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There are a great many things in the sporting world that are downright odd.

Golf, for example. Put an Amazonian tribesman on a tee with a ball and a three iron, point to a barely visible flag in the distance and tell him he has four hits to get into a tiny hole below it, and he would think you were crazy. Test cricket is another. A game that can last five days is a magnificent monument to Victorian ambition, grandeur and folly, although thanks to Australian innovation, it is now a bit quicker.

But nothing in a wacky world that links darts' corpulent Andy Fordham with Lance Armstrong, and boxing with synchronised swimming, is weirder than the National Football League. It is not the game itself that is strange although its staccato rhythm is not to everybody's taste but rather it is the financial rules that govern the teams that are so utterly perplexing and so un-American because in the home of the free market, the NFL is arguably the world's only successful socialist entity.

Consider this. League rules dictate that the Arizona Cardinals, who are rubbish and who few residents of Phoenix even bother to watch, get exactly the same share of the league's gargantuan television revenues $2.6bn (£1.45bn) in 2004 as the Superbowl champions New England Patriots. Try selling that one in the boardrooms of Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.

But even if Manchester United and Chelsea were still listening after that shock, imagine them agreeing to a salary cap that effectively means they can spend the same on players' wages as Norwich and Bolton. In the NFL this year the Patriots and other rich teams can spend only about $80m on salaries, subject to a gazillion complex exceptions and loopholes. And finally the Patriots, by dint of their success, are penalised in the post-season distribution of players by being allocated the final pick in the college draft, so all the hottest young talent goes to the teams that need it most. Under this system, Wayne Rooney would now be a Canary.

These add up to an extraordinary package of measures that the NFL hopes will help it achieve its goal of parity among teams a league of equals that ensures supporters of all teams can harbour realistic hopes that within a couple of seasons their team can be transformed from also-rans into contenders.

It is important to note that not everybody likes parity. But it does seem to be working. The Carolina Panthers stank the NFL out in 2001 recording just a single win, but within two seasons came within about a yard of winning the Superbowl. Furthermore, the NFL remains America's most popular, successful and lucrative professional sport.

Similarly, as the 2004 season began on Thursday night, pundits were tipping the endlessly under-achieving Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals as potential champions, while at least half of NFL teams will believe they can reach the end of season play-offs.

Contrast that to the Premiership where 17 sets of supporters know their team has no chance of winning the main prize and most value survival above all else.

That is not a recipe designed to sustain the still stratospherically high levels of interest in the game, but rather is breeding an unhealthy culture that allows the rich to become super rich while endangering the health and survival of the poorest, ultimately to the detriment of all.

But help is at hand. League chiefs need look no further than the collected works of Marx and Engels for a solution and across the Atlantic for a vision of sporting utopia.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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