Premier League vs NBA: What can leagues learn from each other?

Liverpool’s ownership of LeBron James is just a link between the Premier League and the NBA. Photo from The Times.

Making a comparison like Premier League vs NBA is never easy. They are different sports, played thousands of miles apart, operating on drastically different systems.

His fan bases have different expectations. Regulation is not the same.

However, despite all the contrasts between the Premier League and the NBA, there are many similarities. Both are followed by millions all over the planet. Both are multi-billion dollar industries. Each faces similar challenges, each being asked similar questions about high wages and ticket prices.

Premier League vs NBA comparison

We are not looking to turn the Premier League against the NBA into a competition. Millions love both and many others don’t care about one or the other. This is just a quick exercise to see what the NBA could take out of the Premier League and vice versa.

Repeat use

Both leagues finally accepted the need to play videos. It has been a contentious issue in the Premier League and the NBA, albeit for different reasons.

Pace of play is a common complaint on both sides of the Atlantic. Other than that, we are generally looking at the intricacies of its application and the interpretation of the rules. There are always a handful of people who prefer to have it removed entirely, of course.

The NBA has begun introducing a challenge system. While this has its own issues as to whether or not teams should retain a successful challenge, it has generally worked as a means of limiting the amount of time spent on video reviews.

It’s a different approach in the Premier League, where a challenge system would probably be a bit clunky. Officials are changing the way they judge controversial calls like handballs and tight offside calls.

Lately there has been a noticeable improvement in the use of VAR by the Premier League. Decisions will always spark some debate, but both the NBA and the Premier League have made real progress over the past year.

Balancing the desire to make all the right decisions without slowing down the sport too much is an unenviable task.

Salary cap

American sports have followed the European leagues by embracing betting. However, any suggestion of an NBA-style salary cap falls like a lead balloon with the Premier League.

According to, some players reject excessive regulation in the casino industry. This is the same justification used against the introduction of a salary cap, which is commonplace in American sports leagues.

The Premier League has hardly any financial restrictions. Manchester United can offer Cristiano Ronaldo anything he wants, particularly with the ineffectiveness of Financial Fair Play. It couldn’t be much more different in the NBA, where not only are there salary caps, but there are maximum contracts that players can receive.

Maximum bids still result in overpaid players. It has its own problems. Maximum contracts are not all equal, total salary depends on a variety of factors, but the fact that Steph Curry and LeBron James are capped at one amount means that they inevitably earn the same as some far inferior players.

In contrast, Premier League clubs have maximum flexibility when it comes to their payroll and individual player salaries. This also allows for great inequality between the haves and the have-nots in the league.

Some would argue that the NBA system is too restrictive, especially for players. However, it seems obvious that the Premier League needs a form of payroll regulation.

Stop the clock

The stopwatch is one of the biggest differences when watching the Premier League vs the NBA. The end of a Premier League match can be calculated to almost the exact minute due to the running clock. It can go on a lot longer in the NBA.

If speed is the priority, then Premier League time management is clearly preferable. However, the NBA stopwatch and timeouts help generate drama late in the game and should theoretically keep fans engaged much later.

Premier League matches fizzle out far too often in the last 10 minutes. Of the more than 90 minutes in a game, the ball is regularly in play for less than 60. Teams clinging to a victory may waste time frivolously, holding on to throw-ins, lengthening goal kicks and going for substitutions.

While the Premier League cannot replicate the shot clock, football as a whole could include a stopwatch. It would guarantee a set amount of ball action in play in each match and ensure a fair chance for teams to return late.

Of all the things leagues could learn from each other, the adoption of the stopwatch in the Premier League would be the most beneficial for the show.

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