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Posts Tagged ‘World Cup’

Might changes to the format of the football World Cup facilitate tacit collusion?

Earlier this week FIFA, the world governing body of football, announced plans to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams starting in 2026. It is fair to say that this has been met with mixed reactions, in part due to the politics and money involved. However, for an economist one particularly interesting question is how the change will affect the incentives of the teams taking part in the competition.

As a result of the change in the first stage of the competition, teams will be play the two other teams in their group. The best two teams in the group will then progress to the next round with the worst team going home. This is in contrast to the current format where the best two teams from a group of four go through to the next round.

Currently, in the final round of group matches all four of the teams in the group play simultaneously. However, an immediate implication of the new format is that this will no longer be the case. Instead, one of the teams will have finished their group matches before the other two teams play each other. This could have important implications for the incentives of the teams involved. To see this we can recall a very famous match played under similar circumstances between West Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup.

The results of the earlier group games meant that if West Germany beat Austria by one or two goals to nil both teams would progress to the next round. Any other result would mean that Algeria progressed at the expense of one of these two teams. The way in which the match played out was that West Germany scored early on and much of the rest of the game descended into farce. Both teams refused to attack or tackle their opponents, as they had no incentive to so (see here for some clips of the action, or lack of!).

There is no evidence to suggest that West Germany and Austria had come to a formal agreement to do this. Instead, the two teams appear to have simply had a mutual understanding that refraining from competing would be beneficial for both of them.

This is exactly what economists refer to as tacit collusion – a mutual understanding that refraining from competition and keeping prices high benefits all firms in the market. Much like the fans who had to sit through the farce of a game (you can hear the frustration of the crowd in the video clip linked to above), the end result is harm to consumers who have to pay the higher prices or go without the product.

For this reason governments use competition policy to try to stop situations arising in markets that make the possibility of tacit collusion more likely. One way in which this is done is by preventing mergers in markets where tacit collusion appears possible and would be facilitated by the reduction in the number of firms as a result of the merger. The equivalent for the World Cup would be preventing a change in the format of the competition.

An alternative approach is to tinker with the rules of the game in order to make collusion harder. FIFA seems to have some awareness of the possibility of doing this as it is suggesting that it may require all tied games to extra-time and then a penalty shoot-out in order to determine a winner. Clearly, this would go at least some way to alleviating concerns about tacit collusion in the final group matches because coordinating on a draw would no longer be possible. In a similar fashion, competition authorities can also intervene in markets to change the rules of the game (see for example the recent intervention in the UK cement industry).

Therefore, more generally, the World Cup example highlights the fact that variations in the structure of markets and the rules of the game can have significant effects on firms’ incentives and this can have important consequences for market outcomes. It will certainly be fascinating to see what rules are imposed for the 2026 World Cup and how the teams taking part respond.

Articles
World Cup: Fifa to expand competition to 48 teams after vote BBC News (10/1/17)
How will a 48-team World Cup work? Fifa’s plan for 2026 explained The Guardian, Paul MacInnes (10/1/17)
The Disgrace of Gijón and the 48-team FIFA World Cup Mike or the Don (12/1/17)

Questions

  1. What is the difference between tacit collusion and a cartel?
  2. Why does a reduction in the number of firms in a market make collusion easier?
  3. What other factors make collusion more likely?
  4. How does competition policy try to prevent the different forms of collusion?
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Footing the bill

Whenever a sporting event comes around, there is mad frenzy from countries across the world to enter a bid – this was entirely evident with the 2018 World Cup bids! And it’s not really surprising with the attention that the World Cup and the Olympics receive. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, billions of pounds worth of investment in infrastructure, thousands of jobs created and television deals in every country of the world.

However, why is it that every sporting event of this magnitude fails to come in on budget? The costs are always underestimated. The Athens Olympics was supposed to cost £1.5 billion, but ended up costing over 10 times as much. It is also suggested that it may have played a part in the current Greek financial crisis. The 2002 Japanese World Cup had little effect on the struggling Japanese economy. The London 2012 Olympics was estimated to cost £2.35 billion, but suggestions say it will now cost taxpayers some £20 billion, although budget cuts are inevitable. What about South Africa? Costs of $300 million were estimated for stadiums and infrastructure, with a boost to GDP of $2.9 billion. However, $300 million was not even sufficient to renovate Soccer City (where the first and final game will be held). Add on to this over $1 billion to rebuild the rest of the stadiums and then take into account rising inflation, which has caused inevitable cost over-runs.

On top of this, every country says ‘look at the benefits’ when they enter their bid. However, economists have suggested that there are actually minimal employment benefits in the long term. Obviously there is substantial investment in infrastructure leading up to the World Cup, which will benefit locals, but the overall boost to GDP is not expected to be significant. A similar thing can be seen with the London Olympics. In the study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2005, there were estimates of a direct gain to London’s GDP of £5900 million between 2005 and 2016. However, UK GDP would only rise by £1936 million. Some of the costly stadiums that were built for the Portuguese European Championships were simply knocked down after the event.

So, what can we expect from South Africa? There have been many criticisms of poor ticket sales and that this World Cup is only for the rich. Street sellers have been booted out of their normal selling ground, as they do not have the necessary permits to sell and cannot afford to buy the permits anyway. Whilst transport has been improved, there are still concerns about the distance that has to be travelled between stadiums and this has put off many potential spectators. However, the Super 14 Southern Hemisphere Rugby tournament was staged in South Africa, with the final at the end of May and the event was successful. Transport worked perfectly, spectators arrived by the thousand and it is hoped that this is a positive omen for the fast approaching World Cup!

Articles
Saved by the Ball Times Online (5/6/10)
South Africa World Cup just for the rich BBC News (10/5/10)
Footing South Africa’s World Cup bill BBC News (4/6/10)
Will South Africa reap rewards from hosting the tournament? Peace FM Online (5/6/10)
Did 2004 Olympics spark Greek financial crisis The Associated Press (4/6/10)
Cost of 2012 Olympic pool triples BBC News (8/4/08)
Watchdog attcks ‘astonishing’ £5bn rise in cost of 2012 games Times Online (22/4/08)
South Africa World Cup costs above budget Reuters (13/8/08)

Reports and papers
Olympic game impact Study PriceWaterhouseCoopers December 2005
A Cost-Benefit Analysis of an Olympic Games Queen’s Economics Department Working Paper No. 1097, Darren McHugh, Queen’s University (Canada) (August 2006)

Questions

  1. Why do costs tend to be under-estimated and benefits over-estimated?
  2. What technique could be used to determine whether a sporting event, such as the World Cup, should go ahead? Can you apply this to the London 2012 Olympics?
  3. How is the multiplier effect relevant to a sporting event, such as the World Cup or the 2012 Olympics?
  4. To what extent do you think the Athens Olympics contributed to the Greek Financial Crisis? Could the same thing happen with London?
  5. What might happen to the South African exchange rate during the South African World cup and the sterling exchange rate during the London 2012 Olympics?
  6. How has inflation affected the budget of South Africa?
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