The NFL: A Socialist Empire

The National Football League logo.

“It is a form of socialism and it’s worked quite well for us,” were the words of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell in his January, 2012 interview with 60 Minutes. The National Football League is the most popular athletic league in the country today. Revenues in excess of $9 billion dollars annually and popularity are at all-time highs under Goodell’s leadership. The question of how to monetize and maintain this popularity is very relevant, and as evidenced by Goodell’s quote, to do so the National Football League leverages a 19th century philosophy described by Karl Marx.

Karl Marx, author of the Manifesto of the Communist Party.

In his 1848 writing, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx details several theories regarding social and economic policies including communism and socialism. In particular, he details a situation in which the government controls the means of production. This results in governmental control over much of the economy in an attempt to maintain a prosperous society. Much of this belief is founded on the ideal that all people should have an equal shot at success and receive an equal portion of a society’s successes. Along these same lines that Marx detailed, Commissioner Goodell has instituted many policies that follow these same beliefs in order to ensure financial health for the league as well as its teams and their successes.


One Big Financial Pot

In the National Football League, there are 32 franchisees. Each team has a different level of popularity, with the teams in major markets like New York, Dallas, and Chicago being the most popular. This results in these teams earning significant profits from sales of jerseys, advertisements, and television exposure. But in the NFL, there are systems in place that prevent these teams from keeping all of their own money. The league has essentially instituted a financial “pot” that all revenue goes into, from the nearly $7 billion in television revenue, to merchandise sales, and advertisement revenue. From this pot, all 32 teams draw equal shares of all the money. This means that no matter how much money your team contributes to the revenue, you receive the same portion of the overall financial bounty. This directly follows beliefs outlined by Marx. His quote “From each according to his contribution, to each according to his need” which he famously popularized in a writing from the same time period illustrates this belief. Each team contributes what they can, and each team receives what they need, an amount determined by the NFL to ensure the prosperity of the league. No matter how successful or profitable your team is, they can depend on the fact that they will receive a fair portion of the overall success of the league. This is a classic example of socialism that directly follows the beliefs outlined by Karl Marx in several writings.

An Equal Playing Field

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL.

In addition to the financial aspects of the National Football League, the on-field and competitiveness of the league exhibits many of Marx’s philosophies. The NFL strictly regulates the game to maintain the longevity and success of the sport as evidenced by numerous changes to enhance player safety, but fairness is a key aspect of the NFL’s focus too. The NFL has instituted a salary cap, which limits the amount of money teams can spend on player contracts. This prevents the richest teams from spending vast amounts of money to pay for the best player; every team has a fair shot at obtaining the most successful players for their team. In addition to regulating the money for players, the NFL Draft is another very important example of a Marxist belief. The best teams in the league from the previous season receive the lowest draft pick, while the worst teams have the opportunity to have the best incoming talent. This aims to produce competitive fairness for all teams, a very socialist idea presented by Marx. This directly relates to Marx’s teachings because he described a situation in which the government, or in this case the NFL, controls the production of goods, or the on-field product, in an effort to ensure everybody has an equal shot at success or being competitive, another classic example of socialism and Marx’s philosophies that are prevalent in the National Football League.

Although the National Football League exists in a capitalist country with many strong opponents to socialism, the league has implemented many policies like revenue sharing, salary caps, and the draft that exhibit many socialist qualities. These qualities and the beliefs they represent were exhibited in Karl Marx’s 19th century work that promotes a system with government control and an equal shot for all involved. Because of the Marxist policies used by the National Football League, they continue to thrive financially and in popularity, as evidenced by commissioner Roger Goodell’s quote on socialism, because all fans’ teams have the ability for success.

One thought on “The NFL: A Socialist Empire

  1. I think it is very interesting that you were able to compare socialist beliefs with the way the NFL is run today. With the salary cap and the revenue pool, the NFL is certainly the most socialist league of the four major sports in the U.S. While the NHL has a salary cap, revenue from the teams is not pooled together, and in fact, certain teams earn a lot more money than other teams, such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, L.A., and Toronto. These are all original six teams, except for L.A., which is a marketing campaign done by the NHL to increase revenue for these teams and the league itself. The NBA has a soft salary cap, while the MLB doesn’t have a salary cap at all. Unlike the NFL, the MLB has teams with salaries over twice as much as other teams in the league. This creates a lot of inequality between teams that you don’t see as much in the NFL. Salary caps are huge when it comes to balancing professional sports leagues and inequality rises without them. Just look at the Yankee’s history compared to their payroll and this inequality is apparent. If this inequality between teams becomes an issue, the MLB may have to look to the NFL for some advice.


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