Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

MLB and NFL Parity

As the MLB playoffs roll on with the usual suspects, I’ve pondered what has often been passed for conventional wisdom when comparing professional baseball to professional football.  For years, the argument went like this: parity in NFL football allows for more teams to have a chance to win a Super Bowl, therefore generating greater fan interest, while MLB baseball has too many teams that are eliminated from a World Series hunt before the first ball is pitched in April.  I remember spouting this argument myself in the 1990s as my lowly Brewers were relegated to a perennial loser.  But a review of the champions and runners up of baseball and football since 1966 – the season of the first Super Bowl – tells a different story. 

Out of 30 MLB teams, 10 haven’t won a World Series since 1966, and of those, six are franchises that weren’t around that year (though all have been in existence for at least fifteen years):

Washington (1969, formerly called the Montreal Expos)

San Diego (1969)

Milwaukee (1969, formerly called the Seattle Pilots)

Seattle (1977)

Colorado (1993)

Tampa Bay (1998)

The other four teams are the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, Houston and Texas.

Although some recent teams haven’t yet won a World Series, many winners since 1966 have been from franchises that started after that year:  Kansas City in 1985, Florida in 1997 and 2003, Toronto in 1992 and 1993, and Arizona in 2001.

Of the ten teams who’ve not won a World Series since 1966, 7 have at least appeared in an October Classic.  The only three teams that have been excluded entirely from the World Series are the Chicago Cubs, Seattle and the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos franchise.

Compare that to the NFL.  Of thirty current NFL teams, 14 have never won a Super Bowl.  Of those, six weren’t around in 1966, though all are now at least eleven years old:

Carolina (1995)

Cincinnati (1968)

Houston (2002)

Jacksonville (1995)

Seattle (1976)

Cleveland (1999) – note: for the purposes of this analysis, I’m considering Cleveland an expansion team from 1999 even though they kept the franchise statistics from the Browns team that moved to Baltimore in 1996.

The other teams are Minnesota, Detroit, Atlanta, Arizona (formerly the St. Louis Cardinals), Philadelphia, Buffalo, Tennessee (formerly the Houston Oilers) and San Diego.

Only one team that didn’t exist in 1966 has won a Super Bowl – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.  Again, I’m not including the Ravens’ victories of 2000 and 2013 since they inherited the players from the Cleveland Browns in 1996, and therefore aren’t a true expansion team.

Of the fourteen teams who’ve not won a Super Bowl since 1966, all but four have at least appeared in a Super Bowl.  Those that have been excluded entirely are Cleveland, Jacksonville, Detroit, and the Houston Texans.  It should be noted that three of those four teams are relatively recent introductions in the NFL if you include Cleveland as an expansion team in 1999.

The following summarizes the above statistics:

SINCE 1966

 

MLB

NFL

% of teams not winning a championship

33%

47%

% of teams not appearing in a championship

10%

13%

 

Couple these stats with the fact that new franchises are more likely to win a World Series than a Super Bowl, and it might be tempting to disagree with the usual argument about parity between the leagues.  The World Series has actually been more inclusive than the Super Bowl.

What if we focus on the last 20 years?  After all, profit sharing and free agency changed dramatically since 1966, potentially affecting championships.  Let’s look at the same statistics for 1995 to 2012 (I’m choosing these years since there was no World Series in 1994.  Also, revenue sharing was first introduced to baseball in 1996).

SINCE 1995

 

MLB

NFL

% of teams not winning a championship

67%

60%

% of teams not appearing in a championship

40%

30%

 

Counter-intuitively, here the stats change to favor the NFL, though not dramatically.  If we shorten the timeline further and take into account only the past decade, which also coincides with the 2002 baseball negotiations when revenue sharing was fine-tuned, the MLB has 7 different winners plus an additional 5 who've appeared in a World Series  – a total of 12 teams out of a potential 20.  The NFL has 7 different winners plus an additional 6 teams who've appeared in a Super Bowl  –  a total of 13 out of a potential 20.

What conclusions can be drawn from this?  Perhaps nothing definitive, as you could continue to crunch numbers that help fine-tune or perhaps even contradict some of what the above reveals, but I think you can say that under current rules, parity within the leagues is about the same in the MLB as it is in the NFL.  What was surprising to me is how historically the MLB wasn’t as lopsidedly in favor of the big market teams as I originally thought, even before revenue sharing and playoff expansion.  Outside of the Yankees’ run in the 90s, there has been a good deal of turnover in the World Series, and expansion teams have had success, sometimes fairly quickly.

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