Saturday night was a happy one. I had got back from the Kingpower Stadium after watching my beloved Leicester City win and climb back to the top of the English Premier League. It does not get much better than this. My levels of satisfaction are off the scale, at least for now. There is an economics angle here: what affects the level of satisfaction people derive from watching live sport, such as football matches? Satisfaction affects peoples’ preparedness to pay. Understanding this is invaluable to all organisations, including football clubs. Is the Leicester effect good for football?
Economists refer to the satisfaction from consuming something as utility. Understanding how supporters like myself derive utility is vital to the success of football clubs and the industry as a whole. It may, for example, help clubs better understand how to price match tickets or club merchandise and better inform important decisions about the structure of leagues and cup competitions.
According to the BBC Price of Football Survey 2015 there appears to be a high preparedness to pay to watch live football. The report shows that the cheapest season ticket at Arsenal for 2015/16 is £1,014, at Tottenham £765 and at Chelsea £750. You could have bought a Leicester season ticket for just £365. Meanwhile the cheapest match day ticket at Arsenal is £27, at Tottenham £32 and at Chelsea £52. The cheapest match day price at Leicester is £22.
So why can football clubs charge what appear to be such high prices? An important part of the story is considering what influences how much fans are willing to pay. Supporting a club for those like me involves an enormous emotional attachment. I derive a lot of my satisfaction from supporting my home-town team. Supporting another club is not alternative. No substitutes will do: it has to be Leicester. The greater the number of people like me, the higher we can expect, other things being equal, prices to be.
Of course, not everyone is like me. Leicester shirts are seen fairly infrequently outside of Leicester and even as I walk through my home city I am likely to see folks adorned, for example, with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Man United shirts. Furthermore, most teams have a section of fans whose interest may wane if the team starts losing and dropping down the league. The responsiveness of match-day attendance to the winning percentage of a team is referred to by economists as the win elasticity of demand. The figure is expected to be positive because if a team’s win percentage improves its match-day attendance should increase.
For some supporters who are considering purchasing match-day tickets the issue may simply be who the two teams playing are. This helps to explain why prices for local derbies tend to be higher. It might also be the case that some matches allow supporters to see particular ‘superstars’. More generally, a rise in the quality of player on show will increase the preparedness to pay.
Another factor that can affect preparedness to pay is the perceived closeness of the contest. Many fans gain particular pleasure from watching their club win a game where they believe the two teams are evenly matched: i.e. where the outcome is very unpredictable. This idea is referred to by economists as the uncertainty of outcome.
As well as the uncertainty of the match outcome, interest and preparedness to pay may be affected by intra-seasonal uncertainty. This is highly pertinent in the English Premier League given ‘the Leicester effect’. Longer term, inter-seasonal uncertainty may also be important. If leagues such as the EPL become less predictable then this may further increase interest among fans.
Of course, the benefits from increased uncertainty may not be evenly felt. While this is probably good for the total preparedness to pay across a league like the EPL – and for the rights to broadcast the league – some clubs might have to adapt should interest in them begin to wane.
Price of football: full results 2015 BBC News (24/10/2015)
- Draw up a list of the characteristics of watching live sport from which people derive utility (satisfaction).
- How might we measure the predictability of leagues like the English Premier League (EPL)?
- How might an increase in the unpredictability of EPL results affect the preparedness to pay to watch EPL matches?
- Is it in the long-term interest of all clubs for total points collected in the EPL to be less concentrated?
- What is a superstar effect? How would this affect preparedness to pay to watch live sport?
- Analyse what you consider to be the relative importance of the superstar effect and the uncertainty of results in affecting preparedness to pay to watch live football or other sporting events.
- Can we describe football clubs as ‘brands’? How does the nature of a brand affect our preparedness to pay for its products and services?