Through match week 26, Leicester City leads the Barclay’s Premier League by a two point margin over Tottenham and Arsenal. The talk has been there all year since they jumped to a hot start, but this late in the campaign their Cinderella story is a very real possibility. Considering that every Premier League championship except one since being founded in 1992 has been captured by four clubs, and considering Leicester City is in only their second season since regaining promotion to the top flight, this really is something special, remarkable, surprising- pick your adjective. Regardless, it is something only Hollywood could write up. So what would be the American sports equivalent to Leicester City taking home the Premier League title?
My measurements will consist of player salaries/team spendings relative to rest of league, history and length of existence in the highest level (obviously no relegation/promotion element over here, but we do have expansion teams, etc). Granted, the only team not named Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, or Chelsea to win the league was Blackburn Rovers in 1994-1995 in only their third season since gaining promotion – also very impressive; however, they pumped millions of pounds into that group of players.
I’ll start with college football. Under the current four team playoff format, a team outside the power five conferences essentially has no shot of winning a title. Those schools basically aren’t even in the same league. Before being considered a legitimate title contender, Leicester was still at least in the Premier League. So, although a non-power 5 team winning the National Championship would be as surprising as Leicester winning it all, I’ll stretch in a different direction.
Consider the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers. Two years ago they were playing FCS football, and this past year was their first year competing at the FBS level. Two years ago Leicester was in the Football League Championship (second tier of English football) and last year was their first season (back) at the top level. So let’s take the Charlotte 49ers, who went 2-10 last year, put them in the ACC this fall to logically make it possible, and have them win the National Championship next January.
Leicester City, 2015-2016 EPL champions = Charlotte 49ers 2016 National Champions
Leicester City winning the league compares to an expansion team taking home a title in only their second year of competition. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001, just their fourth season, which is remarkable and the fastest an expansion team has won a title, but that’s twice as long as Leicester has been back in the top flight. To make a better fit, let’s picture the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. Tampa Bay’s first season was in 1998. They went 63-99. Now let’s pretend that in their second year, third baseman Bob Smith led the league in home runs with 65 and batting average (.379) and outfielder Quinton McCracken led the league in runs batted in (165) in a fashion similar to Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez dominating goal scoring and assists this year (Mahrez is only second in assists but still). The Devil Rays win the AL East over the Yankees behind the arms of Rolando Arrojo and Tony Saunders and stormed into Major League Baseball, winning the 1999 World Series in just their second season.
Back to reality, the Devil Rays went 69-93; Bob Smith hit .181 with 3 HR and Quinton McCracken drove in 18 runs.
Leicester City winning the 2015-2016 Premier League = Tampa Bay Devil Rays winning the 1999 World Series
Financially, Leicester City’s player wage bill for this season will total about £48.5 million. To compare, defending champion Chelsea’s wage bill last season was over £215 million.
In American sports, the greatest financial disparity is found in the MLB. It doesn’t necessarily take huge money to be successful in one particular season, or even two, but to compete consistently for an extended period of time, the money has to be there. The Oakland A’s made it possible with Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” tactics, but like we saw in the book and movie, it couldn’t translate to winning a title. So I think the best comparison would be a smaller budget team winning three (or maybe two with at least a third appearance) World Series titles over the course of 8-10 years while having a payroll in the bottom 25% of the league. The Astros and Pirates could potentially do something like that today.
Before I leave you, I’ll make a quick NBA comparison:
Leicester City winning the 2015-2016 Premier League = the Philadelphia 76ers winning the NBA Finals next year
Just kidding. Barely.