Here it is:
Bayern Munich and the Myth of Competition
I've quoted the relevant bit below.
The Premier League’s success is down, it is broadly accepted, to the fact that it is less processional than all of its rival competitions. It follows, then, that the prospect of yet another season in which Bayern Munich and P.S.G. amble to their domestic crowns is a black mark against the leagues that home them.
This, to most fans, feels right. It feels just. It is obviously a drawback to know, almost from the start, which team is going to emerge triumphant. Like going to a movie in full knowledge that one lover lets the other drown despite there being plenty of space on the raft, or actually the guy is a ghost, there is not much point staying until the end. There should be competitive balance. There should be uncertainty of outcome. That, after all, is why we watch.
Except that, as it happens, it isn’t. A paper published in 2020 by researchers at the University of Liverpool — and drawing on a welter of academic investigation into the motivations of sports fans — found that there was no correlation between how uncertain the outcome of any game was and how many people watched it. The link, they wrote, was “decisively nonsignificant.”
That is not, it turns out, why most people watch sports, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. According to the researchers, there was a connection between viewership and the quality of player on show. Even more significant, though, was the name of the teams involved. The power of brand, they wrote, tended to “dominate any contribution to audience size.”
Those two conclusions suggest that, rather than diminishing the appeal of the Bundesliga, Bayern’s victory did the precise opposite. Here, after all, was a team with a famous name and an established brand packed full of highly talented players. This, it would seem, is what fans want.
That is the thinking that has convinced P.S.G. to try to blind the rest of Ligue 1, and much of Europe, with its sheer star power. It is the argument regularly trotted out by the Bundesliga to defend Bayern’s unimpeachable hegemony. Soccer’s dirty little secret is that it cherishes not balance, but dominance; it claims to want diversity, but nothing draws like dynasty.
And yet, there is one other finding in that 2020 report that is worth noting. “A match with the highest championship significance observed in our data set would be expected to attract an aggregate audience size 96 percent higher than one with no implications at all for the prizes to be awarded at the end of the season,” even if the teams involved were the same, the researchers wrote.
In other words, what fans really want — more than competitive balance, more than uncertainty of outcome, more than famous faces and powerful names — is jeopardy. They want, we want, as much jeopardy as we can get: games when it feels as if everything is on the line. That is what sells leagues. That is what attracts fans.