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Competitive Balance: NFL vs. MLB - Part I

Posted by D on 1:38 AM in , , , ,
I'm doing some research for an article that I'm writing about competitive balance in sports, specifically professional football and baseball. My goal is to examine the many possible meanings of "competitive balance" and compare the competitiveness of the two leagues, given a certain definition. The first kind of competitive balance that I'm examining is the standard deviation of wins per year. In other words, I want to know how far apart the average team is from the average number of wins (8 in the NFL and 81 in MLB). A larger standard deviation would means more extreme values, with very high and very low win totals, suggesting very good teams and very bad teams. Alternatively, a small standard deviation means non-extreme values, with win totals concentrated around the mean, suggesting greater balance through out the league.

It is commonly stated that the NFL has greater competitive balance than MLB. Supposedly, the NFL's salary cap prevents high revenue teams from dominating the sport. The Yankees are criticized as the poster child for the unfairness of MLB's economic system. However, the truth about relative competitive balance depends on how we define competitive balance.




MLB Win Total

Variable OBV Mean Std. Dev. Min Max
Year2011 30 80.96667 11.41531 56 102
Year2010 30 81 11.0047 57 97
Year2009 30 81 11.43497 59 103
Year2008 30 80.93333 11.08566 59 100
Year2007 30 81.03333 9.293985 66 96
Year2006 30 80.96667 10.08407 61 97
Year2005 30 81 10.83417 56 100
Year2004 30 80.93333 13.54668 51 105
Year2003 30 80.96667 13.36615 43 101
Year2002 30 80.83333 14.75334 55 103
Year2001 30 80.93333 13.00645 62 116
Year2000 30 80.93333 9.985967 65 97
Year1999 30 80.9 12.51578 63 103
Year1998 30 81 13.52902 54 114

The table above shows the range and STD DEV of win totals in MLB since 1998. This past season, around 2/3* of the teams were within 11.4 wins of the mean on either side (81).

*Under the normal distribution, around 2/3 of the sample falls within 1 STD DEV of the mean.*

                                            NFL Win Totals

Variable Obs Mean Std. Dev. Min Max
year2011 32 8 3.272564 2 15
year2010 32 8 2.994619 2 14
year2009 32 8 3.222902 1 14
year2008 32 7.96875 3.326185 0 13
year2007 32 8 3.321484 1 16
year2006 32 8 2.896048 2 14
year2005 32 8 3.388786 2 14
year2004 32 8 3.079589 2 15
year2003 32 8 3.069097 4 14
year2002 32 7.96875 2.621061 2 12
year2001 31 8 3.255764 1 14
year2000 31 8 3.151719 1 13
year1999 31 8 2.988868 2 14
year1998 31 7.903226 3.409348 3 15
year1997 31 8.032258 2.915292 3 13

The table above shows the range and STD DEV of win totals in NFL since 1998. This past season, around 2/3* of the teams were within 3.3 wins of the mean on either side (8).

In order to compare the STD DEV's of wins in the two leagues, one of the leagues has to be rescaled to account for the different number of games (162 vs. 16). In the table below, the NFL has been rescaled.

Variable Obs Mean Std. Dev. Min Max
xyear2011 32 81 33.13471 20.25 151.875
xyear2010 32 81 30.32052 20.25 141.75
xyear2009 32 81 32.63188 10.125 141.75
xyear2008 32 80.68359 33.67763 0 131.625
xyear2007 32 81 33.63003 10.125 162
xyear2006 32 81 29.32249 20.25 141.75
xyear2005 32 81 34.31146 20.25 141.75
xyear2004 32 81 31.18084 20.25 151.875
xyear2003 32 81 31.0746 40.5 141.75
xyear2002 32 80.68359 26.53824 20.25 121.5
xyear2001 31 81 32.96461 10.125 141.75
xyear2000 31 81 31.91116 10.125 131.625
xyear1999 31 81 30.26229 20.25 141.75
xyear1998 31 80.02016 34.51965 30.375 151.875

After rescaling the NFL, we see that this league has a much higher STD DEV in every year going back to 1998. That 2/3 range mentioned above is much bigger in the NFL than in MLB, meaning that in the the NFL, the average team is further away from the mean than in MLB.

By this definition of competitive balance, the NFL could be considered to have less competitive balance than MLB in the sense that the NFL is more likely than MLB to have a large discrepancy between the best and worst team. Alternatively, MLB is likely to have final win totals concentrated relatively tightly around 81.

The data does not prove either way whether the NFL has more competitive balance than MLB; however, this first definition of competitive balance does not support the notion that the NFL is more competitive. Keep in mind that the differences in distribution of the win totals could be explained by other factors: the functional design of the game, injury rate, preparation time, etc. This one piece of analysis should not be taken overly seriously. This was merely one peek at a much larger question.

D

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