The Professional Sports Work Stoppage Is Uniquely American

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal rides the challenge by Carlos Mendes of New York Red Bulls during the Emirates Cup match between Arsenal and New York Red Bulls at the Emirates Stadium on July 31, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

I'm sure this will come as breaking news to you all, but the National Basketball Association, a league of professional basketball teams that is the canvas with which our beloved Los Angeles Lakers make their art, is in a state of lockout.  The business of basketball has ceased to exist, and will continue to do so until the league and the players negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. 

Whether via lockout or strike, the work stoppage is pretty commonplace in sports.  Sometimes, it has little effect on the every-day fan, like this year's NFL lockout which was resovled without the slightest change to the regular season.  Sometimes, games are missed, like the 1999 NBA lockout which caused teams to play a shortened 50 game season.  And every now and then, a work stoppage does real damage, like the 1994 MLB strike, which cancelled the 1994 World Series and cost a young Padres fan the chance to see Tony Gwynn pursue Ted Williams' .400 season (hint: it was me), or the 2004 NHL lockout which cancelled an entire season.

All told, there have been three work stoppages (all lockouts) in the NBA's history, two in the NHL, five in the NFL and a whopping eight in MLB.  Some have been short, some have been long, some have been important, some have been irrelevant.  But, when taking all four major sports in North America into consideration, they sure have been plentiful. 

America is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the world's leader when it comes to sports.  The US has one of the world's largest populations, and one of the highest standards of living, too.  Put those things together and you have a bunch of people willing to spend a lot of money on their entertainment.  That's why, for the sports most Americans actually care about, the best professional leagues are all here.   But, there are plenty of strong professional sports leagues in countries around the world, playing sports Americans don't much care for (mainly soccer).  The English Premier League's television revenue is on par with what the NBA receives annually.  The salaries paid to top players in Spain's La Liga rivals anything you can get in a professional league on this side of the Atlantic.  The best rugby, cricket, and racing (besides stock cars) all predominantly exists outside of this country, and the purveyors of those sports are all well compensated.  So, you know how many work stoppages I was able to find with 60 minutes of internet research?

None.  That's right, with lots of leagues, a variety of non-American sports, and plenty of money to choose from, I was unable to find a single league wide work stoppage outside of the United States (and Canada).  They've had teams go bankrupt, they've had scandals, they've had all manner of drama and tragedy alike, hell they've even had wars, but the one thing you can count on is that year in, year out, all those professional leagues will continue to do what it is that people pay them good money to do, play.

I would imagine the reason for this uniquely American dilemma has to do with the legal association of teams.  I think that, when you travel outside our borders, the individual teams, or clubs, carry much more weight than their combinations.  For example, in England, there is no such thing as an expansion team, nor is there really such a thing as team relocation.  You could theoretically create a new team, but (admittedly, my knowledge here is pretty sketchy) you would probably have to petition to join some sort of regional league of teams, and then work your way up through many, many degrees of promotion via the European promotion/relegation system before your team was a part of the Premier League.  Therefore, all the drama that comes when bosses and employees clash is individualized at the local clubs.  If a club's players strike, it's the club's business to deal with.  If a club goes bankrupt or locks out it's players, the club just disappears, and the "league" continues on more or less unaffected.

I'm not necessarily singing the praises of the non-American way of managing professional sports.  After all, European soccer is notorious for being completely and utterly dominated year after year by the same few teams.  One of the primary advantages of working with a structure like the NFL is the parity caused by the system, a parity which is impossible in Europe.  I'm sure there's a huge list of pros and cons, most of which are far too complicated for my legally mundane mind to understand.

Still, at a time like this, you can't help but be jealous of the folks across the pond who know that come August, their favorite teams will be going about their business.  Guaranteed.

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