Everyone loves an underdog. From the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeating the Soviet Union in 1980 to the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004, defying the odds has always had the inexplicable power to captivate and excite sports fans everywhere. There is even scientific evidence to prove this claim. According to a New York Times op-ed by Sam Sommers, a study conducted to observe this phenomenon found that 81 percent of more than 100 survey respondents were more likely to root for the team reportedly less favored to win.
The popularity of the underdog is a strange sensation, and there is one such Cinderella story currently unfolding in England. The Leicester City soccer club, tagged with a 5000 to 1 shot of winning the English Premiere League at the beginning of the season, currently sits in first place in the league, with second-place Tottenham ranked eight points behind them. After securing a win without its starting striker this past Sunday over Swansea, Leicester City is just three games and five points away from winning the title.
What makes this unprecedented rise so phenomenal? For starters, the team has never finished in the top of the division. Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated reported that in its 132 years, Leicester City has only earned second place once, and that was in 1929. In 2008, the team ended its season in the bottom three of England’s second-tier league and was consequently relegated to the third division, League One. It barely missed relegation from the entire league last year, if not for a lucky late-season surge. Leicester City also has one of the lowest team payroll in the EPL, valued at about 85 million pounds, which is about a tenth of Manchester Cityha payroll.
Since the Premiere League’s beginning in 1992, only five clubs have ever won the title, and they have almost always been the richest. The last time a non-powerhouse won was in 1995 when the Blackburn Rovers beat out Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United to secure the championship. Leicester City even went into administration, which is a company’s equivalent of going bankrupt, in 2002 to eliminate 50 million pounds of debt, according to Simon Barnes of The Spectator. Coming from a financial disadvantage makes the team’s success all the more impressive, as the four soccer giants clearly have a history of monopolizing the league, while others are simply fighting relegation.
A recent Forbes article by Brian Goff suggested that this disparity may be narrowing, at least within the league. Due to increasing revenue in the EPL along with distribution of playing talent to reduce actual on-the-field skill disparity, there is growing equality in competitiveness among teams despite the gaping income inequality within the league.
This parity can be attributed to the fact that there is a finite number of “most talented” players at the top, meaning there are only incremental differences in talent after a certain point. Therefore, it is more likely that a lower to middle revenue team will have a skilled enough roster to compete with the soccer giants and have a legitimate chance of toppling them, as Leicester is currently poised to do.
Unsurprisingly, a number of recent articles have covered this topic, discussing the importance of the newly hired manager, the collective unity of the team and the grit and hustle that each and every member has displayed this season. Tales like this one remind us of the value of sports, and how they can capture the attention of audiences across the world in the most surprising of ways.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.