New football thread

Due to the fact that a well-known leftwing political ideology contains the name of a drug for male performance problems, much touted by spammers, my blog software is rejecting all comments on the football post below. Sorry about this – I’m going to raise it with my hosting service. In the meantime, please comment here.

21 thoughts on “New football thread

  1. Interesting question Prof. John. But I think it a little twee that you insist on referring to soccer as “association football”. While not wanting the re-open the big nomenclature debate we’ve already had ( primarily because I don’t think the name matters at all), I think you should plump for one of soccer or football. I mean no one calls it “association football”.

    I also think the “distributive” constraints you point to are of relatively recent origin in Oz. So the allegiance you point to is a phenomenon that applied to support for say Collingwood, St Kilda, Melbourne over many years too. Similarly in the SANFL where Port, Sturt and Norwood dominated premierships over decades.

    Also your are a Nick Hornby fan and you can remember his agonistes over supporting The Arsenal in “Fever Pitch” through its barren years.

    I think there are two main reasons. One cultural, and one that involves the gloabalized nature of soccer.

    Soccer is deeply embedded in the culture of Europe, South America, and from my informal impression, parts of Africa. And as Flotsam points out, local allegiance is very strong. Most are city and regional loyalties. If you have ever been in London, Rome or Milan on a match day the buzz is palpable. Like Adelaide during the AFL season or if the Test is on.

    But I think the more important reason derives from the globalized nature of soccer. Soccer is probably the most globalized industry in the world, certainly in terms of labour mobility. And also in its competitions.

    So the big clubs in Europe and South America don’t just compete in local leagues, but in continental ones like the European Cup and the Copa de Libertadores. These tournaments have huge cachet. For me, one of the most poignant moments ever was the embrace between Bobby Charlton and Matt Busby after Man U won the Euro Cup in ’67 or ’68, two survivors of the Munich Air disaster.

    So clubs are really involved in an arms race to get the best players. This inevitably may have a deleterious effect on the domestic competition but for fans there are compensatory benefits.

    Such as the chance to see the best players in the world, Maradona, Platini, van Basten, Zidane, Viduka, Kewell, Neill etc. And I think all fans of a nationality get pleasure if one of these teams wins an international trophy. So I suppose they put up with a few Goliaths in order to enable international success and to see the best.

    I think there is also a subsidiary reason and that is the vanity of the entrepreneur-owners of big clubs like the Agnelli, Berlusconi, Moratti, Tapie, and now Abramovich et al. Owning a club is a status symbol and a luxury good. And these guys are used to being successful and it will be difficult to see how anyone will be able to constrain their laissez faire footballing capitalism.

    And as you rightly point out, this sort of “entrepreneurship” can also lead to the disgraceful scandal that has now erupted in the Serie A, but which has been patent, especially for the past couple of seasons, leading to the demotion of one of the very big “international” clubs Juventus to the second division and a big points penalty to Milan, another.

  2. I’ve fixed the description of soccer/football, I think.

    The thread is all over the place, but there’s a good story emerging, showing a nice grasp of economics among my readers. Competition in Australia and the US is between sports, and requires strong collective management to provide a good competition. Everywhere else, it’s global competition between soccer leagues.

  3. JQ

    You have it down pat on your last statement. AFL, NRL, Baseball etc is pretty much a ‘regulated monopoly’ so it makes sense to share the powers evenly for internal competition.

    Soccer (sorry Gaby, I’m using this for simplicity) is actually about national champions vying for regional and global competition. Hence Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool see their natural competition to be Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Bayern Munch, AJAX, PSV, Inter Milan, Valencia etc not Sheffield Wednesday, Watford or Reading.

    Its not all bad news for the lower clubs as the thrill of surviving relegation or promotion to the next tier is exciting. Also unlike our codes the lower clubs compete in various other cup competions both nationally and regionally where the big boys are not involved.

    There is also some redistributive effect happening when the large teams pay huge transfer fees to buy their best players which allows these clubs to survive and invest in more talent. Finally some of the large clubs also loan out young players to the other clubs so that they can get experience. Finally the Euro Champions league is quite competitive with winners from all sorts of countries and even some unfancied teams like Porto, Bucharest, Marseille and Nottingham Forest.

    It really is globalisation where the best and therefore scare talent get compensated globally. For the US average worker perhaps its globalisation in reverse. The best talent gets paid well while not so scarce talent competes with surplus labour around the world. As Stlilitz says, this is the dark side of globalisation.

  4. John,

    Another couple of thoughts about football that I should have mentioned in the previous thread:

    As well as being based around location and family tradition there is also the spectre of religious and cultural differences that can get in the way of good sport. Competition between, say, Rangers and Celtic is as much sectarian as it is local rivalry. On the other hand the World Cup match between Iran and the USA in 1998 was a model of fair play so it’s not all bad news.

    There’s no better example of how big this rivalry can be than the war fought between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 was triggered by a football match after tensions built over a border dispute. This just doesn’t happen in darts…

  5. PrQ,
    I had a similar problem over at my blog. The problem was in the “post slug” – the bit that actually goes into the URL for the page. I notice that the name of a drug for male performance problems is embedded in the post slug on the previous thread as it was the original name for the post.
    If you go in and modify the post slug it should fix the problem.

  6. football is the world game , globalisation personified in other words.
    You can’t bring in the controls the xenophobic sports like Gridiron, Aussie rules or thugby.
    This is why such sports can be so equal and have so many teams which win the competition.

    You can’t do this in football because footballers can play in any competition and make money.
    More interesting is why National football team standards are equalising.
    The world cup showed again the differences are now as small as they have ever been.

  7. I think Homer has it right – where there is the most competition between the leagues is where the sport has got the most equal and the wage rates paid to players have got the most aligned with their skill.
    Basic demand and supply has been allowed to work to the advantage of the consumers of the service (the fans) and the workers (the players). The employers, on the other hand, are screaming for protection. Odd, that.

  8. John

    At the weekend, Inverness Caledonian Thistle defeated Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox Park in front of a crowd of around 60,000. Inverness have more sheep watching them than people. This is a triumph that will keep the inhabitants (and maybe even the sheep) of Inverness happy for a long time to come. These giant killing acts are what keep supporters of the lower clubs going in soccer and this is made possible through the fact that it is very difficult to score and low scoring are the norm. Other forms of football do not contain this level of uncertainty (and excitment). I think the parallel with capitalism is weak – when do I get a chance to publicly embarrass Rupert Murdoch? And the Man Uniteds etc have bought together stunning skills for us to watch – not much of this in evidence at the top end of the capitalist system or its political elite! Go the Roar!!!!

  9. Perhaps, Andrew. Or maybe not.

    Both baseball and ice hockey in the US are subject to very similar player trading models, and may have been the basic model for most similar trading systems now. They have both been hit by player strikes in recent times leaving some clubs, and some leagues, without any games for more than a year. While I support people using their right to withdraw labour and collective bargaining, the competition in question wasn’t a win for the fans, let me tell you.

  10. Freedom of contract has certainly been the biggest change in football over the past few years (through the Bosman ruling which declared the transfer system illegal under European employment law). However, it has brought certain disadvantages (and for that reason, is quite often loathed by fans, rightly or wrongly).

    Principally, it has led to a shift in the bargaining power to some extent away from the clubs, to the players (and their agents), who can demand lucrative contracts knowing clubs are afraid of losing players as free transfers. The ruling also led to the abandonment of the limit on foreigners in each club, which has generally hurt the larger national sides.

    It remains to be seen if clubs will somehow come under corporate law (which would have some benefits–proper accounting standards, conflict of interest issues, etc.). More serious is the role of media conglomerates in pushing a ‘super league’ in which the elite clubs would compete, without having to qualify (with broadcast rights awarded to the conglomerate, of course).

  11. 2 tanners,
    US baseball and ice hockey are not subject to similar player trading models – a baseballer or an ice hockey player cannot leave the league and go to another one for similar money. This is the case in professional soccer. Strikes are not needed there as, with free competition, the bargaining power of both parties is roughly equal – the player is allowed to effectively act as a free agent and clubs will pay what they believe a player is worth, and no more.
    I think what was meant by “xenophobic” there was that it is not played anywhere else for anything like the same money.

  12. As noted soccer’s relatively capitalist system is obviously the result of it being international – if one league introduced salary caps the best players would go elsewhere to command higher prices.

    However, I think there are also two things about soccer that allow it to survive with such a free market system, where other sports might not. The one point has been made above – in a low scoring game the weaker team has a better chance of scoring an upset on the day. The other, which goes with this, is the structure of having a knockout competition running in parallel to the main league where teams from all divisions compete.

    This was tried to some extent with the night season years ago when Victoria, WA and SA clubs took each other on in a knock out, but it didn’t last. In AFL the better team on the day will almost always win, and the better team on the day is usually (although obviously not always) the better team full stop.

    But in soccer a weak team that has a good day defensively may keep out all goals and somehow come through for a shock goal. This makes the regular competition a little interesting even when the giants are dominating, but even more it opens up the possibilities of fairy tales where tiny clubs in lower leagues string together a series of good games to reach the latter stages of the knock out – Gretna and Calais being recent examples.

    Without these sorts of competitions games like AFL (and to a lesser extent NFL) would find that under the trading rules of Soccer a few giant clubs would emerge, and the others would quickly fold or amalgamate until the league was a shadow of itself. Without salary caps and other socialist rules the AFL would be down to 8-10 teams, as supporters drifted away from those who could never win.

  13. Soccer was always a working class sport in sharp contrast to rugby union (rugby league as it evolved in the North of England was a physical sport with a following of working class people who liked sports like all-in wrestling and, as such, it was not in the same market as soccer). Soccer remains a sport where the working classes (not to mention the very poor of Rio and Sao Paulo) can make a great deal of money if they are lucky. Capitalism doesn’t generally allow the working classes to make a great deal of money. Furthermore, most rich people who invest in soccer clubs are avid followers of the game who generally lose the money they invest. Talk to Elton John or Frank Lowy! This is hardly capitalist behaviour. With the exception of one or two clubs that are now mainly into merchandising, no sane capitalist would invest a cent in a soccer club. As suggested, we need to look no further than the cartel in American football to really see capitalism at work.

  14. You haven’t cited any hard evidence that soccer exhibits less inter-divisional mobility than other football sports. But suppose it’s true.

    A simple explanation why fans are happy with this arrangement – in addition to those offered by Gaby and others – is that they are spread over a wide spectrum of risk aversion. The risk averse will support teams that win most of the time, though there’s a lower payoff in terms of elation when they win. Gamblers support second division sides that hardly ever make it to, say, the FA cup quarter final, but on the rare occasions this happens they hit the psychic jackpot.

  15. It’s worth noting that in most cases (Scotland being a bit of an exception) the dominance of a few top clubs in national soccer competitions is a phenomenon of recent decades. Given that sporting allegiances are mostly lifelong*, the consequences are probably still working themselves out. As others have suggested a likely implication is increased attention to Europe-level competitions like the Champion’s League, with the national leagues increasingly being selection devices for these competitions. That in turn could have some interesting implications for the development of European identity, especially as teams like Man U develop support outside their home country.

    * I switched from Geelong to Brisbane when I moved here, but I’m the exception.

  16. I think you are not the only one JQ. I know many Sydneysiders who hailed from Perth (even Adelaide) and support the Swans. It is the same in London where many recent European and American expats have adopted their team of Chelsea or Arsenal in London. Others have just picked their local team like QPR, Charlton and Fulham.

  17. It may slightly OT but Con’s comments about expats reminded me of two Americans I known now living in Melbourn. They arrived at the airport to be greeted by a friend of a former colleage who announced that he would put them up in his spare room until they found a place, on the condition that they “barracked for Collingwood”. They had no idea what barracking meant, let alone who Collingwood was, but have now become die-hard supporters.

    The conclusion one might draw is that even for new arrivals affiliation may be based less on the teams position on the ladder, and more on the persuasion of already committed supporters.

  18. To pick up on a couple of John’s points in his last comment, first, I agree that the sort of “oligopolistic” domination of leagues by a few big
    clubs is relatively recent.

    Before that you tended to see one club have a period of domination: say Arsenal in the ’30’s, Real Madrid in the “50’s, Celtic in the ’60’s, Liverpool in the ’70’s-’80’s, Man U in the ’90’s etc.

    Also, I don’t think an European “Super League” can be that far away. I perceive few real impediments. And I’m sure there must be a media mogul or two silently plotting away a la Kerry. Can you imagine that! What a mouth watering prospect! The best of the best, week in week out. The concentration of talent….

    Although could turn out to be quite a “dystopic” vision… the original “Rollerball” movie…

  19. JQ, Flotsam has a point on your first question, but in regard to the second one, the open-ended nature of the European leagues (promotion/relegation) makes it much harder to impose various revenue-sharing arrangements across all teams in the various leagues within one country (this is why the ‘Premier League’ broke away from the English FA). Furthermore, it is competition between the various top-flight leagues in different countries that prevents (say the Spanish League, La Liga) from imposing salary caps (or other labour market devices), as the best players would simply flood to Germany, Italy, England et al. These two factors are not problematic for the AFL, NRL (to a lesser extent) or the big-4 North American leagues – they are all closed-ended and highly monopolistic.

    Gazing into my crystal ball, while change here is possible, it would require so much co-operation from the various stakeholder groups (FIFA, UEFA, national assoiations, G-14, etc), that it is unlikely in my opinion.

  20. I don’t think an European “Super League” can be that far away. I perceive few real impediments. And I’m sure there must be a media mogul or two silently plotting away a la Kerry. Can you imagine that! What a mouth watering prospect! The best of the best, week in week out. The concentration of talent….

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