Last night David Butler, John Considine and I travelled to Kilkenny to attend Kilkenomics. For all three of us it was our debut. Our session of choice - Soccernomics: How the Premiership Could Go Bust. Quite apt I think you’d agree.
The venue was intimate. Cleere’s Bar on Parliament Street. Around 9.30pm the audience was directed to what I think (I may be wrong) was the smoking area at the back of the narrow pub, which had been turned into a temporary theatre (for want of a better word). A small stage with five chairs overlooked about eighty seats packed tightly together. Not the most glamorous setting but what can one expect for €12.
If this was to be compared to a football ground it was pre-Premier League days. Condensed. No frills. Not a prawn sandwich in sight. We were here to listen. There was something nice about that.
The experts on stage were from diverse backgrounds. An academic, an entrepreneur, a journalist and a politician. What more could one want!? Referee for the night was Irish comedian David O’Doherty.
The kick-off was relaxed. O’Doherty revealed an old Panini sticker album from 1984 and reminisced about the ‘good old days’. The first half ensued with a meandering discussion about the general state of football. Topics included important questions of the day such as Yaya Toure’s birthday cake, Ossie Ardiles memorable move to Spurs, the increase in the number of television channels over the past twenty year, and the ubiquity of football on television today.
At this point it became clear the Premier League will not go bust. Simon Kuper and Peter Antonioni reminded us about the huge appetite for live football and the vast and largely untapped markets in North American and South-East Asia. The potential for growth is enormous. There is, it seems, an absence of diminishing returns from game to game or season to season in the Premier League.
The age of old question of why anyone would buy a football club was raised. The answer? Simple. They are enduring brands that values appreciate. While an owner might not make money season to season it's likely the club can be sold in the future for far more than it was bought for in the first place.
The second half saw the tempo increase. Maybe the pints were starting to kick in. Former Argentinian Economy Minister Martín Lousteau informed us, in no uncertain terms, that club football in Argentina has gone crap, yet the locals still love it. Despite exporting their best players, fans still flock to watch their beloved Boca Juniors or River Plate, and now combine this love with an appreciation of the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga.
Things really heated up when the topic turned to the international game and FIFA. The audience were reminded (by Kuper) just how bad England are, a comment not readily accepted by the English experts on the stage. A two-footed tackle. The audience was then on the receiving end of a similar challenge from Manchester born Mike Driver, who jokingly questioned the Irish-ness of one Tony Cascarino. The irony, of course, is that he was happy to claim the legendary John Barnes as 'one of their own', despite the fact he was born in….hem hem… Kingston, Jamaica.
Before we knew it, O’Doherty, who ably refereed throughout, and provided regular laughs for the crowd, told us a ‘man had appeared with a red light’ meaning the end was neigh. The 4th official's board indicated just two minutes. Some more questions were fielded from the floor with topics such as Jose Mourihno, a European super-league, player migration and fans following players rather than clubs, all being discussed.
We filed out into the night thereafter. A thoroughly enjoyable discussion. The answer a definitive No. The Premier League will not go bust!