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Do fans actually want parity?

2017 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

You say you want parity, but is that true? Not “is parity good or bad” but is it something that you actually want? Or do you just want your team to have a chance to win the Super Bowl every year; including, do you want your team to win the Super Bowl every year?

Do you think Patriots fans want parity?

A criticism of recent moves in the NBA is that reduces parity to the point of only one team being a serious contender for the title next season: the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have won three of the last four championships and after adding All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins without losing a significant piece of their already-dominant team, their odds of winning the 2019 title are way better than anyone else’s. They will also likely beat the Boston Celtics in those Finals, so says the foregone conclusion that is predicting NBA results.

And so what?

People may claim that the concept of a foregone conclusion is “boring” but I don’t hear anyone complain that the NBA is having a hard time keeping their attention. For us fans of the Seattle Supersonics, it’s been quite easy to ignore the NBA for the last decade, but even I have been drawn back in by the drama surrounding LeBron James vs a clear and indisputable “villain,” albeit a likable one because the Warriors had suffered for so long; adding Kevin Durant and Cousins in back-to-back offseasons may remove that “likable” tag however. But it wouldn’t make me any less apt to watch.

Ratings are at an all-time high:

The NBA has never in its 72-year history had a more successful regular season than it did in 2017-18, according to Forbes.

Television ratings increased on each of four networks that broadcast games. Attendance records were broken. So were records for merchandise sold. The value of franchises was at an all-time high.

See how easy it is to be intrigued, even in a world where we can seemingly predict the outcome a year in advance?

Some would say that if you want real parity, go to the NHL where an expansion team just made the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season of existence and did so against a franchise that hadn’t won a championship in their first 43 years of existence. The league has worked hard to create parity, but is it a good thing?

Gary Bettman and the folks on Sixth Avenue love the fact the NHL’s 31 teams are largely indistinguishable. That’s been the objective since the 2004-05 Owners’ Lockout II proposal that the league office be a central clearing house to disperse players to the then-30 clubs. They forever confuse parity with mediocrity, forever conflate close games with good games and tight standings with exciting races.

There is no rising tide here, no high bar to clear.

This is the ultimate grade on the curve league.

Seriously, what is the point of playing 82 games to prove that there is no difference between teams? If every game is important, then none is more important than the one before it or the one that follows. Rivalries and passion have been extinguished by this balanced schedule that features seemingly endless streams of games involving intra-conference matchups.

Anyone can compete in the NHL .... and yet a Stanley Cup Finals game between a never-has-been and a rookie upstart still finishes third behind the NBA Finals and the “Inside the NBA” postgame show.

The gap was smaller than the last time a Stanley Cup Finals game was televised nationally at the same time as an NBA playoff game, basketball dominating those ratings, 11.2 to 2.7. Even so, the Golden Knights-Capitals game finished third in sports programming for the night behind the Warriors-Rockets game and TNT’s studio show, “Inside the NBA.”

It’s fair to say that the intrigue among Americans between the NBA and the NHL still heavily favors the league where there are heavy favorites.

How about in the MLB, where in the last three years the Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros — three franchises with rather sad backstories — have won the World Series, respectively? That’s “better” than the New York Yankees winning their 28th title, right? Not according to ratings.

A game 7 between the Astros and Dodgers last season fell 30% from the game 7 a year earlier, and ratings are down over the last decade.

It’s indicative of a recent growing trend of baseball viewership. The 2012 World Series was the least-watched championship round in MLB history. In fact, the all-time viewership lows for Games 1 through 7 have all been set from 2008 to 2014.

While the MLB itself is still a strong force, there’s no denying that the game isn’t anywhere close to its previous highs, when it dominated the sports conversation for the better part of a half-century.

One of the arguments a Seattle fan could make and has made for the last 17 years (the longest active playoff drought in the four major American sports) is that baseball is too hard to compete in once you’re in the shitter. Of course, there’s also the issue that there isn’t a salary cap, so there’s nothing to deter teams like the Yankees and Red Sox from hoarding good players and making it even more difficult for teams at the bottom to rise up.

That reduces parity in the sense of teams making the playoffs (as does the limited number of playoff spots) but one of the interesting things about baseball is that a 162-game season becomes a seven-game (and in some cases a one-game) series and that almost completely closes the gap on talent. Baseball ratings suffer for a number of reasons, but intrigue around parity could potentially have a bigger effect locally than on a national level; “the Mariners stink!” and people watch less, “the Mariners are actually GOOD this year!” and people watch more.

But outside of your city, do you really give a shit? Do you really care if the Yankees are dominating, as long as the Mariners are winning? I’m gonna say no, because the AL playoffs are getting close to being a foregone conclusion and alongside Seattle, includes Boston, New York, Houston, and Cleveland. That’s the two powerhouses, the reigning champion, and a team that won 102 games last season and lost the Series the year before. Plus the Mariners.

Do you really care who the other four teams are and that they completely stink of fortune? No, because Mariners. And remember, once you’re in the postseason, it’s anyone’s game.

That’s also pretty true of the NFL, where it’s always a one-game series.

While we’ve seen the Eagles, Broncos, Seahawks, and Ravens win Super Bowls recently — teams that either hadn’t won one for awhile or hadn’t won one at all — there’s still the fact that Tom Brady has played in eight of the last 17 Super Bowls. Peyton Manning was in four of the other ones. Ben Roethlisberger in three. That’s 15 of the last 17 AFC representatives in the Super Bowl.

(God bless us, Joe Flacco and Rich Gannon.)

That’s not parity. Right?

Do the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Bengals, Browns, Texans, Titans, Jaguars, Chiefs, Raiders, and Chargers think there’s parity? Making the playoffs is nice, but it’s a bastard to try and get through them. The NFC is nicer, but the Cowboys, Washington, Vikings, Lions, Bears, Bucs, Rams, and Cardinals have had a tougher time rising up for most of the last 15+ years. You could argue that at least 20 teams have just been spinning their wheels since the turn of the century. At least.

And despite consistent complaints in the last few years that they just aren’t good enough, the Seahawks are not among the teams spinning their wheels. In fact, they’re one of the dominant ones. Do you want parity to take them down for the next 5-10 so that the Rams and 49ers can have their day in the sun?

No, you just want Seattle to be good, right? You think locally, complain about parity globally. For a short period of time, the Seahawks even were the Warriors (to a much smaller degree) and they were the ones others hated to see do well. Last season’s 9-7 “debacle” was a gift from heaven for many fans and it made Seattle a more viable product to put on national TV. Why be the hero when the heel is who you can’t get your mind off of?

Do you want 32 mediocre teams who finish every game 17-14, or do you want some great teams, some awful teams, and a large middle? Some blowouts, some not-exciting games, but then also some Super Bowl upsets that totally disrupt conventional wisdom. Do you need parity, or do you just need hope?

The ratings say that despite AFC dominance by three quarterbacks over nearly two decades, you’re happy the way things are. The NBA thinks that despite complaints over building “mega-teams,” you’re still talking more about those transactions than you are over who the number one draft pick is or making bets on five or six teams to win the championship next season. The NHL just wants to know what’ll make you talk about them at all.

Parity is a nice idea, and certainly could be a good thing, but I’m not entirely sure that I’m sold on it being what you want. You want your team to win. And when they aren’t, you want parity. But either way, you’ll still be watching.

Poll

Do you want parity?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Yes
    (94 votes)
  • 62%
    I don’t care
    (229 votes)
  • 11%
    I want parity, even if it means Seattle losing
    (44 votes)
367 votes total Vote Now