Monday, November 11, 2013

Is MLS the Most Competitive League in the World?

Parity is a popular topic of conversation in MLS.  Because of league salary and roster rules, it has traditionally been very difficult for any team to consistently stay at the top.  Similarly, unless you are Toronto FC, it is not unusual for teams to go from the bottom of the table one year to the top the next.  Alexi Lalas famously (infamously?) proclaimed the league to be “the most competitive league in the world.”  Is he right?

We looked at a representative group of 14 other leagues from around the world and tested them on three key metrics we believe are the best measures of league parity (or competitiveness, I consider them interchangeable).

Intra-Table Parity

To measure this, we looked at the standard deviation of points per game (PPG) for each league.  In effect, this measures the variance in results across the league.  A lower number means teams are more closely grouped towards the average, a higher number means more teams are further from the average (both good and bad).

Year Over Year Parity

This table is the average change in year over year points per game.  This measures how much results vary from year to year.  The EPL obviously has a very low number in this metric as generally the top 5 teams have been the same for the past handful of years (as have the mid-table teams).  It should be noted that this is only from one year’s worth of data, and likely would be different if looked at over multiple years.

The Haves (10%) vs. The Have Nots (90%)

Quite simply, this measures how much goal differential the top 10% of clubs in each league are responsible for.  A competitive league should not have the top couple teams hording all the results.  For example, look at the difference between who is responsible for the majority of the goal differential in the Bundesliga (Bayern/Dortmund) and MLS (Chivas USA/DC United).


We have taken these three factors and equally weighted each one, assigning a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric.  Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15 league sample.  Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind.  Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.


  1. Cool stuff!

    How was the goal differential percentage calculated among the top 10% of teams? Their GD / sum of absolute values for league?

    I would think that since there is more total money in the EPL, Bundesliga, etc. that there is more room for an unequal spread of resources, which would seem to be the driving factor in parity (or lack there of).

    1. Thanks for the comment Matthias!

      Yes, that is how I calculated the goal differential percentage.

      I legitimately believe that Pro-Rel is a primary factor in the lack of parity in the big European leagues (combined with large amounts of revenue as you point out). I am working on a piece at the moment which explores this hypothesis

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