I grew up in Germany as a passionate soccer fan and followed the national soccer league, the Bundesliga, very closely. However, in recent years, I stopped watching and switched to the NFL. The plain reason is that it has become incredibly boring. Bayern Munich is so dominant that it is almost guaranteed for them to win the championship and it’s like that in most European soccer leagues. I even am a Bayern fan and seeing your team win every week is great, but when you can almost expect a win and there isn’t any real challenge to overcome, it gets stale after a while. There is a huge strength disparity between the best and the worst clubs. The NFL, on the other hand, is one of the sports leagues with the best parity between its teams, which makes it a lot more interesting to follow.
When looking at the champions over the last 10 years in the NFL and European soccer leagues, you immediately notice that there are 8 different Super Bowl champions, while even the most competitive soccer leagues only managed to produce 5 different winners.
The worst leagues are the German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A, where only two teams won the championship. In fact, Bayern won the last 8 seasons in a row and Juventus the last 9. The French Ligue 1 isn’t much better. While there are 5 different winners, Paris won 6 out of the last 7 seasons. In the Spanish La Liga, it’s almost exclusively a battle between Barcelona and Madrid every year. Only the English Premier League has more competitive teams, and Leicester City pulled off one of the biggest surprise championships ever in the 2015/16 season.
The teams in the NFL are a lot more equal in strength. In the past 10 years, only the New England Patriots managed to win the Super Bowl more than once and they had a very rare quarterback and coach combination with Brady and Belichick and a below-average division. In the history of the Super Bowl since 1967, 20 teams were able to win it, while in the history of the Bundesliga since 1963 only 12 different teams won. The most Super Bowls were won by the Patriots and the Steelers with 6 titles each, while the FC Bayern Munich won a staggering 29 championships.
As you can see, the NFL has very good parity between its teams and it’s one of the reasons why it is the biggest and most valuable sports league in the world.
Probably the biggest factor for the good parity in the NFL is the salary cap. There is a league dictated maximum amount of money every team can spend on their players, which means even the richest teams cannot collect all the best players.
There are no salary caps in European soccer leagues, so the richest teams generally have the best players and win most of the time. For example, in the 2017/18 Bundesliga season, Bayern Munich has spent 315 million € on their players, while SC Paderborn 07 was only able to spend 8 million €, which is only 2.5% of the money Bayern had available. As you can see that’s a huge disparity and explains the dominance of Bayern and other top European clubs.
And just like society in general, the richest clubs are getting richer. By dominating the national championships these clubs qualify for the Champions League and Europa League, which are Europe wide competitions for the teams that placed at or near the top in the previous season. Because the best teams are playing in these competitions, they pay out a lot of extra money from TV rights and stadion attendance (at least before 2020), making the richest clubs even richer. In fact, for top teams like Bayern Munich winning the national championship is almost a given, so they only really care about the Champions League.
I have never heard any serious discussions about it, but adding a salary cap to the Bundesliga would be very interesting. It would level the playing field so all teams would have a realistic chance to win the championship. Due to the European competitions however, there is no way to implement a salary cap unless all European leagues were to add one. No single league could limit their clubs’ spending without destroying their chances in the European competitions.
Another factor in maintaining the parity of the NFL is the draft. By having the worst teams pick higher than the best teams, the worst teams can get better college players, which improves their competitiveness in the next season. While other factors play a role in the strength of a team, like coaching or management, equalizing the talent of the players is a positive aspect.
While a salary cap could theoretically be implemented in European soccer leagues, adding an equivalent to the draft is almost impossible because of the lack of college sports here in Europe. Pretty much every European soccer club has a youth academy, where very young players are accumulated and trained. A majority of the players are talents from a wider region around the city, but especially the bigger clubs also recruit players from the whole country and even from all around the world. The wealthier clubs have better facilities and therefore can recruit the best talents. And if a talent turns out to be great, the clubs get even better by having the player play for them, or even richer, when they decide to sell that player.
The lack of parity in most European soccer leagues has made following them quite boring. When there are always the same few teams competing for the championship in a drawn-out season, there isn’t a lot of weekly excitement. On the other hand, the NFL with its very short and competitive season is a lot more interesting to follow. The salary cap and inverse draft order make the teams very equal in strength and it’s almost impossible to predict which teams are going to the Super Bowl. While highly unlikely, it would be very interesting to see what adopting a few ideas from the NFL would do to the parity of European soccer leagues.