© 2013

An Absence of Competition

The Sustained Competitive Advantage of the Monopoly Sports Leagues


  • Explains how each of the four major leagues got to where they are today, and what competitive threats and opportunities they face as they move forward

  • Integrates theories and concepts from various disciplines, and stresses that a complete understanding of the issues requires a multi-disciplinary perspective

  • Illustrates real-world applications of strategic management principles using an industry (professional sport) that is of interest to a wide sector of the population


Part of the Sports Economics, Management and Policy book series (SEMP, volume 5)

Table of contents

About this book


This book takes a multi-disciplinary approach to analyzing the nature of “competition” and “competitive advantage” within the U.S. pro sport industry. By many measures, the four major pro sports leagues in the U.S.–the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB)–are now some of the most successful business entities in the country. Not coincidental to this success is the fact that all four of these leagues currently operate as monopolies. While all have faced rival leagues at some point or another in their existence, all were able to successfully dispense with these rivals. Because of the inability of any rival leagues to survive as a long-term force, it has been monopoly, and not competition, that has been the prevailing market structure in the industry. In fact, in recent decades, the monopoly position of the Big Four appears increasingly impenetrable–none have faced a credible threat from a rival league since the demise of the United States Football League (USFL) in the mid-1980s.  

Within this context, the book seeks to explore the nature of the competitive advantage that these leagues apparently possess. The book takes an evolutionary approach, in that it argues that the monopoly position of each of the four leagues today cannot be explained in an insular, static, manner, but is the culmination of many dynamic processes through many decades. Today’s monopoly market structures are what could be termed path-dependent–they did not simply “happen,” but are instead a complex function of everything that has occurred up to this point.

A key contribution of the book is that it analyzes these issues from three alternate theoretical perspectives–the traditional economics approach, the public choice approach, and the strategic management approach. It argues that no single conceptual approach can, in itself, adequately explain the full richness of the issue, and that these various approaches should be viewed as complements, rather than as being mutually exclusive. The multi-disciplinary nature of the issue should make the book of interest to scholars in a number of fields, including strategic management, sport management, and economics. It can serve as an effective teaching tool in both graduate and upper-level undergraduate courses for students in these fields, and is particularly useful for faculties seeking to emphasize to their students the importance of a multi-disciplinary, integrative, approach when analyzing business and management issues. The book may also be of interest to leaders within the sport industry itself, and will help to provide insight and perspective as leagues seek to enhance their competitive advantage in the marketplace.


Competition Competitive Advantage Major League Baseball (MLB) National Basketball Association (NBA) National Football League (NFL) National Hockey League (NHL)

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sport ManagementUniversity of Massachusetts Isenberg School of ManagementAmherstUSA

About the authors

Neil Longley has both an MBA and a PhD in Economics and has published 23 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals during his career, along with five chapters in edited scholarly books. His research has spanned several areas in applied microeconomics: public choice, public finance, labor economics, international trade, and sports economics. With the latter, his research pertaining to labor market discrimination in sports has been particularly influential, and has significantly impacted the direction of the literature in that area. His research has appeared in such journals as Applied Economics Letters, Public Choice, Contemporary Economic Policy, Atlantic Economic Journal, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Journal of Sports Economics, and Managerial and Decision Economics, to name a few. Most recently, he had an article (co-authored with Leo Kahane and Rob Simmons) accepted for publication in the prestigious Review of Economics and Statistics. The paper uses a sport setting to examine the extent to which co-worker heterogeneity impacts firm-level output. Longley was the recipient of the 2010-11 “Outstanding Research Award” in the Isenberg School of Management, out of approximately 125 full-time faculty in the School.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title An Absence of Competition
  • Book Subtitle The Sustained Competitive Advantage of the Monopoly Sports Leagues
  • Authors Neil Longley
  • Series Title Sports Economics, Management and Policy
  • Series Abbreviated Title Sports Econ.,Mgmt,Policy
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
  • Publisher Name Springer, New York, NY
  • eBook Packages Business and Economics Economics and Finance (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-1-4614-9484-3
  • Softcover ISBN 978-1-4939-4335-7
  • eBook ISBN 978-1-4614-9485-0
  • Series ISSN 2191-298X
  • Series E-ISSN 2191-2998
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XIV, 119
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Economics, general
    Media Management
  • Buy this book on publisher's site
Industry Sectors
Finance, Business & Banking