I’m not going to be the stereotypical American and say, “We are the best!” because that would be… well, stereotypical American thinking.
The American Sports leagues can probably learn a thing or two from Europe’s top Football leagues. I’m not saying that this idea should be implemented, I’m just throwing it out there: regulation.
Regulation — where the bottom three teams from the top league are moved down to the second league in exchange for the top three teams in the second-tier league. This happens yearly in top leagues such as Serie A of Italy, the German Bundesliga and the Barclay’s Premier League in England. Basically almost every top European league.
Obviously baseball would run into problems seeing as the second “rung” of professional baseball in the States is AAA whose teams are owned and operated by the Major League teams. But say that AAA clubs weren’t owned by MLB. This would create and promote a sense of competition and urgency.
It’s every team’s goal to win the World Series. That’s a reality for about 10 teams, an outside shot for maybe four or five more and a pipe dream for the rest. The teams at the bottom have to step it up in order to be competitive to avoid the humiliation of being demoted in favor of Scranton-Wilkes or Salt Lake City. Take the Pirates, for example. The Pirates would have been in AAA ages ago had American sports run the same way. They’d have torn up the high Minors and would have been back in the Majors with a sense of confidence, one that was probably lost after their countless losing seasons in a row.
Fan bases would benefit. Mostly. Think about this, again using Pittsburgh. If Pittsburgh is bad and drops to AAA, then they already have a leg up on the AAA teams (again assuming that they are independent of their parent clubs) and would more than likely demolish AAA. The Pirates fans would at least see a winning team, and a superb team for one year, before they would return to the Majors. And if they win the AAA “promotion” and go back to the Majors, there is at least a distilled sense of hope that isn’t based on top prospects. (See Jeff Clement and Andrew Miller.)
The hope would be there, but also the chance to root for the underdog. To root for the team who just got promoted and has a chance to win the next tier’s title.
The NBA would probably be a better fit for this plan. David Stern is running the league into the ground as it is, and while the NBA likes to bitch and moan about market size, this would make sense. In terms of population size, D-League (development league, the second rung of basketball in America) cities Tulsa (45th) and Fort Wayne (74th) rank ahead of probable NBA cellar-dwellers Cleveland (47th) and Orlando (78th). So, technically speaking, promoting Tulsa and Fort Wayne over the Cavaliers and Magic would make sense from a market standpoint.
Obviously the NFL would be a no-go because of the lack of decent depth in the second rung of American Football. Hockey could work due to all the small developmental leagues out there. The big beneficiaries of regulation and promotion would be Major League Baseball (with some tinkering) and the NBA.
And that is what American sports can learn from European Football.