Imagine that the team you support has made the final of a major competition or a your favourite band is playing a live concert this summer. You desperately want a ticket and are willing to pay the advertised price. They go on sale at 9.00am in the morning and you go on-line at 8.59am but unfortunately the webpage will not load. You keep pressing the refresh button but with no success. Eventually, annoyed and frustrated, you give up at 10.00am!
Tickets for sporting, musical or other live shows are initially sold by people who organise the events in two ways. They may choose to sell some or all of the tickets directly to the customer. For example you can buy tickets for a West End show from the box office in the theatre. With some football games it is still possible to buy tickets on the day at the stadium. Another approach is to sell some or all of the tickets via an authorised ticket agent. These businesses are usually members of STAR (The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers) and the organisers of the sporting, musical or live show provide them with tickets to sell on their behalf. Some of the larger and well known agents such as Ticketmaster, Ticketline and Seetickets usually sell the tickets at face value although some booking fees are often added to the price. This initial sale of tickets by either the event organiser themselves or an agent acting on their behalf is referred to as the primary market.
For example, British Athletics sold all of its 130,000 tickets for its two day Anniversary Games on the 26th and 27th July via its authorised ticket agent in 75 minutes!! However an internet search for this event will quickly reveal that tickets are still available!! Unfortunately in most cases the advertised price will be far greater than the face value of the ticket. How is this possible? The answer is that the internet has helped a thriving secondary market for tickets to develop. The secondary market refers to situations where people who have already purchased tickets through the primary market re-sell them to other members of the public. Prior to the internet the main way of buying a ticket in the secondary market was to visit the venue on the day of the event and hunt for some-one willing to sell. However technology has dramatically reduced these transaction costs and made it much easier for potential buyers and sellers to make an exchange. For example companies such as Viagogo, Seatwave, GetMeIn and Stubhub have created websites that allow members of the public to buy and sell tickets. As Viagogo publish on their webpage:
You are buying tickets from a third party, Viagogo is not the ticket seller. Ticket prices are set by the seller and may be above or below face value.
Why does this secondary market exist? An economist would argue that it can only happen if the quantity of tickets demanded is greater than the quantity of tickets for sale at the price set by the event organiser. If this was not the case then customers would be able to buy tickets through the primary market on the day of the match, concert or show. The puzzle is to explain why prices do not rise in the primary market. If the quantity demanded of any product is greater than the quantity supplied then market forces should put upward pressure on prices. However it would appear that many of the event organisers appear to resist this incentive and consistently set prices below the level that would limit demand to the number of tickets available. This leaves an opportunity for sellers in the secondary market to sell tickets much closer to their market clearing rate. Navin Kekane, the business operations director of Stubhub, stated that
What we do is all about supply and demand, and you can sometimes find tickets at below face value.
Some of these companies in the secondary market have recently established formal partnerships with a number of English Premier League (EPL) football clubs and other major sporting bodies. For example Viagogo have signed deals with 10 EPL clubs while Stubhub have deals with 3 EPL clubs as well as Leicester Tigers and the Lawn Tennis Association.
However some observers have expressed grave reservations about the growth of the secondary market. For example Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters Federation, stated that
At the moment if you are fan trying to sell a spare ticket and are not authorised to do so then you face a criminal conviction, even if you sell at the face value.
But secondary ticketing exchanges, because they are authorised, are allowed to do so. Many clubs grant these agencies the right to allow the re-sale of tickets for their matches at above face value. I don’t think that can be right.
Joe Cohen, the founder of Seatwave counters that
Touts is an emotional, dehumanising word. The reality is that they are just speculators. No one likes speculators until you need something from them.
Some have called for more regulation of the secondary market. For example Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, unsuccessfully tried to get a Private Members Bill through Parliament which would have made it illegal to re-sell tickets for more than 10% above their face value.
Secondary ticketing: Inflating sport prices or useful service? BBC News Bill Wilson (13/5/13)
Sold out: Are Rihanna, Rolling Stones and Justin Bieber fans being ripped off by so-called secondary ticket websites? The Daily Mail Adam Luck (19/1/2013)
Olympic anniversary athletics event sells out in 75 minutes The Guardian Owen Gibson (19/2/2013)
Is this a new golden age for ticket touts? The Observer Laura Barnett (14/4/2013)
5 live Investigates: ‘legalised ticket touting’ by Premier League clubs BBC Sport Andrew Fletcher (2/12/2012)
StubHub UK expands into Premier League Ticket News, Jean Henegan (4/9/12)
Football fans lose out on £64m of tickets due to absent season ticket holders Daily Telegraph, (16/8/12)
- Give some potential advantages for a football club or sporting body of using an authorised ticket agent to sell tickets in the primary market.
- Using a demand and supply diagram explain what happens in a market if the price is continually set below its market clearing rate. Illustrate and explain how mutually beneficial trade can take place in the secondary market at prices above those in the primary market.
- Can you explain why it is less likely for a secondary market to exist for cinema tickets than a popular West End show?
- Can you think of any reasons why it might be in the interests of a profit maximising organiser of a sporting or music event to sell tickets below the market clearing rate.
- What non-price methods could be used to allocate tickets for popular events? Consider some of the advantages/disadvantages of using these non-price methods.
- Do you think it is in the interests of society to allow people to re-sell tickets at a price above their face value?
Imagine if none of the clubs in the English Premier League (EPL) or English Football League (EFL) had junior or youth teams. Instead envisage a situation where all of the talented young footballers in the country go to college or university to develop their skills. Then once a year there is a big televised event where each of the clubs in the EPL and EFL take it in turns to choose which young college/university players they would like to recruit.
Strange as it sounds to football fans in Europe this is exactly what happens in American Football in the USA. It is called the NFL draft and this year’s event took place over three days between 25th and 27th April at Radio City Music Hall in New York. There was greater interest in Britain than usual in this year’s event because of the involvement of 24 year old Menelik Watson who was born and raised in Manchester. Although originally a basketball player, coaches spotted his potential to play American football in the NFL and two years ago he obtained a place at Florida State University.
The NFL draft has seven rounds. Each of the 32 teams has the right to choose one player in each round. An important design issue for any draft system is how to determine the running order in which the teams make their choices. Obviously all 32 teams would like to get the first chance at recruiting the most talented of all the college players. The NFL’s solution to this allocation problem is an interesting one. The team with the worst playing record from the previous season gets the first choice in each round. In the 2012-13 season this happened to be the Kansas City Chiefs who played 16 games and only won 2 of them. The second choice in each round goes to the team with the 2nd worst playing record from the previous season and so on. The final choice in each round goes to the previous year’s Super Bowl champions who in the 2012–13 were the Baltimore Ravens. Another interesting characteristic of the system is the ability of teams to trade draft choices. For example in 2013 the Oakland Raiders traded their choice in the first round (which was the 3rd choice overall) with the Miami Dolphins for their choices in both the first and second round (12th and 42nd choice overall).
What is the rationale for having a draft system? It was first introduced in February 1936 and many commentators have argued that it has been a key factor which has helped to maintain competitive balance in sport. The man behind the idea, Bert Bell of the Philadelphia Eagles, argued that without this type of system the sport would be dominated by the 4 richest teams. He stated that:
Every year, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Four teams control the championship. Because they are successful, they keep attracting the best college players in the open market, which makes them more successful.
Some evidence for the success of the scheme is that in the last 15 years the Super Bowl has been won by 10 different teams. However in 1934, just before the scheme was proposed, there was another major issue for team owners. The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Eagles had become involved in a bidding war for a very talented young player called Stan Kostka. Brooklyn won the battle but had to pay him a salary of $5,000 – the same amount that was paid to the star player in the league. Some people have argued that the real purpose of the draft scheme was to limit the pay of young players by effectively reducing any competitive bidding for their services. Once drafted, a player is expected to join the team who selected him. There may be some protracted negotiations over his final salary and bonuses but the only option open to him if an agreement breaks down is to re-enter the draft the following year. This effectively gives the teams monopsony power which may enable them to restrict players pay to below that of their marginal revenue product. For example although Andrew Luck, the first choice draft pick in 2012, reportedly earns just over $20million from his 4 year contract with the Indianapolis Colts some commentators have argued that his true market value is over $100 million.
The good news for Menelik Watson was that he was finally drafted by the Oakland Raiders and was the 42nd overall player chosen in the draft process. This is the highest choice ever made by a team in the NFL for a player born and brought up in Britain. The final outcome for the league as a whole can be seen on the NFL website.
NFL Draft 2013: Your essential comprehensive guide BBC Sport Simon Clancy (25/4/13)
NFL Draft 2013: Menelik Watson goes to Oakland Raiders BBC Sport, (26/4/13)
NFL Draft makes Menelik Watson Oakland Raiders’ second British player The Guardian, Paulo Bandini (27/4/13)
NFL Draft: Manchester’s Menelik Watson looking to start with Oakland Raiders right away Sky Sport, Paul Higham (28/4/13)
Manchester’s Watson lands dream NFL job after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders Daily Mail, Matthew Sherry (27/4/13)
Abolish the NFL Draft Sports on Earth, Patrick Hruby (25/4/13) .
- Explain why the marginal revenue product for sports stars is so much higher than it is for people in most other jobs.
- Draw a diagram to illustrate how the wage rate for players would be determined if the labour market was perfectly competitive.
- Assuming that the marginal revenue product for sports stars was in fact lower than that of most people in other jobs, draw a diagram to illustrate why they would still tend to be paid so much more.
- What is monopsony? Explain how the draft system could give the teams in the NFL monopsony power.
- Draw a diagram to illustrate the impact of monopsony on wages and employment in the labour market for NFL players.
- Can you think of any perverse incentives that the draft system could create for the performance of teams towards the end of the regular season.
Why are 43 companies in the pub and restaurant sector in the UK donating over a £1 million to an 86 year old Frenchman who claims to work a 70 hour week? Jacques Borel has led an interesting and varied life which has included activities such as helping the French resistance in the 2nd world war and opening the first take-away hamburger restaurant in France in 1961. In 2001 he started a campaign to get the European Union to allow member states to reduce the rate of VAT applied to food and drink sold in the pub, hotel and restaurant industry. Organisations such as JD Wetherspoon, Heineken and Pizza Hut are backing his attempts to persuade the UK government of the benefits of this policy.
VAT is paid when goods and services are purchased and is normally included in the price advertised by the seller. It generates a significant amount of money for the UK government and it is estimated that it will raise £102 billion in 2012-13 – the third biggest source of revenue after income tax and national insurance contributions. It is applied at three different rates in the UK – a standard rate of 20%, a reduced rate of 5% and a zero rate i.e. 0%. This may sound straightforward but in reality the tax is extremely complicated as previously discussed in articles on this website . For example most basic or staple items of food sold in shops are zero rated. However there are some rather bizarre exceptions. For example a packet of potato crisps is subject to the standard rate of VAT whereas tortilla chips are not. The standard rate is applied to a packet of Wotsits whereas a zero rate is applied to a packet of Skips!
The campaign headed by Mr Borel focuses on the discrepancy between the zero-rate applied to most food items purchased from a shop and the standard rate applied to food purchased in restaurants or cafes. For example, if you buy a Pizza from a supermarket then you don’t pay any tax on this purchase, whereas if you eat a pizza in a restaurant the standard 20% rate of VAT is applied. Mr Borel is lobbying the UK government to reduce the rate of VAT paid in pubs and restaurants from the standard rate of 20% to the reduced rate of 5%. One reason why so many UK companies are willing to offer him financial support is because of his success in getting governments in other countries such as Germany, Belgium, Finland and France to adopt this policy.
In a recent radio interview Mr Borel was asked to make his case for the proposed reduction of VAT in the UK. He claimed:
I have a commitment from 125 chains of hotels, restaurants and independents to use 60% of the reduction in VAT to lower prices so that would be a 7.5% decrease in price. When you decrease price by that magnitude you will see an increase in customers of 10-12% and you will be forced to hire new staff. In our best case scenario, we plan to create 670,000 jobs in three years.
When asked in another interview why the hospitality sector should be favoured more than others he replied that:
It would create more jobs in a minimal amount of time…you cannot do that with any other industry.
One obvious drawback of the policy would be the loss of revenue for the UK government. Some estimates have suggested that the loss of VAT receipts would be between £5.5 and £7.8 billion. However it has been claimed that over time the impact of the change on government finances would be zero. In response to the proposed tax cut a Treasury spokesman commented:
Any reduced rates would make a significant impact on revenue and, as a significant proportion of spending in these areas is by UK residents, any increase in activity in these areas would largely be at the expense of other consumer spending.
Jacques Borel: VAT cut for pubs Morning Advertiser on YouTube (18/5/11)
Industry VAT campaigner Jacques Borel appears on Radio Four’s Today and Radio Five Propelinfo (24/4/13)
French veteran in fight to cut pub VAT Financial Times, Christopher Thompson (5/6/12)
The fiscal impact of reduced VAT rates VAT Club Jobs (22/4/13)
Pub and restaurant groups pay 86-year-old Frenchman £1m to convince UK government to cut VAT The Mail on Sunday, Sarah Bridge (20/4/13)
French veteran seeks British jobs boost with VAT Reuters (17/1/13)
- In his radio interview Jacques Borel claims that if firms pass on 60% of the cut in VAT this would cause a 7.5% reduction in prices. Explain why this is the case. Clearly outline any assumptions you have made in the analysis
- If 60% of the reduction was passed on by firms through lower prices, what do you think would happen to the money generated from the other 40% of the reduction?
- Using a demand and supply diagram illustrate the proposed reduction in the rate of VAT on the hospitality industry. Make sure your diagram is drawn in such a way that it clearly illustrates producers passing on 60% of the tax reduction in the form of lower prices.
- Assuming that the hospitality industry was very competitive, what impact would a reduction in VAT have on consumer surplus, producer surplus and deadweight welfare loss?
- Explain any assumptions you have in your answer to question 3 about the price elasticity of demand and supply.
- Using the figures provided in the radio interview is it possible to calculate the price elasticity of demand. Try making the calculation and clearly explain any assumptions you have made.
- Explain why the reduction in VAT might have no net effect on government finances in the long run?
- What factors determine the price elasticity of supply? What assumption is Mr Borel making about the price elasticity of supply in the hospitality industry compared to other industries when he makes the claim that jobs would be created quickly?
- Outline some of the arguments against cutting the rate of VAT.
The English Premier League (EPL) has negotiated a record TV deal which will generate £5.5 billion of revenue over the next 3 years – beginning in the season 2013–14. This represents a 70% increase on the previous deal. Controversy has arisen over some initial proposals put forward by the EPL as to how the money will be spent. The owners of the clubs in the Championship of the English Football League (EFL) are particularly concerned about the size of the proposed payments to the three teams relegated from the EPL.
Some 30 years ago the money generated from the sale of television rights was equally shared between all the teams in the then four divisions of the English Football League (EFL). In 1992 the top division of the English Football League broke away and formed the English Premier League (EPL). This newly formed EPL negotiated a separate television deal and kept the majority of the money. However, some payments were and still are made to the teams in the EFL and to organisations such as the League Managers Association and Professional Footballers Association. For example in 2011-–12 the EPL donated £189.4 million of the £1.2 billion generated from that year’s TV deal.
The majority of the money donated by the EPL is spent in two main ways. First, some money is redistributed to all the teams in the EFL: i.e. The Championship, League 1 and League 2. These are known as ‘solidarity payments’ and in 2011–12 the EPL spent £49.8 million on this scheme. Each club in the Championship received £2.3 million. It has been proposed that the amount paid into this scheme should be increased by 5% in the season 2013–14. Second, a relatively large amount of money is paid over a four-year period to the three teams relegated each season from the EPL into the Championship. These are known as ‘parachute payments’ and in the season 2011–12 the EPL spent £90.9 million on this scheme. The rationale for having parachute payments is to help the relegated teams adjust their wage bills to the much lower revenue streams that come from playing in the Championship. Proposed changes to the scheme are outlined in Table 1.
The chairmen of the football league clubs met on the 20th March 2013 and a number of them expressed concerns about the relatively large increase in the parachute payments compared to the solidarity payments. They were particularly concerned that the changes to the funding would damage the competitive balance of the Championship.
Competitive balance refers to how the most talented players are distributed amongst the teams in a league. For example, are the majority of the most talented footballers playing for just a couple of the teams? In this case the league is competitively imbalanced and the teams with the best players will tend to win far more games than the other teams. The outcome of the league will be very predictable. If the most talented players were more evenly spread across all the teams in the league, then it would be more competitively balanced. Matches and the outcome of the league would become more unpredictable.
Does the level of competitive balance matter? Some sports economists have argued that it may have a significant impact on the success of the league. This is because fans may value the unpredictability of the results. It follows that closer and more unpredictable results will generate higher match-day attendances and increase the revenues of the clubs.
This is an interesting argument and is the opposite of what economic theory would predict for most markets. For example, the standard prediction would be that as firms outperform their rivals, they generate more revenue and profit. If they manage to drive all their rivals out of business, they would become a pure monopoly and make large abnormal profits. However in professional team sports the outcome may differ significantly. If the unpredictability of the league is highly valued by fans, then teams will generate more revenue when they have strong and evenly matched rivals.
It has been reported that further discussions about the distribution of the money will take place this month with the owners of the championship clubs arguing that there should be smaller increases in parachute payments and much larger increases in solidarity payments. Representatives of the EPL have argued that the parachute payments do not distort competition and make the championship predictable. They point out that at present only one of the top six teams in the championship (Hull) receives parachute payments, while only one of the teams promoted from the Championship in the season 2012–13 (West Ham) received these payments.
Premier League warned over rich and poor split in wake of TV deal The Guardian, Owen Gibson (19/3/13)
Championship clubs angered by Premier League parachute boost Daily Mail, Charles Sale (6/2/13)
Football league is to lessen the advantage of parachute payments The Guardian, Owen Gibson (20/3/13)
Championship clubs warn Premier League over hike in parachute payments for relegated teams The Independent, Majid Mohamed (20/3/13)
Increased parachute payments could lead to a salary cap in the Championship The Post, A. Stockhausen (21/3/13)
Scudamore:Parachute payment system fair Eurosport, Andy Eckardt (22/3/13)
Parachute payments more than a softened landing The Daisy Cutter, Richard Brook (21/3/13)
- What factors will influence the size of the attendance at a football match?
- To what extent do you think that the money generated from the sale of television rights should be equally shared between all the clubs in the English Premier League and the English Football League
- Can you think of any ways of measuring the competitive balance of a football league?
- Explain why a very competitively imbalanced league may reduce the revenue for all the clubs in that league?.
- In traditional economic theory it is assumed that firms aim to maximise their profits. What do you think is the objective of a typical football club in the English Premier League?