What Can the Premier League Learn From the NHL?
By Dean A Schmidt
Do you think Premier League footballers get paid too much? Do you think the Premier League is becoming less competitive and more predictable? Do you believe there to be an increasing void between the few elite teams that challenge for honours every season and those teams to whom the very idea of challenging for a trophy is only comprehendible in their wildest dreams? If you've answered yes to any of the above questions then continue reading as I present a careful critique of the Barclays Premier League and compare its conduct and practices to those of the famed North American competition, the National Hockey League (or simply, the NHL).
The NHL introduced a universal salary cap across the league in 2005. This means that a pre-determined figure is announced at the beginning of every new season dictating a budget to which all teams must adhere. The cap figure changes annually because it is calculated based upon the revenue of the NHL from the previous season. The salary cap consists of two main elements, a "ceiling" and a "floor" - the ceiling is the name given to the maximum figure that teams are permitted to spend collectively on player wages and it must be strictly abided by, the floor is the name given to the minimum figure that teams must be spending on collective wages.
OK, got it so far?
The salary cap system was introduced as a way of controlling potential escalating player salaries, and as stated the cap has the capacity to fluctuate from year to year depending on the strengths of NHL revenue streams. It is argued that it promotes fairness by ensuring that NHL revenues are spread equally amongst all teams, which - in theory, at least - provides a level playing field for every team across the league, from the monumentally rich to the smaller-market franchises. Specifically designed to eradicate the notion of one particularly wealthy franchise from buying a team of superstars and leaving others in their wake, this very idea will no doubt make Manchester City and Chelsea fans sick to the stomach.
So what does any of this have to do with football and the Premier League? Good question. In the seven NHL seasons since the introduction of the salary cap, hockey fans have seen seven different teams crowned Stanley Cup Champions. Compare this to the fact that in the entire 20 year history of the Premier League only FIVE different teams have won the Championship. It is clear to see which of these two organisations markets a more competitive product.
The idea of a different team winning the Premier League title every season is absolutely unheard of, and of course the elite minority would be completely against any such system as it would threaten their status within the game and their ability to produce periods of sustained success on the field. But something needs to be done to tackle the growing issue of increasingly high player wages because the following figures present an unsustainable picture of excessive spending. Current Premier League Champions Manchester City spent 114% of their income on player wages during the 2010-2011 season, with other clubs such as Aston Villa (103%), Chelsea (84%) and Sunderland (77%) also spending incredible figures on player wages.
For some reason the idea of a competitive and unpredictable Premier League seems to frighten people, and several arguments have been used to combat any such talk. Arguments that can be easily quashed when examined. Arguments citing that a salary cap would discourage the world's best players from joining Premier League teams, well some would argue that the world's best players don't play in the Premier League anyway (none of the three nominees for the 2012 World Player Of The Year award currently play in the Premier League). Also, in recent years there have been constant calls from various quarters of the media suggesting that the increasing number of world class foreign players joining Premier League teams is damaging the development of home grown talent and therefore inhibiting the potential of the English national team. Do fans want to see a monopolised domestic league or a successful national team?
Introducing salary caps will also present perceptions of socialism from the outside which is widely considered negative in a western capitalist society. However, American competitions like the NHL and also the NFL currently operate with salary caps in place. A country that epitomises the sworn enemy of socialism has successfully integrated key elements of socialist ideologies into two of a nation's most popular professional sports.
It is obvious that we are a million miles away from implementing any kind of salary cap system in the Premier League, but with that said, player wages and financial sustainability are very much part of a current agenda in football. Would any fans like to see the day when a Premier League season starts and nobody can predict which teams will ultimately make up the top half of the table? Are Wigan Athletic fans content with their team's constant struggle for survival? Would Arsenal fans love to see an end to their team's long wait for a trophy? Or are we simply too afraid of change and the endless potential of unpredictability?