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National Pastime

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National Pastime

How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer

Brookings Institution Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Why do Americans love baseball in a soccer-playing world? And why does baseball prosper, while soccer kicks around?

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Soccer and baseball enjoy fervent followings and generate wads of cash, so this study of the two games’ economics and culture is as welcome as a towering home run (or a nifty goal). Economists Stefan Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist compare and contrast the two sports’ business models in a way that will fascinate anyone who is interested in athletics or international business. The authors offer a fascinating history of these sports, complete with plenty of telling anecdotes that are sure to enlighten even devoted fans. The only gripe is that the writers sometimes bog down in scholarly phrasing when the reader might prefer more active prose. Still, recommends this intriguing study to anyone who specializes in sports business - or even just buys a ticket to a game now and then.


From Child’s Play to Big Bucks

Over the past two centuries, soccer and baseball have developed along parallel lines. Both sports started as mere amusements, yet both have evolved into huge businesses with global reach, massive television contracts and powerful brand names, such as the New York Yankees and Manchester United. Top stars in both sports make millions. Yet in spite of their similarities, these sports have striking geographic limits. Baseball is hugely popular in the United States, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Japan, yet the sport scarcely exists in much of the rest of the world. Soccer is a raging obsession in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, yet it has scant appeal as a spectator sport in the United States.

Moreover, soccer isn’t just ignored in the U.S.; in some quarters, it’s reviled. Consider this diatribe posted online: "Hating soccer is more American than mom’s apple pie, driving a pick-up and spending Saturday afternoon channel surfing with the remote control." For their part, many Europeans scoff at baseball. This sort of deep-seated animosity in many ways reflects fear of globalization. After all, sports reflect culture, and the cultural...

About the Authors

Stefan Szymanski teaches economics at Imperial College London. His previous books include Winners and Losers: The Business Strategy of Football. Andrew Zimbalist teaches economics at Smith College. His previous books include Baseball and Billions and May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy. Both frequently serve as consultants to the sports industry.

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