Regular readers will know that one of my more eccentric obsessions is the minority pursuit that is European baseball. (In the coming month, you can be sure that there will be some posts here about the European Baseball Championship 2005, which is going to be held in the Czech Republic in July.)

Via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution,</a> I see that the Brookings Institution has just published National Pastime, an economic analysis of why Americans play baseball while the rest of the world plays football (ie, “soccer”).

With Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer taking over Manchester United, the authors found a timely peg for a new comparative look at sports business between the United States and Europe.

Here’s the publishers’ description:

In National Pastime, Stefan Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist examine how organizational structures have made Major League Baseball a profitable business (notwithstanding common claims made by the owners) while soccer leagues around the world struggle to break even. They weave a rich variety of stories, anecdotes, and photos into their account of how these games became businesses, and how these businesses have adapted to the demands of fans. The authors show how early administrators of baseball and soccer leagues were influenced by the parallel developments of each sport and, in particular, how the concept of the league was invented by American baseball and transplanted first to English soccer, and then to the rest of the world.

I’m not sure what the exact thesis of the book is, of course, but here’s how I see the situation — and judging by their Washington Post article, the authors have a pretty similar view.

Ironically, perhaps, the big American sports leagues have far less of a “free market” orientation than European football does.

The American sports leagues have understood that unlike in other industries, it’s not good for individual franchises to drive their competitors out of the market. Sports works best when there is rough parity of competition. Consequentially, they have instituted a number of collective measures that are actually punitive of success. The draft system from professionalising amateurs (in which the poorest-performing club from the previous season selects first, and so on), the luxury tax on player salaries, and television revenue sharing are all designed to ensure that rich clubs do not come to dominate the rest.

European football, by contrast, has resisted approaches like this, relying instead on the problematic promotion-and-relegation system.

Rather than stable competition within the top professional leagues, therefore, European football has seen the increasing dominance of the richest clubs, which has led to continuous talk (and actual implementation) of breakaway elite leagues.