It’s easy to feel compassion for the plight of the small market team. Fewer potential ticket buyers, fewer potential sponsors, smaller TV audience, departing superstars. How does a small market compete against their big city rivals?
Last year’s NBA and NFL lockouts focused on the issue. New revenue sharing arrangements were supposed to help small markets play on more equal footing, allowing them to spend equivalent money on player salaries in spite of lower revenues. In the NBA, the new arrangement did nothing to prevent superstar players from bolting out of small markets as soon as they could. Seemed like nothing, not even CBA rules directly addressing the issue, could prevent big market teams from having a huge advantage.
But if you ignore the sensationalist stories about CP3, Melo, Lebron and Amare all bolting for the bright lights of the big city, you find something completely surprising. Look at the standings in the NBA today. On Feb 2, 2012, the teams playing above .500 include: Oklahoma, San Antonio, Houston, Denver, Portland, Utah, Memphis and Indiana. In the meantime, the star studded New York Knicks are 8-13. The NFL is no different. This year, two big city teams (NY and NE) square off in the Super Bowl. But last year, it was PIT and GB. In Major League Baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals are the current World Series Champs. Market size seems much less relevant that we might think.
Far more interesting to me is the fact that organizations that win tend to do so perennially. The Spurs (NBA), Cardinals (MLB) and Steelers (NFL) are always good. The Denver Nuggets appeared to be doomed when Melo left. But today they are just 3 games out of first place in their division. When this year’s NFL playoffs began, 8 of the 10 teams that qualified had previously won at least 1 Super Bowl. By conference championship weekend, each of the remaining 4 teams had previously won the big one at least once, with three of the 4 having won multiple Lombardi’s.
Yes, superstars win championships. Few teams that win it all do so without at least one legitimate superstar. But superstars come and go. Montana, Bradshaw, Favre, Staubach, Magic and Bird all retired, yet their organizations went on to win championships without them.
It’s not about market size. It’s not about superstars. It’s about the organization. Winning organizations find a way to win regardless of roster or market. They win because of outstanding decisions, responsible salary cap management, great coaching, front office consistency and dedication to a team philosophy that doesn’t change. Check out what is happening in Denver, Portland and Utah this year in the NBA. Each team has lost superstars recently, but they continue winning. Small market teams: stop whining. Focus instead on the organization. Look in the mirror. Great management and great corporate environment matters more than things like market size. Winning is in your hands. Market size is beyond your control, but it is not critical to success.