On Sunday night Dundalk were crowned League of Ireland champions for the third successive year. This is the first time the Co. Louth club have won three titles in a row and the club joins a a very short list that have achieved this feat. Shamrock Rovers managed to win three-in-a row twice (during a four season stint as champions between the 1983-84 and 1986-87 seasons). Waterford won three titles in 1968, 1969 and 1970, while the defunct Cork United were the first triple-champions between the seasons 1940-41 and 1942-43.
Dundalk' success is quite unusual for the League of Ireland, especially in recent years. The opening chapter of Stefan Szymanski's Money and Football: A Soccernomics Guide addresses the area of dominance and distress amongst clubs. The author notes that between the years 1963 and 2012 (50 seasons) the League of Ireland had a higher number of championship winners (15 clubs) than any other European league. The most successful club over this period (Shamrock Rovers) also had the lowest number of league wins (just 7) when compared to the most successful clubs in every other European League.
From this information we can conclude the League of Ireland is very well balanced and ultra-competitive, relative to other European league. But what might this mean?
Sports economics literature tells us that competition is essential for sport to survive. Linked to this is the uncertainty-of-outcome hypothesis. In order to sell sport to customers, the result cannot be know beforehand, otherwise why watch. The League in Ireland certainly displayed this characteristic over the past five decades, but did it really matter? The evidence would suggest no. Attendances are still very low, relative to other sports on this island and when compared to other football leagues across Europe. That said, Dundalk's dominance is dramatically reducing the level of competitive balance and undermining uncertainty of outcome. This might not be a bad thing.
I previously wrote about "The Rise and Decline of Champions" (in true Mancur Olson fashion). Dundalk need to avoid the cycle of Irish clubs over the past two decades, where league success has been followed by a period of decline, financial distress and in some cases relegation. Their continued dominance, if sustained, can only be a good thing for the League of Ireland generally. Repeated league wins will result in continued participation in the qualifying stages of the Champions League. Anecdotal evidence suggests experience and repeated opportunity result in a greater chance of success, and possibly an Irish club in the Group Stages of the UEFA Champions League. Dundalk have two years experience of Champions League football and are still in the Europa League. This can only help next season.
Success at this level raises the League of Ireland's UEFA league co-efficient. Dundalk are also Europe's 226th highest ranked club. That's ahead of Scotland's Hearts and Hibs, Utrecht, and Rapid Bucharest.
The Europa League continues again next week as Dundalk travel to Saint Petersburg to take on the mighty Zenit. They will be hoping to add to the €6.5 million they have already scooped in prize money. Ignoring the parachute payment and base fee they received to date, and assuming a normal points allocation for the qualifying round, this equated to €118,000 per point won in Europe. The league win this week was worth €110,000. €8,000 less or just under €1,500 per point.