Look at the tables of the top European leagues, and something is immediately striking. In the German Bundesliga, Bayern Munich is in first place with 62 points, leading second place Borussia Dortmund by 5 points. In Serie A, Juventus has 61 points for the lead, but only a 3 point advantage on Napoli. The Premiership is even tighter; Leicester City is on top today (3.5.16) but 3 teams are within 7 points. Even in La Liga, where Barcelona is on one of the most incredible runs of all time (see Seth Johnson’s blog post for more on that), they only lead Real Madrid by 8 points, or roughly 3 games. All of these leagues have incredible parity and competition at the top, making every game matter. In Ligue 1? PSG is in first place. By over 20 points.
How does this happen in modern day soccer? We’re used to hearing everyone throw around that competition is better now than ever before, and yet in one of the biggest domestic leagues in the world, the season is essentially over with several months left to go. To give an example of how over the season is, 28 games out of 38 have been played in the Ligue 1 season. That means 30 more points are available. For AS Monaco, down in second trailing by 22 points, to catch PSG, they have to win at least 8 of their 10 games and hope that PSG loses every single one. Considering that PSG has one loss all season that seems unlikely.
Digging into this further, though, perhaps we shouldn’t be terribly surprised by PSG’s dominance this season. While it isn’t always the case (thanks, Leicester City) we can look at team payroll as an indicator of potential success with some degree of aptitude. Real Madrid and Barcelona, arguably the top 2 teams in Europe, respectively have the second and fourth highest average salaries for players in any sport anywhere in the world; Bayern Munich, tops in the Bundesliga, is 7th in the world. But paying their players on average half a million more than Real Madrid? PSG. With an average player salary of over $9million, PSG has the highest average salary in any sport team in the entire world. That translates to a net value of around $634 million dollars for the club (which actually only puts them at 12th in the world in terms of value, proving that player salary and team value don’t always go hand in hand). AS Moinaco, that second place team in Ligue 1? They’re valued at $109 million dollars. Their average contract is worth less than a third of that of PSGs. It’s perhaps no wonder why the Paris team is blowing away the competition with that sort of spending disparity.
All of this raises a question that the French league will have to answer this year: when does one team domination become boring? We’ve actually seen this recently with Munich’s dominance in the Bundesliga; for the past few years, when Bayern has won the league by over 20 points, viewership has suffered. Indeed, the league with the most competition at the top, the Premiership, has viewership (and a corresponding TV deal) that is larger than Bundesliga, Serie A, and La Liga combined. So this year, while total figures have not been published, many people are expecting Ligue 1 viewership to wane. Is dominance by one team a bad thing, then? Sure, PSG is now able to compete at the highest levels of the Champions League and improve France’s image abroad. But when the domestic league becomes unimportant and boring, how long will fans pay attention? It’s a serious problem, and one that Ligue 1 might not have an easy answer for.