Even casual sports fans have heard about the parity myth in the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
Typically, the argument goes that the NFL has it and MLB doesn’t. Everyone has heard the same complaints about baseball. It’s always the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.
As usual, baseball fans know better. And they have numbers of their side.
Keep the following information handy for the next time you find yourself in a debate at the local pub or stadium over why the NFL is so much better because it has a salary cap and it leads to a more level playing field.
Turns out, smart management and intense competition lead to parity.
The Parity Myth: NFL
The storyline in the NFL is that the salary cap creates a level playing field. Every team has an equal shot at the playoffs. Any team can rise up and win their conference championship. Or even the Super Bowl. And so forth.
But here are some facts perhaps you don’t typically read about the NFL and the parity myth. For the sake of keeping things “apples to apples” we will look at the numbers beginning with the 2000 season.
From the 2000 season through the 2016 season, the American Football Conference has had only six teams win the championships. They are the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s it. The 10 other teams are 0-for-the 21st Century.
It’s much better in the NFC, where all but three of the 16 teams in the conference have claimed the conference crown since 2000. Those three teams are the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins.
So, overall that’s 19 of the 32 teams winning a conference championship, or 59.3 percent.
Super Bowl Champions
Ten different teams have won the Super Bowl this century. We started with the January 2001 Super Bowl, since it was the championship game for the 2000 season. For the record, those 10 teams are the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That’s 10 of 32 teams, or 31 percent of the league.
So, how does baseball compare, with all those mega-teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers outspending many teams by a large margin? Let’s see what the numbers say.
In the American League, there have been nine different pennant winners in the 16 completed seasons since 2000. That’s nine of 15 teams, meaning 60 percent of the teams have won a pennant. We could include the pennant won by the Astros in the National League, since they started in the AL in 2013. But to make it easier, we will count that in the following section.
In the National League, nine of the 15 teams have won a pennant since 2000. That includes the Astros championship season in 2005.
That means 60 percent of the teams in each league have won the pennant the last 16 years.
For the whole league, that’s 18 of 30 teams, also 60 percent.
Since 2000, 11 different teams have won the top prize, winning the World Series. That’s in a league with two less teams than the NFL. Those champions are the Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals.
In one stretch, 2000-2006, there was a different champion every season. That’s been the case the past four years, as well.
So, 36 percent of the league’s teams have a championship, compared to 31 percent in the NFL. And 60 percent have won a pennant, compared to 59.3 percent of the teams in the NFL winning conference title. And that’s because it’s been a revolving door in the NFC.
So, that’s a slight edge. But it is an edge. The numbers don’t lie.
It lays to rest any idea that the NFL has more parity than MLB. Tell that to your bar buddies next time they tell you baseball always has the same teams win and the NFL is so even that anyone can win.