Could a salary cap help European soccer become less predictable?
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Some of the greatest moments in sports have been when an underdog emerges triumphant, like when the U.S. hockey team beat the favorite, the Soviet Union, at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AL MICHAELS: Do you believe in miracles? Yes.
KEN DRYDEN: Unbelievable.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Well, we have some bad news for soccer fans today. New research from the Royal Society says those underdog miracles may be evaporating from European soccer leagues.
TAHA YASSERI: Something has happened that the leagues have become more predictable.
CORNISH: Taha Yasseri of University College Dublin is a computational social scientist.
YASSERI: I happen to be, also, a football fan, so I realized that I might be able to use network science and network analysis methods to make predictions about the results of football matches.
KELLY: So Yasseri built a computer model. He analyzed 26 years of games in 11 major European soccer leagues. That is nearly 88,000 matches. And what he found is that stronger teams were beating their weaker rivals more often as the years went by.
YASSERI: That's exactly why football is so exciting because, you know, there is always a possibility for individual teams to win. But then, unfortunately, pouring money into the sport and not regulating the wealth or income of the clubs might take that away from the fans.
CORNISH: He says money may be to blame for this trend because financial inequality among teams also went up over time.
KELLY: Yasseri compares it to gentrification, but in sports. Better teams win more games and rake in more riches, which allows them to buy even better players and win even more games.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The biggest story in the Premier League over the last couple of weeks is undoubtably the takeover at Newcastle United...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Lionel Messi, spoken publicly for the first time since signing for Paris Saint-Germain...
CORNISH: You see where this is headed.
YASSERI: Basically, hunting all the good players and becoming super strong. And I think, as a football fan, that's really hard for me to take.
LUIS MIGUEL ECHEGARAY: An independent regulator in every single major top league would be a massive, massive help because they can instill rules that forbid certain things, like overspending on players.
CORNISH: That's CBS soccer analyst Luis Miguel Echegaray. He says leveling the economic playing field in European soccer could bring back more of those magic moments, like in 2016, when a team that began the season with 5,000-1 odds against them won the Premier League title.
ECHEGARAY: I mean, that's why Leicester City was such a Cinderella story, because, you know, it's not usually what happens.
KELLY: And what sports fans would not want more Cinderella moments?
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.