Team promotion in early major league baseball and the origin of the closed sports league

Eckard, E. Woodrow
Explorations in Economic History Vol. 42, Issue 1, p. 122-152

I argue that a quasi team-promotion system similar to European professional sports leagues once existed in the US, contrary to common perceptions. The first American pro team sport was baseball. From the creation of the first major league in 1876 to the early 1890s, entry was common, occurring primarily by the “promotion” of clubs in operation the previous season. The informal system ended abruptly after an 1892 merger that formed the prototype closed monopoly sports league. Empirical analysis indicates that the cessation of entry reduced competitive balance, and that in their initial year promoted teams outperformed new start-ups. While historians have recognized the elimination of between-league competition as an underlying motive for the monopoly merger, the simultaneous elimination of club entry and competition for league membership has gone virtually unnoticed.