We hope all our readers have a very enjoyable summer and enjoy the 2020 UEFA European Championship.
As is customary at this time of year, we will take our summer break and return on Friday 30th of July 2021.
We hope all our readers have a very enjoyable summer and enjoy the 2020 UEFA European Championship.
By Robbie Butler
With Euro 2020 finally upon us - a year later than expected - I took a look at the betting odds. France our now favourites with many bookmakers (around 9/2), with England (5/1), Belgium (13/2), Spain (15/2), Italy (15/2) and Germany (8/1) making up the top six in the betting.
As of June 2021 11 UEFA members have won either the World Cup or European Championship. (For simplicity, I assume West Germany are the same as Germany, Soviet Union are Russia and Czechoslovakia Czech Republic). Only Greece (winners of Euro 2004) are not at Euro 2020. England are the only other winner that stand out, having only won the World Cup. The other nine winners have all won at least one European Championships.
It made me wonder are England actually second favourites? And are Belgium good value at 13/2 having never won a major trophy?
The table to the side lists major winners competing at Euro 2020 and the number if years since their last success. Only the Soviet Union (Russia) have waited longer than England. Their 2-1 (AET) win over Yugoslavia at the inaugural European Championships in France in 1960 is now more than sixty years ago.
England are now 55 years post Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Remit Trophy at Wembley. While Spain have shown large gaps can be bridged - 44 years separated their European Championship wins in 1964 and 2008 - one would assume a special group of players is needed to get over the mental hurdle of decades of underachievement. I am not so sure the current squad of England players is that group. The next few weeks might prove me wrong.
Enjoy the Euros!
By Robbie Butler
Our 5th sports economics workshop in 2019 was focused on demand issues in sport. It was great to see one of the papers presented at the workshop - considering attendance demand in British horse racing - recently accepted in Applied Economics.
The paper abstract reads:
"We estimate a model capturing influences on attendance in British horseracing. A fixed effects regression is employed in analysing data containing information on attendances at 23,999 race-days (2001–2018). The patterns of demand are similar to those found for other sports, for example, attendance is higher at weekends and in warmer months and is sensitive to the quality of the racing. Further, attendance falls when races have to compete with some televised sport of national significance. Controlling for a large number of characteristics, the pattern of results on year dummies implies considerable decline in public interest in attending race-days over the period. The pronounced negative trend in attendance suggests a need for modernizing the sport including attention to animal welfare issues, which might partly account for apparently growing public disillusion."
The full paper can be found here.
By John Considine
Economics is what economists do. That statement is attributed to Jacob Viner. My guess is that Viner never saw a game of hurling but his statement could be amended to describe sporting games. Hurling is what hurlers do. So, what do they do? A good place to start is a paper published last month in the International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport.
The data in the paper is from all senior inter-county championship games for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 seasons. The primary purpose of the paper is to distinguish between winning and losing teams in terms of a range of performance indicators. However, it can also be used to give a picture of what constitutes the small-ball & stick game two decades into the 21st century. Hurling, like economics, is ever changing.
On average there are 74 shots (or score attempts) per 70+ minutes of a game. Sixty-seven (67) of these shots cross the opponent’s end-line for either a score or a wide (zero points). Then, the game is restarted by a puckout. There is a wealth of analysis on what happens with these restarts. Heat-maps detailing where on the playing area the puckout is directed. Tables showing who wins these puckout and how it differs depending on the distance the ball travels. It is a prime example of how the game has changed. If the data was collected for the late 20th century then the figures in the rows for short puckouts would be close to zero. In those days, "going short" meant dropping the ball 70m away rather than 85m away!
The authors note a considerable shift towards shorter puckouts in 2020. The acceleration of the longer-term trend is probably due to the pandemic but no explanation is offered in this paper (maybe a further paper is coming). The pandemic had three important implications. First, it changed the competition structure to reduce the number of games. In 2018 and 2019 a round-robin regional structure determined who progressed to the later All-Ireland stages. In 2020 the regional competitions became single-game knockouts with success in the regional competition determining the stage of entry to All-Ireland competition. Second, the pandemic meant that the games were played in autumn/winter compared to the summer. Third, the pandemic also meant that the games were played without spectators at the venues. My speculation is that the first two might have slightly contributed to longer puckouts but that the absence of crowds contributed to shorter puckouts in a big way. Speculation.
There is also tabulated data and graphs detailing how possession is lost or turned over to the opposition (84 turnovers per game). For example, possession is frequently lost in the tackle. It is the third most frequent way possession is lost or turned over. It is a very important part of the game. However, there is not a statistical difference between winners and losers. As Paul O’Brien and his co-authors say, “Tackling is not a significant factor that differentiates winners and losers, despite being portrayed in the media and public discourse as such”. I wonder will we hear and read less of "the team that wins the tackle count wins the game"?
It would be interesting to see how the authors would code the "tackle" if they viewed games from the 20th century. My guess that there would be very few modern day tackles where bodily contact dislodges the ball. A current favourite tackling technique is to use the arm, that is not holding the stick, to make contact with an opponent. The further back in time that one goes, one is likely to find that players kept both hands on the stick when attempting to turnover possession. Frequently, it was the stick that made contact with the opponent. This was done with varying degrees of force and legality. Not only could it turnover possession, it discouraged players from trying to retain possession themselves. The ball was transferred as quickly, and as far away, as possible. Different times. The game evolves. What players do defines the game. Hurling is what hurlers do. A good picture of hurling in 2021 is provided by Paul O'Brien and his co-authors.
By Stephen Brosnan
This week, Gareth Southgate finalised his England squad for the upcoming European championships. There was considerable media coverage surrounding the challenge facing Southgate in trimming the provisional 33-man squad down to the final 26. Much of the discussion centred around the wealth of options England have at right back and whether Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold would make the final squad.
I have previously discussed England squad selection (here) with the results suggesting that much of Southgate’s success has come down to selecting players based on form rather than reputation. This piece explores whether Southgate has again opted for form over reputation in his squad and sets out some potential reasoning for the inclusion of some players at the expense of this season’s ‘in-form’ players.
Table 1 shows that 14 out of the 26-man squad (54%) would be selected for the optimal squad based on FPL points. However, three players (Kieran Trippier, Jude Bellingham, Jadon Sancho) ply their trade outside of the Premier League so have not accumulated any FPL points. Excluding these players means that 61% of Southgate’s squad would have been selected for the optimal squad. These figures suggest that Southgate has lived up to his promise to select players based on form rather than reputation.
Table 2 compares players selected for the actual Euro squad with players selected for the optimal squad based on FPL points. Overall, there are twelve differences between the actual squad and optimal squad. However, if we dig a little deeper into the data three key underlying factors emerge for these differences.
Firstly, as previously mentioned, there are three selection differences resulting from the inclusion of players playing outside of the Premier League. Secondly, squad rotation amongst Champions League chasing clubs may explain the inclusion of a further four players that did not make the optimal squad. Dean Henderson (started less than half of Manchester United’s games), Kyle Walker (only played back-to-back 90mins once for Manchester City in second half of season), Reece James (13 games didn’t complete 90 mins), Luke Shaw (11 games didn’t complete 90 mins) all made the squad despite not accruing enough FPL points for the optimal squad. Thirdly, the inclusion of Jack Harrison, James Ward Prowse and Jared Bowen in the optimal squad at the expense of Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice may be explained by the FPL points system. FPL is weighted heavily towards rewarding attacking returns for midfielders thus holding midfielders tend not to perform very well in the game.
The one player that may justifiably be feeling disappointment at not even making the provisional 33-man squad is Patrick Bamford (Leeds United). Bamford has outperformed expectations this season with 17 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League, ranking only second to Harry Kane in FPL points. However, he was unable to displace Dominic Calvert-Lewin from Gareth Southgate’s plans despite Calvert-Lewin only ranking fourth amongst internationally active English forwards behind Kane, Bamford and Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins.
By Robbie Butler
One of the quirks of living in Ireland is our fascination with following English football teams. Many people that are ardent football supporters and fanatical fans of English football teams will often refer to a team like Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal using words such as "we" "us" and "our". Their identity and relationship with a club from a different country is real and many frequently travel to England to support their team. Often, the same people display no interest in domestic football in Ireland and do not even follow their local team.
While I am not guilty of ignoring the domestic game, I do refer to an English team using words such as "we" and "our". Around 1986 I started to follow Liverpool and have continued to do so ever since. The connection I feel is real and is something that I suspect I will have my entire life.
And I am not alone. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s most people I knew supported an English team. In the 1980s Liverpool were the most popular choice - for obvious reasons. As the 1990s progressed Manchester United fans started to emerge in greater numbers. Again, like Liverpool of the 1980s, success is probably the driving force behind this but I wonder if there is also an element of path dependence?
In 1968 Manchester United won the European Cup. If a 10 year old had started to support the Red Devils in 1968, by the early 1990s they would have been in their mid-30s and possibly have children of their own. Did they "pass" their fandom onto the next generation? I am already guilty of this. Liverpool's success in 2019 and 2020 has made this much easier but I suspect it might have happened anyway.
This makes me wonder what jerseys we are likely to see in Ireland in the years ahead? If the 1980s generation were predominantly Liverpool supporters due to the club's success, we could see many more young Liverpool fans during the 2020s. The 2030s would then see the next generation of Manchester United fans.
And my observations last week support this somewhat. I was at U6 training last weekend. The jerseys on display included Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea (x2), Manchester City and Inter Milan. The first two are easy to explain. Liverpool and Arsenal were big in the 1980s and remain popular. There was no Manchester United jersey. Maybe a lack of recent success is driving this or the age profile of the current fanbase.
Chelsea and Man City are interesting. Growing up I didn't know a single Chelsea supporter and just one Man City fan. I did know fans of Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Celtic. I even knew some Newcastle, Blackburn and Norwich City supporters. The clubs that are followed reflect the times were live in.
There are now lots of Chelsea and Man City fans in Ireland. Many are younger supporters of the game, particularly in the case of Man City. If path dependence is working here, Ireland might see a second wave of Man City and Chelsea fans sometime in the 2040s and 2050s. This would mean Liverpool in the 20s, United in the 30s, Chelsea in the 40s and City by the 50s.
By Stephen Brosnan
In previous blog posts I explored the relationship between Premier League club’s salaries and team performance (here, here and here). The findings generally support the hypothesis set forth by Kuper and Szymanski that spending on players’ salaries is a better predictor of performance than net spending on transfers. Furthermore, these posts suggest managers of ‘inefficient’ teams tend to get fired while mangers of ‘efficient’ teams retain their roles. This post considers these issues by exploring the relationship between Premier League club’s spending on player salaries and team performance during the 2020/21 Premier League season.
This season the average annual wage bill of Premier League clubs was approximately £78 million. Manchester United had the highest annual salary (£177 million) while relegated Sheffield United had the lowest spend on player’s salaries (£19.7 million). This represents just 25% of the league average and partly explains why the Blades were unable to overcome second season syndrome in the Premier League. Surprisingly, the club ranks second in points earned per million spent on players salaries (1.17 points per £m) which suggests the clubs fortunes may have improved with some further investment.
So which clubs have been the most efficient? The figure below shows Premier League team’s total points and spending on salaries for 2021.
All the teams above the line can be considered ‘efficient’ while the performance of teams below the line is considered ‘inefficient’. The efficient performers include champions Manchester City, West Ham, Leicester, Leeds, Aston Villa and Everton. These clubs have outperformed their expected points based on players salaries. Leeds are the best performing team as measured by points per million spent on player salaries. Marcelo Bielsa’s side have picked up 2.63 points per million in the maiden season back in the Premier League.
It appears that efficiency matters as none of the six ‘efficient’ clubs changed manager throughout the season while six of the fourteen ‘inefficient’ clubs (43%) changed managers including the recent departures of Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace), Nuno Santo (Wolves) and Sam Allardyce (West Brom). Even managers of inefficient teams that retained their jobs have been under intense scrutiny for much of the season which suggests Mikel Arteta, Steve Bruce and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be under increasing pressure to improve the performances of their teams next season or risk being the next manager facing the chop.
By Sean Murphy*
If you fancy playing a golf course that hosted an Irish open, what can you expect to pay? A fair amount. The average price of a green fee is €185.
Why is this? To start, these are well regarded courses if we are to judge by their rating on Tripadvisor. All these courses were rated above 4.5 by Tripadvisor out of 5 stars. The only 5 star rated course was Royal County Down which has been voted the number one golf course in the entire world in 2020 and 2021 by Golf Digest.
Championship courses are a tough challenge to golfers of all levels, to get these courses in tip top shape there is clearly a maintenance cost and with championship courses being longer than your every-day country club it is no wonder the price charged is higher. Golfers will always love a challenge and what better way to do it then to challenge yourself on the courses that the best players in the world played on.
Hosting an Irish open is a huge honour which only 21 golf courses actually managed to do. This may be a factor that increases prices. These courses are listed in the table below.
The first Irish open was held in Portmarnock Golf Links in 1927. The Irish Open was played annually, expect for the war years, until 1950. There was an event in 1953, but the event was not played again until revived in 1975. From 1963 to 1974 there was a sponsored tournament, generally called the Carroll’s international and in 1975 they became the sponsor of the Irish open which became known as the Carroll’s Irish Open.
Portmarnock Golf Links has hosted the Irish open an incredible 19 times, its closest challenger was Royal Dublin golf club which hosted the Irish open 6 times. Many of these golf courses were founded before the 1900s, with the average year of the golf course being founded being 1931. An interesting point is that there was never a course in the province of Connaught to host an Irish open.
In recent years, as can be seen towards the end of the table, the Irish Open has moved between venues. This has also coincided with the Rolex Series.The Rolex series started in 2017, with each tournament in the series having a minimum prize fund of $7 million.
*Sean is currently registered as an MSc by research student in Sports Economics at UCC. His masters thesis considers pricing models for Irish golf courses.
By Robbie Butler
The Europa League Final will be contested tonight in the Stadion Miejski, Gdańsk between Manchester United and Villarreal. Regardless of the winner, tonight will confirm a decade of dominance in the competition by both English and Spanish clubs.
The last time a club outside of these two leagues won the Europa League was in 2010/11 when Porto defeated Braga in Dublin (I was there). Since then Spanish clubs have won the title 6 times, and English clubs 3 times.
Such dominance by two leagues is unprecedented in the 50 year history of the tournament. It strikes at the heart of competitive balance. Where are the other leagues gone? There has not been a Italian winner since 1999 (Parma) and no German winner since Schalke in 1997.
It would appear than the depth of the English and Spanish leagues is helping teams progress in the Europa League with no little help from the Champions League back-door route. Manchester United will have taken this road should they win tonight, and Seville's remarkable record since 2006 (winning the trophy 6 times!) has been ably assisted by a Champions League Group Stage exit.
Given the quality of the Premier League and La Liga, continued dominance in this competition is likely. A final in Seville, Spain next year will certainly help motivate La Liga clubs. As if Seville needed an extra help in the Europa League!
By John Considine
Italy won last Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest. The contest is the music equivalent of the recently proposed European Super League. It was established by a cartel of European public sector broadcasters. It reflected the difference in the broadcasting landscape either side of the Atlantic. That landscape had, and continues to have, implications for the broadcasting of sport. A prime example is the EU Television Without Frontier directive where some sporting events have to be shown on free-to-air TV with a large market penetration.
There are other differences between the way sport is broadcast in the US and in Europe. Some are driven by the sporting landscape. American football, baseball, and basketball have many breaks in the activity that make them suitable for commercial TV where adverts can be sold. By contrast, a game of soccer has one scheduled break in the middle of two 45-minute periods of activity. In relative terms, the game is more suitable to subscription TV.
When soccer games returned after the initial lockdown, there was a water-break. The change did not last long and the water break is now gone. The water-break was an opportunity for the game to go to a four-quarter format. That would have been an opportunity for broadcasters to sell advertising. It could also make the game fairer by switching ends at the end of each quarter as in American football.
The water-break remains in GAA games. I presume that in any return to "normality" the water-break will disappear from the game. It is something that should be considered carefully. My proposal would be for four quarters of twenty minutes each (with team swapping ends at each quarter). It is 50 years since the GAA had games that had to last 80 minutes. However, current games last nearly 80 minutes and there is no comparison in the athletes of today and those of the early 1970s. A planned break after every twenty minutes would probably be financial rewarding. It might also help mitigate against some of the weather induced "games of two halves".
Any return to "normality" will probably also change what is offered on the GAA broadcasting landscape. Or maybe not. There has been an evolution in the way GAA games are broadcast. The pandemic has increased the speed of this evolution. But some recently introduced changes might be reversed. At the highest level of the game (inter-county), someone living in Ireland can purchase a subscription to a set of GAA games and/or they can purchase particular games on a pay-per-view basis. When spectators are allowed return to venues to watch games, there might be an inclination to curtail the availability of what can be purchased. Again, I would suggest that some of the changes are retained. Those decision makers, with access to the data on viewership, should evaluate the possibilities.
I have talked to some of those involved below broadcasting/streaming "lower" level games. Those conversations, and the associated viewing figures, suggest that there is an audience for broadcasting/streaming services beyond those who would go to the venues. Again, there is food for thought for those deciding how supporters will be allowed see their teams when crowds return to venues. I will deal with this lower end of GAA broadcasting in a future post.
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