.62 percentage points removed from the mean win percentage. In the NFL, the best team since 2000, the Patriots, are 22.5% from the mean while the second best team, the Colt, are 19.52% away. Again, those numbers might be skewed because of the playoffs, but I suspect that were the playoffs removed, both teams would be closer to the mean, but that is purely speculative.

On the other end of the spectrum, Murcia was 17.86% removed from the mean win rate (they played in 2 seasons—76 matches—winning just 12 times and earning a total of 56 points) and Gimnàstic de Tarragona 15.23% off the pace. Interestingly, they collected the same percentage of points as Murcia (24.56%). In the NFL, these numbers were 21.92% for the Lions and 14.72% for the Browns. Note that the Texans only played in 116 games during this period (as compared to the average of 153 games for everyone else) because they’re an expansion team that didn’t exist in 2000; they ended up 3rd worst with a Win % of 36.21%, which is 13.41% from the mean.

Roughly speaking, this suggests, at least on the surface, that there’s a lot of similarities between the NFL and La Liga in terms of how the average teams fair, but I think closer inspection reveals that if you’re better in La Liga, you’re so substantially better (Real Madrid was 2.7 standard deviations away from the mean while the Patriots were 2.27 standard deviations away from the mean) that you will always dominate. I can’t adjust in a “per dollar” sense (see here and here) because I don’t have the budgets for La Liga’s teams. If you know where that information can be found, let me know in the comments. Basically, I would assume that were we to look at the “Wins per Euro” we would find that each additional euro/dollar would increase the likelihood of winning. That sounds logical, of course, but we don’t know for sure if that is true until we compare the salaries themselves.

All in all, we’re seeing that there is quite a bit of competition in the middle of the pack, but that they are not coming close to challenging the upper echelons of the league. Barcelona and Real Madrid have, through slightly differing means, consolidated their hold on the league. Again, I suspect that we’re really taking money here and more specifically TV rights money, but, also again, we’ll just have to ignore that for the moment.

Real Sociedad made quite a run for the title in 2002-03, ending up second, and Super Depor was quite a force from 2000-01 until 2004-05 when they ended up finishing 8th. Celta de Vigo is certainly a funny story, in a sense, as they were in the Champions League a couple of times and made to the last 16 while finishing last in La Liga. They were promoted, finished in a UEFA Cup spot and then were relegated again in 2006-07 and we haven’t seen them since. I miss them, actually, but we won’t be seeing them soon as they finished 17th last year in the Segunda and are currently in the relegation zone (20th). Real Sociedad is currently top of the table, which you can check out here. Keeping your finances in order, it turns out, is quite important.

So, because this blog is, as always, indebted to its readers and at least this writer isn’t the most brilliant mathematician, if you have any suggests or better ways to read this information let us all know in the comments and I’ll dutifully incorporate that into my next statistical post.

*Ravens, Patriots, Buccaneers, Steelers, Colts, Giants
**Pistons, Spurs, Lakers, Heat, Celtics
***Barça, Real Madrid, Valencia

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Aeneas
    October 12, 2009

    That is the most amazing superbowl snack. ever.

  2. Kxevin
    October 12, 2009

    My brain hurts. Isaiah, you know that journalists can’t do math and stuff.

  3. Jason
    October 12, 2009

    the MLB and NBA’ 5-7 game series would never work for Football or Soccer.

    MLB and NBA are not contact sports so they can afford to play 4354645656 games every season.

    If Barca and Real had to play 3-5 or 5-7 games to decided anything, i’m sure there would be at least 1 dead and 4 wounded. Probably more if it was Boca v River.

    I don’t ever want a salary cap in La Liga. Because Barca PRODUCES such great talent, would suffer, and lose more of the talent it created.

    I instead would propose a TRANSFER cap of some sort, either the max amount that can be spent on one player, or maybe the max amount during any given transfer window. That way the rich clubs can’t purchase an entire squad in one transfer window (cough… not pointing any fingers… cough)

    I really don’t mind the disparity. I’d rather watch a little bit of the best football on the planet, than a whole lot of mediocrity.

    As a Barcelona fan, ask yourself, would you given 2-3 of your superstars to make the league more even. Of course your never gonna get rid of Messi, Xavi, Ibra, Iniesta. So I ask you this, Would you give up Puyol, Yaya, Henry, Alves, in the name of competetive parity?

    • Jason
      October 12, 2009

      i forgot to mention this, but the Transfer Cap, would put a huge emphasis on producing world class stars, not buying them. This would help the Barcelonas, Ajaxs, Sporting Libsons, Arsenals of the world, and hurt the Madrid and ManUs.

      So, that would be a huge plus.

      But then again, this would also lead to more poaching from the Premiership. They would need to work on the specifics i suppose.

      • Alexinho
        October 13, 2009

        Not sure about a HUGE emphasis. Barca produces a lot of talent, but those players enter the first team very, very slowly. The teams who transfer would just transfer as slowly, so it would probably make teams who use either tactic somewhat even.

    • October 12, 2009

      I don’t think your final question is a fair question. I’m fairly obsessed with the notion of parity, but it is certainly important to think about what that would require of the bigger clubs. And yes, to be honest, I’m pretty much okay with salary caps bringing things more into line across the board, but I do think that it’s pretty much impossible to just jump straight into it.

      But the reason I think it’s an unfair question is because you’re making it personal by asking who you would sacrifice etc. It’s not personal, it’s a question of parity. When posing the question of whether or not there would be increased competition, you have to leave your allegiances at the door and ask the questions as they should be asked.

      I’m not making any arguments about whether this would benefit Barcelona or not. I think it would in that it would make titles more meaningful, but that’s hardly the point. It’s just a question about parity.

      Think of it like this: Is parity good? If Yes, continue to the next line. If No, skip this post. Thus, bringing in what would amount to biased questions (“But we’re already better, why don’t we maximize our betterness instead?”) forgets that Messi would still be a damned good player if he were playing for someone else.

      I love that we produce wonderful football with a lot of canteranos, but imagine if more local talent stayed on Spanish shores rather than running off to higher paychecks in other countries? Given that paychecks in general would be lower, do you think that would lower the amount of talent on hand? I tend to think not, but perhaps I’m wrong. But then we get into some broader philosophical questions that don’t really need to be discussed here.

      I think I’m on record enough times stating that I like parity. But I like parity, just in case you didn’t get it. I’m also not arguing for making our team worse, I’m arguing for making everyone better. I don’t believe in the laws of physics, after all, but I’m a Barça fan and I’ve seen what Leo Messi can do, so I know they’re outdated laws anyway.

      • Jason
        October 12, 2009

        This means we will never agree.

        To me, I have to view the issue from a personal viewpoint. And i try to see it from a realistic viewpoint, rather than an idealistic one.

        Is it fair question that I posed? no, but it is reality.

        I kind of see a parallel between this debate and Health care in America.

        People want parity in healthcare coverage in America. Its a nice idea, when you look at it from a non-biased point of view. Everyone get health care. Everybody wins.

        But when you do look at it from a personal point of view, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my familie’s great covarage just so that everyone has mediocre at best coverage.

        From the bottom looking up, its easy to take a “we want justice and fairness” stance on issues. But on the other side of the coin, for others its easy to take a “we work had for what we have” stance.

        Barcelona doesn’t just sit back and collect money bags. It takes alot of work from alot people to make the the club the best in the world, as well as making the FCB brand a global superpower. From the players, to the board, the marketing people.

        When you start interfering with the rewards available for hard work, the hard work will stop comming. If you put a salary cap on what the highest earners make, will you expect the same amount of work? You probably wouldn’t get it. Alot will say they do it for the sport, for the team, but they also need to make money.

        Soccer lost Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. If we put a limit to earning potential, how many more promising athletes will be lost to other sports?

        Ruud Van Nistelrooy was a basketball player. If he knew he could make more in the NBA, than in a salary capped La Liga, would he stay?

        Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers was also a baskerball player, but decided there was more moeny to be made as a football player.

        If we impose a salary cap, the athletes will either look elsewhere for careers, or only perform to what they think they are being payed to do.

        I’m not saying that my philosphy is the right way to think, or that yours is wrong. But I think one’s stance on this issue depends on their personal philosphy of what is most fair, so we probably will have to agree to disagree, as i don’t see either of us convincing ther other that we are wrong 🙂

        • October 12, 2009

          All right, we’ll agree to disagree, except that I have to point out that you’re claiming a salary cap necessarily lowers wages yet one of your examples is Antonio Gates, who left a sport that has a soft cap (basketball) and went to one that has a hard cap (NFL) in order to make more money.

          So your problem is not a salary cap, it is the amount of money available for investment in La Liga. Do you think that the NFL is currently suffering from lack of talent because it has a salary cap?

          Would you like a European-wide league? Because I could see that working in terms of salary caps and talent availability.

          Your idea of a transfer cap could be a good compromise, though–either as a per-player or per-season amount. And since we’re the ones who determine FIFA-wide policy, this is a good debate to have.

          • Jason
            October 12, 2009

            With the Antonio Gates thing, regardless of which sport has what cap, he went the route that he thought would make him the most money, i don’t know if it was because of the league’s caps, or maybe he knew he was a better Football player than a basketball player.

            The NFL does well with a salary cap because it is the only football league. Yeah, Canada and Mexico have Football leagues, but there is still more money to be made in a salary capped NFL than in any other football league.

            but i do have some gripes about it. As you noted, in 2006 the San Diego Chargers were kicking ass and taking names. This had alot to do with Tomolinson’s rushing ability, and Lorenzo Neal’s ability to facilitate his runs. In 2007, Lorenzo Neal needed a contract and wage packet to match his ability. But we already have LT, Gates, Merrimen, and other high salaried players, so something had to budge. We had the money to pay Neal, but the NFL salary cap woudln’t allow us to pay him that much. To get to the point, Lorenzo Neal leaves, and now we rush for 3-5 yeards at a time instead of 8-15. and we’ve been kinda mediocre without our crazy rushing game. Neal went to Baltimore then Oakland (barf), and now is a free agent, because he is a great player that deserves great pay, but most teams have other superstars that need to be payed first. Tragic.

            Taking LT’s Neal, is like taking Xavi’s Iniesta, taking Torres’s Gerrard. Will it ruin the team? not completely. But it still kinda sucks that the charger went from the 06 Chargers, to the 07 Chargers. which is a big difference.

            Back to footy… My biggest issue is KEEPING players, rather than OBTAINING players. and I also want to Keep players performing at the top of their ability. I don’t mind if we pay alot to our players because we raised most of them, and don’t make more than one or two superstar purchases per season. I do have a probelm with teams that spend 400 million euros (that they don’t have) on a single transfer season. Because that is not hard work. They didn’t raise those talents. So regardless of the amount of money available for investment, I am still against the salary cap. It’s putting a limit on a profesional’s work.

            What about a transfer cap per window, plus a salary cap on any non-cantera foreign players. That could convince a few talents to stay at home. Maybe have have a salary cap but have a certain number of uncapped players (MLS’s Beckham rule)

            (if we keep compromising at this rate, we’ll have something figure out in 2 years time 😉 ) (and FIFA still won’t care)

            I don’t know, another problem I see is what salary cap would you use? a team cap, or cap on how much any one player can make? a combination of both? As it stands Messi probalby earns more than all of Xerez.

            So putting the numbers would be difficult because Madrid’s salarie’s payable are probably in the hundreds of millions, while Tenerife’s is at hundred’s of thousands. any big change mad now would devestate the big teams. Or any change that is to be made over time, would take forever if it is to go smoothely.

          • Alexinho
            October 13, 2009

            “Taking LT’s Neal, is like taking Xavi’s Iniesta, taking Torres’s Gerrard. Will it ruin the team? not completely. But it still kinda sucks that the charger went from the 06 Chargers, to the 07 Chargers. which is a big difference.” (this is below in Jason’s comment)

            Unfair, maybe. It brings down a team. Personally, as a Barca fan, I’d hate it. But as a sports fan, I’d learn to accept it, because its the price you pay for a good show.

        • inNYC
          October 12, 2009

          I can’t resist pointing out that your health care example assumes an either-or situation–you and your family (and others in a similar situation) vs all those in a worse situation. I haven’t been shown conclusively that that scenario actually obtains. I’m happy to leave any sort of politics out of this from here on…but I think that same dilemma might be relevant to a discussion of sporting parity.

          • October 12, 2009

            Agreed – I was going to respond below about that. It’s not an either-or scenario. There are lots of different ways in which these things can be had. A cake and eating it too kind of situation, if you will.

            I think that this is also not an either-or situation but rather a situation in which everyone can benefit. Teams can choose to not pay the full salary cap, which would, in effect, entice players to go teams that are paying the full cap. (and to be clear I’m talking a team salary cap, not a per-player cap–I don’t think the NFL has a cap on personnel, by the way, so your team structure would remain intact)

            Basically, I’m in favor of salary caps across the board in FIFA and especially in UEFA. That way no league gets any major advantage over the others, though I could see one constraint being the previously suggested percentage of the TV rights, which, of course, need to be worked out as well (but they need to be worked out as is in Spain).

            The thing is, I don’t see this as Barça losing talent because Barça has a system going, but rather Barça retaining more talent that it creates because there is less incentive to join a different club. Perhaps that means less incentive to become a member of Barcelona in the first place, but I find that argument unconvincing because there are currently thousands of players attempting to make it in soccer in the US, where average MLS salaries are well below middle class wage averages and I suspect USL salaries are below even that. I would assume the same is true in many other countries around the world.

            Lowering median income is not the goal, rather, raising it, which means the average player (non superstars) would earn slightly more while superstars (above average players) would earn slightly less. I don’t see that as a disincentive so long as salaries in the EPL and La Liga stay within some predefined ratio (which in a perfect world would be 1:1) and superstar salaries stay well above the societal mean. Obviously La Liga will not suddenly become the NFL (as Jason correctly pointed out, the NFL is a closed system while La Liga is a fluctuating system and one that interacts with more leagues than just its own) and be able to mandate rookie minimum salaries at $310,000 as they currently stand. There isn’t that kind of money in La Liga, but there is, I’m sure, enough to increase the overall salaries and institute a league minimum. That is, of course, assuming that anyone thinks it’s a good idea for clubs to be financially sound in order to operate in a league, which so far Spain hasn’t really given a crap about.

            If your entire point is that you simply do not like parity, that’s fine. But, again, if parity is the idea, salary caps are the best way to go about it.

          • ElShowDeJason
            October 13, 2009

            S”If your entire point is that you simply do not like parity, that’s fine. But, again, if parity is the idea, salary caps are the best way to go about it.”

            I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I “do not like parity.” However I am man enough to admit that there are priorities that I value OVER parity.

            So, its not as if i am “against” parity, but there are certainly things i wouldn’t give up as a Barcelona fan, in the name of making La Liga “more competitive” for the “little guy”.

            I’m sure you guys can appreciate that shrewd, harsh, but 100% honest logic.

        • UAI
          October 13, 2009

          I think we are close to hitting the same wall people debating so-called “conservative” vs “liberal” economic policies inevitably hit. I suspect many people (but I won’t claim that most do, although they might) would be very much out of phase with your reasoning and its underpinnings.

          I would be very sad if the only reason Barca’s players are playing at 99% vs. 96% is because we paid them that extra $10k a week. The fact that there are some players in the business playing their butts off when they get close to a contract renewal and then stop doing so, is a manifestation of this problem. I also would rather not be subject to a medical system where the only reason most of the doctor are trying to do a good job is because they are paid well. Things go wrong when that is the primary motivation, in either case.

          • ElShowDeJason
            October 13, 2009

            sad, yes. But that is the harsh reality.

            that is why athletes go the extra mile, to secure an estra year or two of their future.

            thats why doctors work SOOO many hours to be the best instead of spending time with their family., so that they can retire that much earlier, and be with their family.

            I agree. It is extremely sad that monetary value makes the world go ’round and dictates so much, but lets all be honest with ourselves. That’s the world we live in, and every athlete has an agent, a manager, and an accountant reminding him that numbers in his bank account CAN be more important than the number’s he’s putting up on game day.

            Ugly? yes. Not ideal? yes. Realistic? sadly, yes.

        • Alexinho
          October 13, 2009

          “If we impose a salary cap, the athletes will either look elsewhere for careers, or only perform to what they think they are being payed to do.”

          That is a very good point that I had not thought of.

          As for your political philosophy, you put it very clearly, and I agree to a certain point. I don’t agree about other things. I’m being purposefully vague, because I save this kind of thing for other blogs. But still, excellent conversation. THIS, Isaiah and co., is the big improvement in the blog: commenting on comments.

          • ElShowDeJason
            October 13, 2009

            That is what I love about this blog. You can be a bleeding heart XXX or a bleeding heart YYY, either way, if you can present your views with clear logic, it will be met with a counter-argument with only respect and the same amount of logic.

            either way, we are all bleeding-heard cules, and thats what matters right? 🙂

  4. October 12, 2009

    For anyone who doesn’t know how a salary cap works, it relies on league revenue, which Spain doesn’t do anyway since everyone gets differing amounts based on TV rights.

    Check out the rules on that here. I think it works because of collective bargaining agreements that Spain would never be down with because RM and Barça would naturally never agree to them.

  5. October 12, 2009

    as far as normal distributions go, this isn’t a situation where you can use one. for starters, the actual standard deviation is still unknown because you’re working with a limited sample of results (2000 onwards) so it’d be better to use a t-distribution, which is very similar to the normal z-distribution, but allows for the estimation of std. dev. Additionally, since the distribution is skewed (in La Liga) it might be better to find a different distribution altogether to model the data.

    P.S. I’m a statistics major

    • October 12, 2009

      See, this is good for me to know. I’ll look into it.

      However, I have a question: you wrote “you’re working with a limited sample of results (2000 onwards)”–I suppose that’s true, but what then defines “limited sample of results”? If you go any further back in history you run into changes in the rules, finance laws, and other information that will skew your results. So working from 2000 onwards, I think you have as good a sample as you’re going to get. I’m thinking it’s got to be more of a sliding window rather than a static one starting in 2000.

      PS. I’m not a statistics major, so I’m sure there are some very basic concepts I’m missing.

    • UAI
      October 13, 2009

      You can ALWAYS estimate a standard deviation, regardless of distribution. And the variance(reliability) of that estimate will always be dependent on the number of samples (results), regardless of distribution.

      Your second point, however, about the data suggesting that the distribution is non-symmetric, is enough of a reason on its own to avoid the assumption of a normal distribution

    • October 12, 2009

      Will check into that too.

      If anyone wants my data set let me know.

  6. October 12, 2009

    good catch on that, since there are actual rule differences before 2000 (which I didn’t know about) you were right to use a z-distribution when assuming normality (which again should not be the case).

  7. Eduard
    October 12, 2009

    this is an interesting subject and all but this wont be solved until we can find a way to raise the salary of the lower and mid part of the table, either by having another sorta euro league for those teams or by solving the tv rights issue. I think however the lower level teams don’t know how to run their clubs.

    but I will add this, My bday is on the 20th and my girl friend got me an official 09/10 FCB jersey with non other then my favorite player Puyol on the back. How badass is that?!

    • October 12, 2009

      Yay you reminded me to order mine.

      Totally meant to do this like a month ago. Oops.

    • Alexinho
      October 13, 2009

      A most excellent girlfriend she is, too! One birthday…maybe it was a Christmas…I swear, I got a TRASH CAN.

  8. Alexinho
    October 13, 2009

    Wow. Just, wow. I never thought I’d say this about anything that appears on this blog, but dude, you have too much time on your hands.

    You know, when I started getting into soccer and seeing what “great” teams look like, I rather began to dislike the salary caps and regulation that goes into the NFL. After seeing the orgy of talent in the best teams in England/Spain/Italy (I hesitate on this last one), the NFL looked like an amorphous, who-remembers-who-won-the-Super-Bowl-last-year cauldron of mediocrity. But I’ve changed my ideas. As I’ve paid closer attention to my team of choice…the Indianapolis Colts…I’ve seen how a team’s philosophy can make up for comings and goings of talent. Look at this year: we’re 5-0, and in place of some key starters that are injured on offense and defense, we’ve put in some new blood that just works in the system (weapons for Peyton, cornerbacks, ever-improving pseudo-linebackers). That is pretty damn cool. No, you can’t say there are any “great” NFL teams, and personnel changes far more than to my liking (where is Braylon Edwards playing this week?), but in some permanent ways, teams change in smaller ways rather than larger ways. And, yes, I’d rather watch a competition where, a lot of the time, you don’t know who will win. Colts are currently the longest undefeated team in the NFL (regular season), but every week I worry. It’s more exciting (but less freaking compelling and awesome and, well, beautiful) than Barca.

    Let’s Go Colts!

    • Alexinho
      October 13, 2009

      To relate it a bit more clearly to Barca, I think the philosophy of Barca could dominate…or at least consistently compete…with the philosophy of any other team, if talent was redistributed.

      Oh, and this is Communism, not sure how many people are thinking of it in such terms. But it’s AWESOME COMMUNISM!

      • ElShowDeJason
        October 13, 2009

        one would be inclined to think so…

        but even the great talents we produce would come to command big salaries. simply because they are THAT GOOD.

        A salary cap would mean that we wouldn’t be able to keep all of our great young talent, so eventually our academy will lose priority.

        OR because we cannot keep all of them, we will end up keeping our academy open, produce talent after talent that we CANNOT keep because the laws won’t let us pay them enough, and keep selling these great talents to crappy clubs and we won’t be able to reinvest that money into player wages.

        Communism, as great an idea as it is, will only work once the “human” factor is taken out of the equation, but that us no good does it?

    • Eduard
      October 13, 2009

      Another NFL example is the Dolphin’s wildcat offsense. They’re unique in that respect as it seems like they’re building a team around the idea that they can throw so many looks that defensive cordinators will be baffled.

  9. eklavya
    October 13, 2009

    YAY Ramzi is part of the new offside!

    • ElShowDeJason
      October 13, 2009

      i know, I’m, really excited…

      not that i’d ever turn my back on Isaiah and Kxevin 😉

      this is my first stop for all things Barca!

      • eklavya
        October 13, 2009

        But I hate having all the “goods” scattered ’cause you have to visit different pages/links etc etc.
        Well whatever, we’ll see 🙂

  10. Luis
    October 13, 2009

    Hey Isaiah, Which Barca player[s] do you think have the bet chance of winning the world cup?

    • ElShowDeJason
      October 13, 2009

      I’m not Isaiah, but i think Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Pique and Buesquets have a pretty damn good chance.

      If not, you can never count Dani Alves’s team out.

      I love Messi to death, but I’m really hoping that Argentina, Portugal and France don’t make it to the world cup, just to give Rafa Marquez and Jonathan Dos Santos a better chance to lead Mexico to the cup. 😉

      • eklavya
        October 13, 2009

        Portugal and France will make it.
        I think Argentina will too in the end although they’ll lose fast enough unless someone is fired…

  11. Kxevin
    October 13, 2009

    So here’s the thing: You simply cannot have any sort of a salary or transfer cap without a true collective structure, so we have to rule those out right away.

    Further, as people will pay more to watch us or the EE on the telly, you can see the logic in the “No way in hell” positions of the big two.

    And if we look at the Prem, even shared TV revenues doesn’t help parity. Yet if parity is the goal, that rara avis in which any team can beat any other, it can be argued that this already happens, right?

    The real question is equalization of the talent pool. Again, no answer. Even if there were some sort of expansion draft for newly promoted sides, in Liga clubs declared certain players available for this pool, there are still salary complexities. Gudjohnsen would have been put in this theoretical pot. Xerez gets him. Now how do they pay his salary, and what’s to keep him from scurrying off to Monaco?

    The NFL works because it is a closed system. Our beautiful game isn’t. So we will always have giants and minnows. And on any given Sunday, that club’s fans will pack the home pitch, hoping for a miracle. And when those miracles happen, the fact that the winner did it themselves, makes all the more sweet.

    Parity, TRUE parity, doesn’t really exist, even in the closed system of the NFL. My Bears haven’t won a title in more than two decades. Because excellence comes down to management decisions and on-field execution.

    Look at Formula One for the best example. Toyota has the biggest budget, yet they kinda suck. Even money isn’t the answer.

    So parity is fun to debate, but it will never happen. Nor should it.

  12. Ramzi
    October 13, 2009

    Honestly I lost it a bit between all the numbers. But it is obviously about the hot cookie at the moment worldwide, how to create a more balanced competition? And about the techniques suggested in the past few years, creating a movement I call “Football communism”.
    As a simple remark first, I don’t think the template applied in a limited closed situation is necessarily executable in a worldwide sport like football which take place in different countries with different systems, economic standards and regulations. And I don’t believe you can apply something in Spain for example, if it’s not applicable in Europe as a whole (EU will not even approve it), now how about the rest of the world? I do not know enough about Salary Caps, so I am not sure if this example is valid: If Salary caps create balance in the league for example What about CL? Will the whole world of football apply Salary caps? Can we force clubs in India to pay as much as in Saudi Arabia? Or else Good Indian players will be tempted to move to the Arab Gulf, right? There are different rules in Global world sports than a domestic competition.
    One of the defects of communism is the lack of challenging situations in the market. If you check the Lada cars Models of USSR between the seventies and eighties, you will be surprised that there is barely a creative advancement. The system cleared out all the challenges from the way (it’s the only car available to buy) so why bothering ourselves thinking of creative strategies? That’s exactly the trend in football these days. Being extra protective and injecting the game in a systematic bubble that will freeze it to death. If the players will be available for all teams equally, then why a team with minimal resources like Sevilla bother spending money top scout players in South America for example? They can rest their legs on a table waiting Barcelona/Real Madrid to create players and put on the bargaining table where everyone can get a share. Why a team like Valencia invest in youth?

    System wise, In USA there is a need to create play off stages because there are no mouth watering continental competitions. If you make a Basketball league in USA that’s similar to the liga, 50 % of the teams will (after playing 60% of their games) lose any hope to win the title and will guarantee their survival in the first division. So they will have no motive to play and win anymore. That’s where match fixing will start. They become the xmass Santa offering points for their opponents who are still in tht competition for the title if they get paid for it. In Europe you will always have two or three teams fighting for the title, added to two more teams fighting for the CL place and two or three more teams fighting for the Euro cup beside four or five teams fighting against relegation. So the competition is there all the time. The title is not the only reason to play in the league.
    In football you need to spread the teams on different categories to keep the game dynamics the way it is. I do not agree that you need to be fair spreading money on all teams of the league. And I do not agree that you must decide for the teams how far they can pay for players just to decrease their power of tempting more players from “smaller” teams to move. In every league you need a Sevilla/Napoli type of teams where the lack of resources force them to build a great scouting/youth system so they can hunt young prospects and have patience with them to grow as footballers, and you need big teams that show you the pace of development in the game and add that extra thing which makes Football the best sport in the world. Breaking any of these modules will gain the game no favors.
    Besides, history shows that less money never prevent a club from moving forward and reaching the best level. And it also proved that injecting more money in a club that’s not used to the extra doze of Vitamin $ damage the team structure permanently. Deportivo ruled Spain when they were not as rich as Barcelona and Real Madrid. When they started spending in a stupid manner they collapsed. Valencia already has one of the most talented squads in Europe. They do not need money, they need management. What about Sevilla? Compare their spending to that’s of Atletico in the past ten years. Or else, compare Zaragozza spending to that’s of Athletic Bilbao.

    Big teams have advantage to win a title, no doubt. But how long did it take these clubs to gain that advantage? Is it really fair to close the gap between all the teams of the league in one night while big teams worked for generations to create it? Just because the smaller teams do not have the vision to create a 10-years-plan switching the team status from being small to a title contender?
    Ireland didn’t need to be pampered to create one of the best software industries in the world. They were creative enough to reshape the circumstances to their own benefit. You want to be great, work for it, do not expect it to be delivered for you on a silver plate. Period.
    You are already used to my time-to-time weird slogans and here is another one for you:
    “Equity damage football!”
    How about that?
    Jason, I appreciate your Comment.
    eklavya, Barcelona fans are too great for anyone place to contain. It will cause Quality inflation, which is not good in such a recession period. Besides, we have our reasons to make you move from one place to another on the net as it seems this is the only kind of sport we can tempt you to exercise. Everything is done for a purpose. We are all here to work for your own good!

    • eklavya
      October 13, 2009

      No worries ramzi, a good place always get good successors right? 😉
      I’ll be good to have the offside going again…something like ronaldihno suddenly playing like before!
      Although for the sports part, I do fencing every week and im a green belt in karate 🙂

  13. Ramzi
    October 13, 2009

    One more point:

    Its true that having two teams like Barcelona (Iniesta-Ibra-Xavi-Alves-Messi-Henry) and Real Madrid (Ronaldo-Kaka-etc:P) generate more global audience for the game which means more financial returns for the league. Everyone is greedy to take a bite.

    But will a league where the mentioned eight players for example are distributed on eight different clubs generate the same interest?

    Are the new football followers in the USA for example (the fans who started to follow Barcelona this season) are following because Messi plays there? Or because this team create an amazing show of football? Will they follow messi at Barcelona on weekly bases if he had an Argentinean coach and players around him in Catalonia for example? How will that effect the financial return of the game? And finally, will the “smaller” teams benefit more from damaging the big ones? Are we planning to improve the small teams to match the big ones or pulling the big ones down to match the small ones?

  14. ballbeav
    October 13, 2009


    didnt know there were ayn rand fans that were also barca fans. go figure.

    i.e. the people who have more do so because they deserve it and/or are inherently better…lemme guess jason, you’re white? a white male? straight? from the USA? how convenient!

    now, specifically, there’s no basis for saying that with some sort of salary controls we wouldnt be able to see the quality football that we do now. there’s just no way you could say that, it’s pure speculation.

    • eklavya
      October 13, 2009

      I think he’s mexican, but I’ll leave this to Jason.

    • October 13, 2009

      Yeah, I think eklavya is right that that’s a bad assumption (regardless of validity or lack thereof). But, let’s leave politics out of this because politics are divisive and Barça is healing and caring and loving.

    • Tutomate
      October 13, 2009

      Ballbeav, your assuming that only blond, pale skinned, blue eyed persons are white. Hispanics are racially white ( in most instances) and ethnically Hispanic. Not that this makes them better cause it doesn’t because skin don’t matter. And there are many non- “whites” with this “conservative” view.

      But it’s best not to talk about politics or race. This is a Barça blog. No offense by the way, I respect you very much Ballbeav.

      • FCB
        October 13, 2009

        actually hispanics are not white just thought i’d point that out
        but back to football now 🙂

        • ElShowDeJason
          October 13, 2009

          Well, thats neither right nor wrong.

          At least in the United States, Hispanic and Latino are no longer classified as a “race”.

          When filling out applications there are two questions now
          1. What is your race?
          2. Are you of Latino/Hispanic decsent?

          for instance, a Dominican would be a Black Latino. In Mexico you could be White, Black, Asian, but still latino.

          It could all be found by wikipedia-ing “Race”

    • ElShowDeJason
      October 13, 2009

      You wouldn’t be wrong in saying that I am Straight American White Male. although, like TuTomate guessed, i don’t get the “white” label very often because I am Latino

      1/2 Mexican and 1/2 Puertorican to be exact.

      And no I’m not rich at all, neither is my familiy, and what we have was worked hard for.

      You don’t have to be rich to be “conservative” and you don’t have to be poor to be a “liberal”.

      Not that I wan’t to talk to much about politics, but, why can’t conservatives be Barcelona fans?

      Real Madrid don’t necessarily have to be the fascist right, and Barcelona the liberal left.

      Barcelona is a complex system that has many qualities that people of all backfrounds and ideologies find attractive.

      • ballbeav
        October 13, 2009


        not the forum i guess

        but, the topic of this thread really begs for a discussion of haves/havenots, distribution of power and wealth, and a critique of that. so blame isaiah and jason, not me! they said much more about it before i came along, and then people said “dont get political.”

        it’s just *very* rare that people say stuff like jason did earlier, and dont have privilege on their side. straight up. that’s what i was getting at.

        • ElShowDeJason
          October 14, 2009

          In Economics we have what is called positive economics (what is) and normative economics (what SHOULD be)

          This thread obviously attempts to deal with a question of Normative economics, and that will always divide people based on their ideology because “should” is in the eye of the beholder.

          I think we were all trying to remind ourselves to stay focused on the topic at hand instead of politics, none of us were pointing a finger at anyone telling them they were being too political.

          as far as i know, i have not been offended by your or anyone else’s comments or views, and I sure hope I have not offended anyone either.

          anyways… lets all get back to loving us some Barca!

  15. Cesc Blanc
    October 13, 2009

    I study/studied maths although I didn’t do much stats but your stuff makes kind of sense, although I can’t say much about the numbers and stuff you’ve crunched, but I give you the benefit of doubt, especially since I haven’t done much of maths myself.

    A couple of points though…

    1) A lot of people, especially those in the US and elsewhere, think that a salary cap for football would be a great idea. Now, I don’t think that it’s a great idea the way it is done in the US, but the point about only being able to spend what you earn, as proposed by Platini, Wenger and Laporta, is good. However, one major difference is that in the US you may afford to keep rebuilding for 2-3 years because the worst thing that could happen to you is less attendance but you can’t get relegated and stuff like that. So, as you posted sometime else that different leagues, different rules, I can’t see the point of a salary cap in European football either.

    2) I liked your analysis on the regular season percentages. As one can see, the numbers are similar to Europe and also La Liga. I think one major issue is that the play-off system really turns things upside down again and you have a whole different ball game.
    I take an example from the Liga ACB, the Spanish basketball league:
    There likewise 2 clubs rule the field but they had 4 different winners in the last 4 years in Madrid, Barca, Tau/Baskonia and Unicaja. These 4 teams are however the only winners since 2000 either but you get the point. Further, with Pamresa and Estudiantes two further teams made it to the finals and Joventut Badalona also won the Copa del Rey a couple times. So overall, that’s not that bad.
    The reason is that the ACB also has a playoff system, although only a best of 3/best of 5 but still.
    3) How many different franchises have won an NBA title over the past 30 years? The answer is 9. If we leave 79 out(Sonics), it’s only 8 and from those 8, Miami and Sixers have only 1, so it’s basically down to Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Pistons, Bulls and Rockets with multiple titles. Same span, you have Barcelona, Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Madrid and Valencia with more than 1 title, and Atletico and Deportivo with 1. Not that I would say that La Liga is even and all that, but somehow, as funny as it might sound, leagues converge around in the same numbers and patterns. You always have 2 stronger teams and 3-4 challenging once in a while. That’s a common pattern almost everywhere, except for maybe Germany, where it’s Bayern and then comes nothing and then a couple smaller teams winning it once in a while. Otherwise you always have 2 or 3 dominating teams.

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