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Real Madrid are the New York Yankees of football…

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Real Madrid is The New York Yankees of football.

I was never particularly drawn to baseball, yet as a (pseudo) New Yorker, I support The New York Yankees. I am also  an avid supporter of Real Madrid. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there are many similarities between those clubs. For starters, both are associated with strong brands in their respective sports, perhaps the most famous brands. The Yankee hat is a worldwide fashion accessory – hip-pop culture and Jay-Z probably have a lot to do with this, but bear with me. Similarly, Los Blancos’ white jersey is one of the most recognizable tuniques in football. On the other hand, you either love The Yankees and Real Madrid (like I do) or hate them. 

However the similarities between those ball clubs do not limit themselves to the strength of their brand or to the controversy they create in their sports fan base: they go further than that. I identified several factors that show how those organizations are similar. 1) They have a comparable success story. 2) They are top performers in terms of earnings in their respective sport. 3) They have illustrious players in their recent history (think Derek Jeter and Raúl González) and they go after top-notch talents (think CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Bale, etc….). 4) They both have an iconic « less successful », equally popular and more likable rival. 

Competitive Success

Real Madrid has been an extremely successful club — especially at the country level — racking more than 30 La Liga titles, 19 Copa Del Rey and many European trophies. The Yankees on the other hand have won the most World Series championships in baseball history with 27 wins – more than double the wins of their runner up, The St. Louis Cardinals.

But, does winning La Liga compare to winning the World Series? Not exactly since baseball and football very different sports. The best match to winning La Liga would be finishing as the top seed in the regular season. So in my opinion, football’s closest equivalent of the World Series would have to be the UEFA Champions League. Historical data indicate this assumption is fair: Real Madrid has won a record 32 La Liga titles since 1902 while The Yankees have won the American League pennant 40 times since 1902. Similarly, since 1955, the year the Champions League was created, the Yankees have won 11 World Series championships while Real Madrid has won 10 Champions League titles. To simplify this comparison, I defined success as winning the World Series or the Champions League.

I gathered data on those two variables over time. I started my historical analysis with year 1955 to standardize the comparison. The similarities between the two are outstanding: both teams enjoyed a great level of success in the 1950s and early 1960s. They had unsuccessful periods from the 1970s to the late 1990s although the Yanks won 2 World Series in 1977 and 1978. They then enjoyed a resurgence in the late 1990s and early 2000s: the Yanks led by Jeter won 4 World Series championship between 1996 and 2000 and Los Blancos guided by Raoúl racked 3 Champions League titles between 1998 and 2002. This resurgence was followed by a fairly unsuccessful period, the exceptions being the 2009 Yankees and the recent 2014 Real Madrid.

It’s easier to understand my historical point by looking at each team’s cumulative success curve. Although they are not exactly the same, their winning pattern is astonishingly identical.

Shark Mentality and Financial Success

Many hate Real Madrid and The New York Yankees and the main reason is probably because they are financial powerhouses. Baseball and football don’t have a salary cap (financial fair play isn’t exactly a cap) so Real Madrid and The New York Yankees can virtually afford any player they want.

Real Madrid has always recruited the best payers in the word. In the last fifteen years alone, the club has spent close to a billion euros bringing talents to the Bernabeu. The modern Yankees are no different; if there’s a big-name free agent in the market, they will be on the move. Money Ball starts with a scene showing how they snatched Jason Giambi from the Oakland As, an excellent small market team. Alex Rodriguez, Marc Texeira and CC Sabasthia were also spash signings in the 2000s.

As a proxy of financial success, I gathered some data on the revenue of the top 15 earners in football and baseball over the past 10 years. Real Madrid and The New York Yankees were (always) on top of the list.

The former has been the number 1 football club earner over the past 10 years, albeit Manchester United « stole » that title for a couple of seasons during that stint. I should probably mention that the revenue difference between Real Madrid and it’s runner up, FC Barcelona, is not exactly small. Real Madrid earnings surpasses that of FC Barcelona’s by about 42 million euros. Take a look at the 2013–2014 season top earners in football:

For baseball, the story is somewhat similar. In the early 2000’s, even when The Boston Red Sox and The New York Yankees were considered the richest teams in baseball, the Yankees still had a much larger revenue stream and payroll. Not only do they surpasse their rival, they are in a category of their own. It has always been the case. In 2013, even though Boston won the World Series, The New York Yankees’s revenue surpassed Boston’s by more than 100 million dollars. Take a look for yourself:

Rivalries

The Boston Red Sox are to The Yankees what FC Barcelona is to Real Madrid. The Red Sox have always been considered a « classy » organization. Big Papi is one of the major faces of baseball and a global ambassador for the sport. The Blaugranas on the other hand are a true representation of what football should be. From 2009 to 2012, they’ve displayed perhaps the most impressive quality football of all time and their ability to develop world-class talent and quickly integrate them into their winning system has been hailed by many.

If we plot their cumulative success curve and make some financial considerations, the similarities between The Red Sox and Barcelona are also evident. According to my revenue data, Barcelona has been second to Real Madrid in the past 5 seasons while The Red Sox has been a very distant second to The Yankees in the past 10–15 seasons. What is even more interesting is that those two teams’ winning patterns are also almost identical. FC Barcelona won their first Champions League in 1992 and then enjoyed a short period of success in the mid to late 2000’s, winning the Champions League 3 times in 5 seasons. Similarly, The Red Sox had no success in the World Series until 2004. Since then they have won 2 World Series, in 2007 and 2013. Striking, right?

Final Words and General Conclusion

Comparing baseball and football  is a difficult task, given the differences between the two sports. It requires that we make simplified assumptions such as making the World Series the equivalent of the Champions League. It is however striking that the cumulative success curves for both pairs are so similar. It’s as if the Yankees winning a World Series is a general indicator of Real Madrid winning the Champions League sometime in the near future and vice versa.

The financial data is also a good indicator to explain why so many people dislike those Real Madrid and The New York Yankees organizations: money buys you power; power makes you look evil. However, the financial data I gathered was overly simplistic. Revenue is a measure of how popular a sports club is, not necessarily how rich it is per say. Revenue is affected by how many people come to your games, buy your merchandise and are willing to pay to watch your team on television. Revenue however doesn’t reflect net-income, cash on hands or credit/buying power, all of which are crucial to understand financial power. More accurate data points would have been the teams spending. Boy, would we see the difference if we compared spending of the four teams! Here again, I’d have to make assumptions due to the intrinsic differences between the two sports: in America the concept of buying out a contract is pretty much inexistent and the team’s payroll is the best indicator of its spending. In football however, the cost of buying out contracts to bring in new players is the best indicator of a team’s spendings. In other words, the biggest expenditures of a baseball team are the players salaries whereas in football, it is the cost of acquiring new players.

The natural next step would be to come up with a standardized spending curve for Real Madrid and The Yankees, similar to our success curve for both clubs, perhaps plotting the spending and success curves in the same graph to further analyze the correlation between the teams’ success and their expenditures. Other questions are also relevant. For example, understanding how Raúl González compare to Derek Jeter and how the winning Yankees team of 2009 compare to the winning Real Madrid team of 2014 could pin point other interesting similarities between the two clubs.

I will gather these data soon and add those dimensions to the project but by now I hope I have convinced you that… Real Madrid is The New York Yankees of football.

Commentaires

Benjamin Dalusma
Ben is a senior analyst at Nielsen's quantitative marketing modeling group. He graduated from Cornell University double majoring in Biometry/ Statistics and Applied Economics. Passionate about social impact, sports, technology and statistics, Ben has been engaged in multiple projects/ventures over the last few years, most notably Discussion Football (2010-2012, founder), Education Haiti (2013-Present, co-founder) and "The Liebero Project" (2014-Present, co founder). He currently hosts the Chroniques Sportives Podcast which is a Haitian Kreyol show about sports. Ben comes to AyiboPost with past experiences with FootballSpeak.com, Inside Spanish Football Magazine, Seri A weekly, The False 9, and Nerazzuri World. Ben will be writing mainly about football philosophy, tactics, and possibly analytics (if the data can be easily be found and crunched in a timely matter). Feel to reach him via email or on twitter.

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