America’s Wildly Successful Socialist Experiment

This is another huge ingredient!

Memphis, Tennessee, is known for lots of things: Elvis Presley and B. B. King, the blues and barbecue. All these things, and more. But not Grizzly bears.I did not think much of this while on holiday from London when my wife and I escaped the city’s steaming, unbearable heat to look through the Memphis Grizzlies’ (gloriously air-conditioned) fan store. The Grizzlies are the city’s professional basketball team. Their mascot is Griz the Grizzly Bear. Their crest is a Grizzly bear. It’s all about the bear.Puzzlingly, in one corner of the store were shirts and other merchandise for a team called the Vancouver Grizzlies—one whose name made much more sense. In fact, the two teams were the same franchise, which in 2001 relocated 1,900 miles, across an international border and three time zones. Vancouver had not been able to support a professional basketball team, so the Grizzlies left for Tennessee. This is not unique in American sports—even in Tennessee. In 1997, American football’s Houston Oilers moved to Nashville, where they played, incongruously, as the Tennessee Oilers before becoming the Tennessee Titans. The most absurd example remains the Jazz: a perfect name for a basketball team from New Orleans, where it was based; less so from Utah, where it now resides.As we returned to Britain, the annual soccer-transfer frenzy was reaching its usual fever pitch. Would Neymar Jnr, the Brazilian superstar, move back to Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain? How much would he cost—$200 million? More? At the same time, two small but famous clubs in England, Bury F.C. and Bolton Wanderers, were—like the Vancouver Grizzlies—facing the end of the road. They were losing money and could not find a buyer. Yet this did not mean relocating to a different city, but the prospect of bankruptcy and ejection. The contrast between American and European professional sports could not be more stark. In the United States, teams live on, just in a new location, and failure offers the opportunity for a reprieve. In the brutal world of European soccer, strength and success are rewarded, weakness punished.In sports, the U.S. and Europe are different worlds, each revealing wider truths about the societies in which they operate—though perhaps not the ones the casual observer might assume.Europe is oft-seen, and derided, across the Atlantic as America’s technocratic mother continent where collectivism and do-goodery reign. Yet it has developed a soccer model that is a form of hyper-capitalism, in which the strongest teams are businesses that live and die on their ability to win. Those at the top grab enormous amounts of prize money, allowing them to secure the best players on the best wages. The three highest-earning sports stars in the world this year are all soccer players: Lional Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar, who each earn more than $100 million a year.In European soccer, there is no salary cap or overall spending cap; players are traded as commodities—literally forming a part of the business’s balance sheet. You “buy” players in Europe; you do not trade them. Those clubs that spend too much go bankrupt. Those that fail competitively, finishing in the bottom few positions in the league, are relegated, removed entirely from the top tier and forced to play with another, lower echelon before they prove themselves worthy of returning. (This holds true for Europe’s elite too. If they do not perform well enough, even for just one season, they cannot compete in the Continent’s preeminent competition: the Champions League, a contest open only to the teams that finish near the top of their domestic league.)The United States, by contrast, holds a reputation in large parts of Europe as the epitome of winner-takes-all capitalism, yet it operates variants of a proto-socialist model for all of its major sports. Success is hailed, yet curtailed, and failure rewarded: The worst-placed teams get the first pick in the following season’

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