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Competition Between Sports Leagues: Theory and Evidence on Rival League Formation in North America

Che, X. and Humphreys, B. R. (2015). Competition Between Sports Leagues: Theory and Evidence on Rival League Formation in North America. Review of Industrial Organization, 46(2), pp. 127-143. doi: 10.1007/s11151-014-9439-7


We analyze the formation of rival leagues and deterrence by incumbent leagues in professional team sports, which is one of the least studied forms of competition in sports. We first survey the economic history of professional sport leagues in North America and develop stylized facts about rival league formation. We then develop a game-theoretical model to explain some of these interesting stylized facts, showing that if the bargaining power of the incumbent league is sufficiently small—i.e., less than a certain cutoff—the incumbent should choose expansion to deter the rival league formation; otherwise, it is optimal for the incumbent league to allow a rival league formation and then merge with it, conditional on rival league success. We further show that the incumbent league may pay players relatively high salaries as an alternative way to deter formation by a rival league.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a pre-print of an article published in Review of Industrial Organization. The final authenticated version is available online at:
Publisher Keywords: Deterrence, Professional team sports, Rival league
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Departments: School of Arts & Social Sciences > Economics
Date available in CRO: 05 Jul 2019 13:18
Date deposited: 5 July 2019
Date of first online publication: March 2015
Text - Accepted Version
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