When I started to learn about economics for the first time - back in the late 1990s – I found many of the key concepts difficult to grasp. There was one exception – the monopoly. Maybe it was from a childhood of playing a board game of the same name or the frequent use of the term in everyday discourse, but the market structure was easy for me to comprehend. It quickly became one of my favourite parts of the school curriculum and my interest in the subject grew.
I recall our school teacher telling us that monopolies were inherently damaging to economic activity as they forced customers to pay higher prices for goods and services. It was in the interest of policymakers, and society as a whole, to reduce or remove monopolies where they existed.
The timing of my introduction to economics on this front could not have been more appropriate. Ireland had quite a few State monopolies at the time, and one – telecommunications – had just been removed and a second entrant allowed to compete for customers. This we were told would revolutionise the telecommunications sector. Other state monopolies in areas such as energy and air travel would later go the same way as the telecommunications sector. The monopoly was dying off.
Yet when it comes to sport, monopolies are yet to go out of fashion. In fact, supporters largely seek to maintain them in the public interest. Last year, competition posed to UEFA by the European Super League was seen as a bad thing by almost every football supporter and club outside of the 12 defectors. UEFA’s monopoly was sacrosanct and won the argument.
More recently, golf has experienced a similar event. However, where UEFA succeeded in crushing the revolt, the PGA Tour has been far less successful and the new LIV Golf Tour is up and running. Some of the players have resigned from the PGA and will seek pastures new with LIV. Generally, the reaction by golf players, commentators and fans has been negative towards the breakaway players. Economic concepts have been used to describe much of what is going on, with “business decision” “contractor” and “free riding” examples used in recent days. Again, most don’t like the breaking up of the PGA monopoly.
Sport it seems is different.
And possibly the worse ‘monopoly’ to breakup, is that in sports broadcasting. In the recent past, one sports channel dominated sports broadcasting on these islands. It showed pretty much everything. Today the market has been sliced up so that various subscriptions are often required to watch the content that was once available with the monopoly.
The evolution of this breakup continued this week. Apple have signed an agreement with Major League Soccer (MLS) to broadcast all games on Apple TV from 2023. Football (or soccer) is going online.
While I suspect there will hardly be a clammer in this part of the world to sign up for Apple TV, this is a glimpse of the future. Boxing has largely migrated to DAZN. It is only a matter of time before UEFA, the EPL, etc. migrate to a platform like this.
Maybe monopolies weren’t that bad after all.