By David Butler
On Tuesday I presented data that suggested the inequality gap in European International football is on the rise since the 1980’s. The measure I used to judge inequality is the margin in goals scored across the 180 minutes of play between the top and bottom seeded teams in European Championship Qualifiers (1984 – 2012).
I’ve decomposed the average goals margin between the differences observed in home and away matches for the bottom seed below.
As expected travelling away to the top seed has always been more challenging, with an average margin of over 3 goals consistently observed (e.g San Marino have lost to England by over three goals when playing on English soil since 1984). Interestingly, the bottom seeds appear to be getting weaker at home since the 1980’s, with the average margin of defeat at 2 goals in the 2012 qualifiers. This changing home dynamic seems to be driving the increasing inequality.
It seems that Andorra, Malta, San Marino et al have always been comprehensively beaten away to the top seed but are getting worse at home. Of course, this insight just begs the question, why are these bottom seeds getting worse at home? In a chat with John Considine about these trends he suggested this may relate to the quality of the playing environments and that historically bigger seeds may have found the pitches far more challenging when travelling to bottom seeds.
European Football Inequality - Home & Away
By David Butler
Economics of The Yellow Wall
By Robbie Butler
The BBC carried a very interesting piece recently which examines the business model adopted by German club Borussia Dortmund. The author of the article Ben Smith outlines the very different approach taken by Dortmund when dealing with supporters and claims that unlike most modern football clubs, in Germany “the fan is king”.
Remarkably, more than 1,000 British supporters are travelling to each Dortmund for each home game. Many argue that this is due to the cost of tickets with the average admission to a home game a mere £13. The best priced Borussia Dortmund season ticket costs £160. This is in stark contrast to Arsenal where the cheapest season ticket cost more than £1,000.
As a result of this pricing strategy Dortmund have 55,000 season ticket holders and more than 30,000 more on a waiting list. The average home attendance of 80,000 plus makes them the best supported club in the world!
Would demand for tickets fall if the price increased? Probably, but I’d be certain the price elasticity of demand would show that they are an inelastic good for most fans. Why not raise the price? Dortmund would argue it to keep football close to the ‘real fans’, something they believe has been eroded in England. I’m not so sure that’s true.
The full article can be read here.
Sports Books and Bookshops
By John Considine
Last Thursday over 300 books went on sale in what publishers labelled "Super Thursday". One of those 300 books was Roy Keane's The Second Half. Another was Kevin Pietersen's KP: The Autobiography. Two books by high profile sports people. Probably because the individuals were high profile, electronic copies were circulating "free of charge" within days. My students tell me it is pretty easy to get such books online without paying for them. Some see the link between such open access and events like the closure of the University bookshop.
Pirated copies is only one of the threat from the internet facing bricks & mortar bookshops. Another threat is the competition they face from online book retailers like Amazon. Should such competition be allowed? It is not uncommon for consumers to visit the bricks & mortar bookshop, examine the hardcopies, and then to purchase the books online. The practice also extends to sportswear. A consumer might determine their footwear size and brand from a visit to the bricks & mortar shop and then proceed to purchase the footwear online. It could be argued that the online retailers are free-riding on efforts of the bricks & mortar outlets.
Does such competition need to be regulated? The French believe so. In an effort to maintain the local bookshops they have a law that limits the discount that can be offered on the centrally fixed price of books. Last year they also stopped Amazon from offering free delivery. The belief is that once the online retailers have wiped out the network of bookshops then they will raise prices. They may well wipe out the bookshops. Whether prices will subsequently rise is less clear.
By David Butler
On the 17th of October 2007 a Kazakh midfielder named Dmitry Byakov did something quite unique. In the last minute of play against Portugal, he scored what was to become the only goal any bottom seeded nation would get against a top seed in qualification stage for the 2008 European Championships. In 14 matches of top versus bottom and 1260 minutes of play, Byakov was the only footballer to hit the back of the net for any of the minnows.
After sitting through Ireland’s 7-0 thrashing of Gibraltar last weekend and watching both Deirdre McCloskey and Thomas Piketty thoughts on capitalism for the trip home, I got thinking about inequality across European International football.
Sports economists are quick to stress the role of uncertainty in sport. Not knowing an outcome for sure is critical to maintaining competitiveness and vital to the credibility of competitions. We're commonly reminded of this need in International football contests. Like at the weekend for Ireland, there can be a complete talent mismatch. Great inequalities in ability create a near certain outcome and there is very little competitive balance in once of matches. Handicappers ensure that horse races are fair and boxing disparities can end very quickly. Unlike these sports, the option to constrain one opponent or throw in the towel early doesn't exist in football.
So what does the ‘inequality gap’ look like in European International football? I collected the dataset for European Championship Qualifiers from 1984 to 2012 and analysed the matches between the top seeded team in the group and the bottom seeded team. There were 64 groups and 127 matches in total (an odd number as Albania forfeited a match to Spain in 1992 due to political problems ...and maybe because of their earlier 9-0 thrashing!).
The measure I used to judge inequality is the margin in goals scored across the 180 minutes of play between the top and bottom seeded teams. The usual names crop up as top and bottom seeds. Germany, Italy Spain etc. versus Andorra, San Marino, Malta etc.
The graph of the average margin is below. The gap between the biggest and the smallest since the 1980’s is on the rise. While the top seed beat the bottom seed by about 4.5 goals on average over the two games in the 1980’s there is approximately a 6.5 goal difference now. The average number of goals these bottom teams score per match since 1984 has never reached one.
There was only one incident in the dataset out of 64 groups when the margin was negative i.e. the bottom seed outscored the top seed over 180 minutes. In the Euro 96' qualification campaign Sweden the top seed were beaten by Turkey 2-1 and also drew 2-2. The greatest margin occurred in the 2012 qualifiers when the Netherlands put 16 goals past San Marino over 180 minutes.
Ireland twice held the honour of being the top seed. We did little to increase the inequality gap (unlike last weekend) having a plus 4 margin in 1996 and a plus 1 margin in 2004. The two away fixtures for these ties are the rather infamous draws of 0-0 in Albania and 0-0 in Liechtenstein.
Maybe this gap can explained by the growth of the competition over the years and the entry of many small states around 1992. People have argued to me that these small states need the opportunity to be beaten badly by the best to allow them to learn and subsequently improve. I can understand this point of view. Oppositely this inequality is creating uncompetitive contests, as I'm sure anyone who sat in the Aviva last Saturday would attest. I can equally understand the point of view that’s in favour of a ‘pre-qualification’ round, where there is a barrier to the qualifiers to prevent these almost certain outcomes.
*This is part 1 of a 3 part series. Part 2 will look at whether there is a 'travel effect' and distinguish between home and away fixtures. Part 3 will discuss the change in the points bottom seeded teams are collecting and ask whether 'learning' occurs.
By Robbie Butler
A number of month’s back I wrote about the impact incentives can have on football matches thanks to a story that Dr Liam Lenten brought to my attention. The story tells how in 1994 Barbados became surely the first team in world football that had to defend both their own goal and that of their opponents for a three minute spell!
Last week, UCC student Daniel Coakley brought a similar, but not identical story, to my attention which again illustrates the power of incentives. The story comes from the 1998 ASEAN Football Championship, then called the Tiger Cup.
For those unfamiliar with football in in the Far East, the ASEAN Football Championship is a biennial competition organized by the ASEAN Football Federation and is contested by the national teams of Southeast Asia. Previous winners include Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
The 1998 tournament hosted by Vietnam saw Thailand and Indonesia meet in their final Group Stage game. With both countries already qualified, the teams knew that the winners of the match would face tournament hosts and favourites Vietnam in the semi-final. As neither team wished to face Vietnam the game quickly became a non-event from the off with neither side attacking.
After some lackluster defending, the game was tied at 2 – 2 entering second half additional time. It was at this point that Indonesian defender Mursyid Effendi scored a deliberate own goal despite the fact Thailand players were trying to defend the Indonesia goal!
Another case of football turned upside down!
Thailand ‘won’ the game 3 – 2 going on to meet Vietnam while Indonesia would meet Singapore in the other semi-final. However, neither Thailand nor Indonesia had any luck after this unsporting display, with both losing out in their respective semi-finals. Ironically, it was Singapore that went onto win the competition beating the hosts in the final 1 – 0.
Unlike the Barbados-Grenada match mentioned at the start, FIFA came down very heavily on both Thailand and Indonesia. Both national associations were fined $40,000 for "violating the spirit of the game", while own goal scorer Mursyid Effendi received a ban from domestic football for one year and lifetime international football ban.
You can watch the remarkable game here. The nonchalant defending, pathetic goalkeeping, mooted celebrations and deliberate own goal are a sight to behold.
What power incentives can have.
Wenger Needs a Magic Sponge!
By Ed Valentine
Almost on the dot of a few minutes past 2pm every Saturday afternoon the football media sends and receives updates on the latest team sheets for the 3pm kick offs. Occasionally a reporter may accidentally-on-purpose doorstep the manager to ask for “a few words” if they hang around outside the dressing room for long enough. Although the reporter will usually be as welcome as a tooth ache we often get more than just a few words from the 30 second pre-match interview. “Any fresh injury concerns?” is a guaranteed ice-breaker in this situation with the answer being as familiar as the question itself. My casual observations indicate that managers always seem to have ‘fresh injury concerns’.
Some footballers have been referred to as ‘sick note’ by the footballing intelligentsia for the common absence through injury during their careers. Players can easily be singled out but perhaps what is less well observed is how teams suffer season after with repeated ‘fresh injury doubts’.
Since the start of the 2004/2005 season – a period covering the last decade - Wenger has been the worst affected regarding players having to sit out games. The Gunners have totalled close to 750 injuries during this time, nearly 15% more than Manchester United.
Rosicky had 11 reported injuries last season while Abou Diaby has been on Wenger’s list of ‘fresh injury concerns’ over 40 times since he signed eight years ago! Along with Jack Wilshire the three account for about 14% of total injuries throughout this time.
During the 2013-14 season Arsenal lost a combined 1,716 player days to injuries. Chelsea had less than a third of this figure at 554 player days.
Wenger may have got hot under the collar with Mourinho last weekend but looking at the data there is certainly a fly in the ointment at the Emirates stadium.
Data source: Physioroom & Opta
Watching football as a crime deterrent (or How Luiz Suarez is making the streets safer)
by Declan Jordan
The current issue of Kyklos has two football related papers - the first of which, on the trade effects of the FIFA World Cup, I posted about recently. The other looks at the effect of entertainment on crime, and more specifically the effect of Uruguayan football matches on the instances of property and assault crimes in Montevideo. The paper, written by Ignacio Munyo of the Business School at the University of Montevideo, contributes to the literature on incapacitation and crime (an open access version appears here). Incapacitation refers to any means of making it impossible to commit an offense by separating criminals from opportunities to commit a crime. It would appear from their analysis that important Uruguayan football matches are quite effective at separating criminals in the capital from opportunities to engage in property crime. Unfortunately, there is some displacement effect as the results show an increase in assaults (including domestic violence - which was the subject of another recent post) before and after these games.
Using data from the Montevideo Police Department from 2002 to 2010, which includes over 835,000 offences, the author finds that during high-importance matches (World Cup and World Cup qualifying matches) there is a reduction of 13 percent in property crimes, after controlling for holidays and weather conditions which have also been found to affect crime levels. There is no evidence of a significant increase in property crime before and after these high-importance matches. However, the matches are associated with a significant and sizeable increase in assaults.
The author suggests the decline in property crime is down to incapacitation , i.e. the criminals take time off to watch the match. However, the increase in concentration of individuals leads to a rise in potentially violent interactions that raises the level of assaults.
It's not clear from the paper whether Luiz Suarez's handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final was included in the crime statistics.
By John Considine
Last weekend Jules Bianchi was involved in a horrific crash in Suzuka. In the meantime the FIA have launched an investigation. Some high profile drivers, like Jacques Villeneuve, have suggested there needs to be an improvement in the safety rules. Given the history of F1, we can be sure that changes will follow. A 2009 Applied Economics paper by Camillia Mastromarco and Marco Runkel illustrates how F1 have always placed a high value on driver safety. It also shows how many of the rule changes that have improved driver safety have also helped both competitive balance and the revenues of F1. This must be reassuring for those advocating rule changes.
Mastromarco & Runkel examine data for the period 1950 to 2005. They say that at the end of this period “one in every 300 accidents is serious or fatal, compared with one in every 10 accidents in the 1950s and 1960s”. Between 1970 and 1989 they found that 24 drivers lost their lives whereas between 1990 and 2005 only two drivers were killed. They found that an additional fatal accident increases the expected number of rule changes by 20%. Crucially, they found that “safety regulations have a positive impact on competitive balance”.
That is not to say that all rule changes unambiguously increase driver safety. Since its recent revamp, the Financial Times has devoted its back page to sport. Last Monday the FT published a wonderful piece on the impact of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) introduced to F1 in 2011 (here). The DRS allows drivers to adjust the angle of their rear wing. John Burn-Murdoch and Gavin Jackson show that since the introduction of the DRS the amount of overtaking has increased dramatically. It would be fair to say that overtaking is not exactly a risk-free manoeuvre. However, it is probably fair to say that it has rarely been safer.
Paul Merson & Predictions: Update 1
By David Butler
On the 28th of August (here) I began recording Sky Sports Pundit and ex-Premier League Footballer Paul Merson’s predictions for EPL fixtures. These predictions are usually published by Sky Sports on a Friday before the weekend ties.
Given that Paul will make 380 predictions over the course of the Premier League season (70/380 to date), we have a rare opportunity to analyse the accuracy of a football pundit who systematically predicts.
We’re 7 gameweeks into the EPL season – how’s Merse getting on?
After 70 predictions he has called the correct score line 5 times, predicted the right result 32 times and has been incorrect with the result 38 times. Paul’s pie chart is below and shows the percentages. Quite interestingly, since I began collecting the data I've observed Merse's preferences are commonly time-inconsistent; he often reverses his Friday predictions a day later when he sits down with Geoff et al for matches on Saturday afternoon in the Sky Sports studio.
I also put the random number generator to work for all these ties, generating two numbers between 0 to 5 for each fixture to see how ‘the chimp’ gets on. The pie chart for randomness is the second chart below. Randomness is behind Merse when it comes to predicting the outcome (23 right, 47 wrong). In terms of estimating the score however the random number generator is only marginally behind Merse and has predicted 3 right score lines in comparison to Merson's 5.
When it comes to predicting the score line of ties it seems that randomly generating two numbers between 0-5 is not far behind (and maybe just as good as) relying on our own knowledge.
Lectures in Sports Economics
By Robbie Butler
What a busy 24 hours it has been. I was invited back to my alma mater on Monday lunchtime and presented to an audience of roughly 150 people at Waterford Institute of Technology.
My paper was called Entry Points to Learning: Using Sport to Teach Economics. We discussed issues surrounding incentives, game theory, inflation and the ‘sports’ multiplier. Big thanks to Dr Richard Burke, Frank Conway and all the staff and students at WIT for facilitating.
At 7pm yesterday evening, I spoke at a UCC Economics Society event. More than 50 people showed up for the event which is very encouraging and shows the interest students on campus have in sports economics.
At 11am this morning we have the privilege of hosting Austin Houlihan, Senior Consultant in the Sports Business Group of Deloitte. Austin is better known as the project manager of the Deloitte Football Money League and author of the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance and gave a fascinating lecture on current trends in English and European Football.
Slides from my lectures are available upon request.
This website was founded in July 2013.