May 2, 2007

Champions League for Other Sports

I've enjoyed watching some of the UEFA Champions League the past few months. The semifinals end today, either Manchester United or AC Milan will face Liverpool in the final.

Every time I watch the Champions League, I can't help but wonder why more sports don't use this model. For those of you not familiar with it, here's a quick primer. The top finishers in all the major European soccer leagues compete against each other each year for in the Champions League, which is essentially the European club soccer championship. So in the semifinal today you have Manchester United (for the non-soccer fans among you, they're from England) vs. AC Milan (from Italy, for those of you not up on your Italian city names).

What I want to know is why hasn't this model spread to other sports? I think basketball and baseball are the two most obvious applications, but it might be able to spark some interest in hockey as well. Imagine if, instead of the poorly conceived, poorly marketed, poorly played World Baseball Classic (how something can be called classic the first time it's played is beyond me), there was a competition pitting the Cardinals against the winners of other baseball leagues from Japan, Mexico, etc. Similarly for basketball, wouldn't it be interesting to see the Heat play foreign league champs? Obviously the American leagues have the money to attract the best players from around the world and would probably win these competitions easily. But wouldn't they be fun to watch?

The way I see it, there are several advantages of the Champions League model over the World Baseball Classic:

  • The teams play together all season in their domestic leagues. They aren't cobbled together for a month long tournament, so the quality of play is likely to be better.
  • Each team already has a fanbase. Cheering for team USA is great for the Olympics and the World Cup, but I'd rather cheer for the Orioles than a mishmash of players who happen to be American
  • Coach K won't coach my favorite team. This is a big problem with World Baseball (or Basketball) tournaments. While I probably like all the players on my favorite team, there's a good chance that I'll hate some of the players (or the coach) on Team USA.

So what will it take to get a Champions League started for baseball and basketball? Bud, David, are you listening? Let's get this show on the road.

6 Responses:

J-Red said...

I don't think there is an incentive for MLB or the NBA to institute this. What if the MLB champ or NBA champ loses? That would weaken MLB and the NBA. Why risk it?

Who pays the players in the UEFA Champions League? Who bears the burden of liability if a player is injured? How long does it take? Would the Americans care?

J-Red said...

Ok, no incentive other than television money, which admittedly is a big incentive.

Brien said...

Television money is the obvious one, getting a sponsor to put up a big purse for the winner is another way. It would be similar to the bowl system for colleges (except that they do have to pay the players). MLB and the NBA are always trying to increase their exposure in other countries, this is a huge way to do it. And if the American team lost, that would only increase the visibility and ratings for the next year.

J-Red said...

But the MLB and NBA players won't go for it. In the Champions League, the players are exposing themselves to other markets where there can make the same amount of money, if not more.

If the MLB, or especially the NBA, participated in such a system, they would be opening the door for people in other leagues to come in and take their jobs. There is no benefit to it from the players' perspectives.

Brien said...

But players participate in the WBC and the Basketball World Championships. Just figure out how much it would take to convince the players to play (10% for a few extra games?) and raise the salary cap (in the NBA) or give raises (in baseball). If done right, the teams would still profit off of this. There would definitely need to be negotiations with the players unions, but I think it's doable.

J-Red said...

I can't imagine it happening. If I showed up at your work tomorrow and asked you to work over your vacation, for a pro-rated salary increase, with the risk that you could either permanently be unable to work again or would be outperformed and replaced by an outsider, you'd never do it.

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