Thursday, December 8, 2011

The English Premier League for American Dummies

For those of you wondering, "what makes the English Premier League so different?" Fear no longer! For this is your guide to understanding how the league works. This isn't so much about who are the best and worst teams, but about how the league is structured. So if you want some good soccer commentary, you won't find it here. Treat yourself to the Men in Blazers Podcast instead. We'll start at the bottom and work our way up.


Sitting beneath the Premier League is the Championship division (there are several leagues underneath the Championship. The promotion/relegation principals that I'll be touching on apply to those leagues as well). Why is it called the Championship? No one knows, but it probably has to do with a Feudal lord named Paul Championship who ruled over a vast section of England and wanted his namesake to be attached to a soccer league. The top-two finishing teams in the Championship get promoted into the Premiership. Teams finishing in positions 3-6 play in a four-team playoff; the winner also receiving promotion rights. In all there are three teams that get promoted every season into the Premiership from the Championship. Getting promoted is a BIG deal.

I like to think of it in terms of the mass distribution in the Solar System: the sun occupies 98% of the mass while all the planets plus all the little tidbits of comets and asteroids take up 2%. The big teams in the Premiership are the sun hogging up all the mass ($, err... £) and attention in England. All the other teams fight for as much of the remaining mass as they can.

You're damn right I just compared English soccer to Solar System Astronomy


The English Premier League (EPL), also known as the Barclay's Premier league, is often regarded as the best soccer league in the world. The league consists of twenty teams, each scheduled to play every other team twice: once at home, and once away. Everybody has the same strength of schedule, unlike the majority of American sports.


At the end of every season, the bottom three teams are sent packing to the minor leagues of the Championship. This causes great stress and drama for teams that find themselves in the doldrums of the table late in the season. A last-place finish does not grant a team a chance to rebuild with the first overall pick in the following year's draft. A last-place finish sends a team packing to a league where the sponsorship rights are far less significant leading to a dramatic decrease in revenue (and ensuing firesale of top players on the team... think Florida Marlins after their '97 and '03 World Series championships). Imagine the Indianapolis Colts absolutely panicking that they will be sent down to the minor leagues after an awful 2011 season without Peyton Manning. Instead, they can sit back and draft their quarterback of the future, Andrew Luck, after they have all but locked up the worst record in the NFL.


Once the final whistle blows at the death of the season, the regular season is over and the playoffs begi... wait... there are no playoffs. The champion in the EPL is determined by whoever finishes with the most points. No Cinderella playoff runs, no first-round chokes. You finish first, you win. Not all is lost, however, as the playoff format takes on an entirely new shape in European soccer.

European Cups

Teams that finish in the top spots in their respective European country's league play in the Champions League the following season. In basic terms, the Champions League is like a yearly World Cup for club teams. Teams battle in group stages, then enter a 16-team bracket to determine the grand champion of Europe.

The EPL sends four teams to the Champions League on a yearly basis. The top-three finishers in the EPL standings gain automatic entry into the Champions League while the 4th place finisher enters a play-in game qualification match against another squad from a fellow European League. The 5th place finisher gains entry into the Europa League, which is the light beer equivalent to the Champions League (no one really cares about it).


Americans love capitalism. Europeans love socialism. American sports leagues are socialist. European sports leagues are capitalist. How does this work? Let me explain.

In the simplest terms, the drafts that American sports leagues implement is designed to spread the wealth of incoming talent. Teams with the poorest record in previous years get first dibs on incoming talent, while teams with the best records have to wait. In Europe, no such system exists. Teams with the most resources typically have the resources to scout the best talent, while teams with minimal resources are left in the dust. I mean, the NFL shares its revenue. What's more socialist than that? It's a big problem in Europe, so I've heard: the rich teams get richer while the poor teams get poorer. And yet American and European socioeconomic systems reflect the reversed image from their respective sports leagues.

1 comment:

Texas Smoke said...

Nobody over here (USA) seems to understand how the football (soccer) leagues work. Your explanation was succinct and easy to understand. The relegation system explains (in my mind anyway) why teams like MAN-U are consistently at the top of the EPL.