Many argue the NFL has the most parity of any major professional sport, and it’s hard for me to take a position in opposition to that. The NBA and MLB tend to be top-heavy—especially the NBA, where dominance can typically be predicted at a more successful rate than the other leagues.
One of the major reasons for this is the salary cap. In MLB, discrepancy in spending is very much a part of the competitive landscape. We all know the Yankees spend more than the A’s. In the NBA, a soft salary cap and a luxury tax allows teams to pay extra and win now.
In the NFL, teams are forced to follow more stringent rules. Enforcement of the salary cap is far stricter and limits the amount teams are allowed to spend on their 53-man rosters. This hard cap creates more competitive parity, as good players chase contracts and/or get cut in order to fit the jigsaw puzzle that is a team budget. On the other side, teams are required to spend at least 89 percent of this cap budget (which fluctuates each year based off overall league revenue) over a four-year period. This is done to ensure—or at least try to ensure—teams are spending their money to be competitive. No team is allowed to take the $170 million it is making from league revenues and then only spend $40 million of it.
Because of these two important features to the salary cap, teams are forced into competitive equality from a monetary perspective. The difference in outcomes then arises from other key factors and not just who pays the most for the best players. Coaching, player will, strategy, injuries, matchups and luck—these factors change on a game-by-game basis. The NFL has created a system of parity. As we see from the number of fans, dollars wagered and “down to the last possession” endings, it’s working.
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