· Posted: 28 Jun 2004 16:35
I have a question though what is it with the franchise system in North American Sports? I couldn't see it ever working, I know the basics. But if my team in England (Nottingham Forest) ever up sticks and moved someplace else I'd still be a fan of Forest and could never simply support the next team that moved in.
I'd be happy to. A lot of Britons I speak to seem to have the idea that our franchises up and move around like players. Not so. A few franchises have moved in recent years (particularly in the late 1990s), but it's quite a rare occurrence when it happens.
As far as I know, team ownership doesn't differ that greatly between European and North American sports leagues. You still have private owners operating teams for proft (which happens more in some sports than others), acquiring players, competing against the teams of other owners.
The main distinction is for the players, if anything. In each of the four major North American sports (basketball, football -- what'd be American football over there -- hockey and baseball), upon joining a league, you typically enter by being drafted. And then once you're on contract, it's standard fare for the club that owns your rights to be able to trade you to another club within the league.
The draft system ensures that you'll never get the tactics of clubs like Manchester United (wooing tiny children to come play for them at a young age), nor the single- or two-team dominance typical of European leagues, whereby all the best players merely sign with the same couple of teams over and over, so that every league seems to have its Real Madrids, Juventi, Maccabi Tel Avivs or whatever.
That's not saying there aren't "usual suspects" in North American leagues which tend to dominate year after year -- there most certainly are -- but it's not nearly as predictable, and this is in spite of the draft system which at least goes some distance to give everyone a chance. The dominance instead stems from the ability to retain players when their contract is up, as usually an elite class of richer clubs will tend to pick up free-agents or trade for players that other clubs know they won't be able to keep much longer.
"Buying" and "selling" are not terms used for players the way they are in Europe, even though many deals have come close to amounting to that. (In most leagues you're not actually allowed to trade a player for money only, so usually draft picks or prospects are thrown into the mix, if not other players). Effectively, every player in the NBA, NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball is signed with the 'league.' And contracts seem to have a much more binding quality in North American sports, too, so a team is rarely at the mercy of one of its players the way you see in Europe. (It does happen, but all the player can do is refuse to report).
But to get back to the topic at hand, the franchise system basically ensures that all the clubs are first and foremost a part of the league. Though in a number of sports you have indeed had partial mergers between leagues, such that the same players from one club remained with the club, but one day found themselves in a new league, but that doesn't really happen any more. (1970s phenomenon, really). If a team were to fold now (hasn't happened in a long time), its players would be dispersed among the other remaining teams, not follow the owner's fortures (for example, to a new club in a lower league).
So basically at any given time, you will always have the best collection of players available... there's also no risk of a team being demoted as in European sports, so it's not like star players will be wasting away in the equivalent of the 'B-league.'
That aspect of European sports is actually rather puzzling or amusing on this side of the ocean. The thought of a huge market like New York or Toronto falling to the minor leagues due to poor performance is unfathomable here, as it would be such a colossal loss of revenue. And because, again, players are tightly on contract with their team, it's not as though they'd easily have the option of playing for someone else in the top league if that were to happen (as I can only assume happens in European leagues when a team is demoted?)
I know that in practice, clubs like Arsenal or Liverpool are never demoted, but this just goes back to the disparities and predictabilities I was talking about before.
But as for the relocated franchises (I'm guessing this is what you were asking about before?) ,it has happened, particularly in hockey (since both Canadian and U.S. teams are involved, so the exchange rate sometimes makes things tough for the smaller Canadian ones) that teams become too unprofitable and relocate elsewhere. Hockey is a bit of an anomaly because, while universally popular in Canada, it is still virtually unknown to much of the U.S., even though they have 24 teams among them. So owners are often trying to break in to various non-traditional hockey markets, just because there's a lot of money there (particularly in the southern U.S.) which they're trying to tap into, often unsuccessfully. There's a huge injustice in snapping a team away from people in, say, Winnipeg (in Manitoba, central Canada) where all they love is hockey, and moving it to Phoenix, Arizona entirely for financial reasons, but that's precisely what happened. The Manitoba economy wasn't performing and players were getting too expensive to keep a team there. Same thing happened in Quebec City and Minneapolis, Minnesota some years ago. All three were huge hockey markets, but lost their teams due to unprofitability.
So the team stays the same player-wise (it will often change its name and colors to establish a new identity, but sometimes not, which leads to the absurdity of clubs like the NBA's Utah Jazz. Utah is perhaps the least jazzy place on earth, but the team used to be in New Orleans), but is based out of somewhere else.
For this reason, you'll often see a team's history lumped together to reflect this ("This is the first time that the Quebec/Colorado franchise has done such-and-such"), but a lot of new fans in particular are clueless as to the team's origins.
But I repeat, this actually doesn't happen all that often... it is mostly a phenomenon of the 1990s when player salaries started getting ridiculous in all sports and many smaller-market teams quickly became very unprofitable. Most markets have been exhausted now, so there should be a slow-down in relocations.
Why it bewilders Europeans so is beyond me, however... :) It's no different than any other corporation relocating or changing its name.