Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Social inequality as seen through soccer

As a big soccer fan, I’ve noticed that some countries have competitive domestic leagues.  Others don’t.  While there are a million factors that go into who wins in a particular country — here is a very basic visualization of the data.   Does it reflect social inequality?  I’ll let you be the judge, as this is obviously just a very basic starting point.

[Update: Note that the PIIGS member countries do look rather similar!]

Here are charts of championships in the domestic league for major soccer (football) leagues during the professional era.  Note that in some countries international cups or domestic cups are also a big deal.

Serie A is not very competitive.  Of the 81 championships, about 80% have been won by just two cities: Milan (AC Milan and Internazionale) and Turin (Juventus and Torino).   Two!

Meanwhile, the club with the 5th most titles (Bologna) last won a title in the early 60s.  


Spain’s La Liga is usually won by Real Madrid or Barcelona, with Atletico Madrid also winning a respectable 11% of championships. Between the three of them — representing just two cities — they have won over 2/3 of the titles.   The last team to win a title other than Barca and Madrid: Valencia in 2004.

The Basque teams together have won 10 times (Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad).  Valencia has won 6 titles, while the Andalusians have won just two championships (one each for Sevilla and Betis) and the Galicians have just one as well (Deportivo La Coruña).

Quite a few regions (“autonomous communities”) of Spain have never seen their team win a title.


"Association football" began in Britain, so they have the longest history and as such appear the most competitive over the professional era since 1888.  However since the Premier League began in 1993, only 5 teams — Arsenal, Man United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Blackburn — have won the title with Manchester United winning 13 times.  Well over half!

However, Sir Alex Ferguson retired last year, so ManU are very unlikely to be as dominant in the future.  To wit, they are already out of the title race this year.

imageNational club football didn’t begin in Germany until 1963, when it replaced regional leagues.  Bayern Munich didn’t win the title until the sixth year. Since then Bayern Munich has dominated.  In fact, in the last 20 years, Bayern Munich has won 11 times. 

imageThe Eredivisie of the Netherlands formed a few years before the Bundesliga.  Unlike Germany, however, the KNVB prohibited paying players until the Eredivisie began. As Dutch players were leaving Holland to get paid abroad, they had to form the pro Eredivisie. 

Ajax dominates, and 90% of national titles have been won by the big 3 of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord Rotterdam.

imageFrance looks to be very egalitarian as seen through the champions of Ligue 1 since 1932.  

It is probably worth noting that of all the Western European countries, France is definitely the nation which least cares about club football.

imageOnly 5 teams have ever won the title in Portugal, and one of those won the title in the mid-40s (Belenenses).  

98% of the titles have been won by Benfica, Porto or Sporting Lisbon, representing just two Portuguese cities.

Boavista won the title about a decade ago.  In the midst of such dominance, that seems like an underdog story fit for a documentary. 

imageMost people would probably be surprised to know that professional soccer in Turkey dates back to 1904.   The Turkish Super Lig started in the early 60s, which is what I’m counting here.

Like Portugal, only 5 teams have ever won it all.  Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, Besiktas, Trabanzspor, and Bursaspor.  Bursaspor has only won it once.

imageGreek’s main competition turned pro in 1979.  Since then Olympiakos has continued the dominance that it maintained before the professional era. 

Only 5 teams have been the champions of Greece.

imageFor the last couple decades, Argentina has used a funky system where they crown two champions per year.  This increases the possibility of a smaller club being crowned the champion, and you can see it in this graph.

The professional era goes back to the 30s, while serious football goes back a few decades before that.  Boca Juniors dominated River Plate in the decades before the pro era began. 

Also, Argentine teams have been known to prioritize South American continental competitions over the domestic league.

imageHistorically in Brazil the only competition which mattered was the state championship, particularly the Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro state championships.  National and international titles were pretty far down the priority list.

In recent years, Brazilian soccer has changed.  Still, much of this data reflects the reality that the Campeonato Brasileiro was not a big deal for decades after its formation in 1960.

Now for some quick apples-to-oranges comparison to US pro sports leagues:

imageThe Celtics and the Lakers have almost half of all NBA titles!  The Chicago Bulls are 3rd, but all 6 of their titles are from the Michael Jordan era.  Likewise, Tim Duncan’s titles put the San Antonio Spurs into 4th place.

imageThe Yankees win the World Series once every 4 years.  After that, it’s pretty even.  This only counts World Series winners.image

Football is a very high-variance sport for any individual game, so it is not very surprising to see that there is a wide variation in Super Bowl champions. [I only used Super Bowl winners for this calculation.]

imageUntil 1967, there were only 6 teams in the NHL: Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. 

As such, this chart only uses post-67 Stanley Cup winners.  While the Montreal Canadiens look dominant, they have only won the title 2 times since 1980.

Conclusion: I want to make it clear that I’m not drawing any big conclusions about any particular country.  But overall I found this data interesting to see.

UPDATE 2/27:  My post on reactions to this post I saw yesterday on the interwebs.

[Welcome Marginal Revolution readers and thanks to Professor Cowen for the link!  This post is “sponsored” by my day job at Ticketleap, so if you’re looking to sell tickets online, please check us out!  We just released Selfie Tickets as a way for event organizers to invite their customers in to their event, face to face.]