Abilene or GTFO

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Have you ever been to Abilene, Texas?

If you’re like me then the answer is a resounding “NO.”  I’m also quick to add that I have no plans to go to Abilene, Texas… ever.  It’s not that I don’t like Texas – I do.  It’s just – well – my preference is to go just about anywhere else.

Consider the following situation:

You and your two friends are drinking cold refreshments on a shaded porch in Coleman, Texas – nearly 53 miles from Abilene.  It’s mid-afternoon and the sun is beating down but you’re comfortable; and there are plenty of more cold refreshments in the fridge 10 feet away.  Life is good.

One of your friends suggests you go up to Abilene for dinner at some roadside café he’s heard of.  You agree, although deep in your heart you have no earthly desire to do this, you don’t want to rock the boat.  Your hope is that your other friend will speak out and say “no.”

But he doesn’t, he goes along with the idea.  So the three of you leave the sweet, sweet comfort of the porch, trundle to the car, and make off for Abilene down the dusty back roads of Texas.

Four hours later, and after a horrendous dinner, you’re almost back to Coleman when your first friend blurts out that he “quite enjoyed the trip to Abilene.”

You can’t keep it in any longer and indignantly reply: “That was fecking awful – I didn’t want to go in the first place.”

Your other friend sticks the boot in and agrees: “Why did we even go then – I just went because you lot wanted to go.”

At this point something odd happens, the friend who had suggested the trip actually agrees: “I proposed it because I thought you guys were bored but I didn’t want to go either – but when you two agreed, I thought I was in the minority.”

As the reality of what just happened dawns on all three of you, a silence descends.  Why the heck did you decide to go to Abilene?

This is actually a real thing in terms of collective decision making phenomena – and, as it happens – is called the Abilene Paradox.  The Abilene Paradox occurs when a group makes a decision which is the opposite of the individual preferences (see any personal anecdote that ends with you and your friends at a dodgy kebab shop at 4 am).

Let’s talk about football now.

On Tuesday it was announced that the Premier League had signed a new three year deal with broadcasters Sky Sports (and to a lesser extent, BT) for the domestic television rights starting in 2016.  The deal, collectively, is reported to be worth £5.136bn.  £5.136bn – let that roll around in your mouth for a minute.  That is a full 71% higher than the last Premier League TV deal and will result in the equivalent of £10.19m per game – PER GAME PEOPLE.  And this is for the domestic rights only meaning that the overseas rights (and the subsequent funds) have yet to be auctioned.

Football has truly gone mad.

I have a degree in Economics but quite frankly – there isn’t a lot that I recall from my University days bar the basics.  There is one nugget of info that I do recall from my Economics of Pro Sports class though – and that is, if we’re paying high wages to athletes, the money to pay these athletes exists in the system.  If you follow this rule through – you have to conclude that both Sky and BT believe this money is in the system; no matter how crazy the sums sound.

Once you’ve digested the lunacy of the amounts being bandied around, the thought might turn to how might the money be spent?  I’ve already seen a few headlines about the first £500k a week footballer being just around the corner, and that is likely not far off, and I’ve seen various people talking about lowered ticket prices for fans.

The ticketing situation is a particularly interesting one to sink your teeth into.  After all, it is fans that are generating the revenue to begin with.  It’s also something that I agree with: I do think tickets should be attainable for anyone who wants to go – but that is an extremely complicated practice to put in place; and a problem that clubs have very little incentive to solve.

Clubs that look at this revenue from a sporting perspective will likely use the money to improve their chances of winning.  This can be done by both buying and paying better players today, as well as investing in infrastructure that will produce better players tomorrow (the academy, training facilities, better coaches…etc.).   It’s David Dein at his finest saying “get a winning team.”

From a business perspective, the outlook isn’t much different – any team that doesn’t invest in cementing its place in the Premier League table risks losing that place.  Businesses like to maximize revenue for their shareholders – there’s no room for sentimental ticket subsidies here.  I do expect some of the clubs teetering on a new stadium decision to take the plunge – but there again, the decision is based on future revenue streams – not on some intangible benefit to fans.

So who blinks first?

From the perspective of the individual clubs, the answer is no one.  So cast the net further afield and suggest the Premier League should mandate something.  But it is highly unlikely that the Premier League will do something forceful that many of the clubs potentially won’t like – especially when you consider that the league are already on one strike for consistently appointing the abomination that is Anthony Taylor.

It should also be no surprise to see Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore publicly stating that clubs would make individual decisions on how to use the money – likely investing in stadium improvements, “youth development and good causes.”   He added that clubs should look at ticket prices but made no guarantees over reducing ticket prices.   Make no qualms about it; this was just a bit of a show pony at the press conference.

This is the type of problem that requires an innovative approach – and for someone with authority to incentivize the practice of lowering ticket prices.  Even the argument for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is weak.  CSR initiatives tend to be focused on more tangible benefits – and quite rightly too – youth programs, health and fitness centres, open schools etc.  Until someone gets in that space and says that lower ticket prices are connected to lower crime rates, or more high school graduates – there is likely nothing that will happen.

So we’re left with a bit of a mess.   There’s little to no incentive to the clubs and the Premier League itself to enforce lower ticket prices and efficient ticketing schemes.  My personal opinion is that a percentage of funds received should be put towards implementing lower ticket prices systemically – and that mandate must come from the Premier League in the form of cash incentives that encourage positive behaviour.

I’d even go so far as to say that any overseas revenue for television rights should be diverted to these types of initiatives along with the Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.  It certainly has an altruistic feel good factor from where I’m sitting 5000 miles away.  What a narrative – foreign fans actually helping young people and those of lesser means to go and see their local Premier League club.  I honestly could get behind a scheme that saw foreign generated income subsidizing fans on match day – as long as I can hear you through my television.

It’s a nice sentiment but we’re still faced with a situation where one party has to suggest what none of the other parties wants to partake in.  The fact that the Premier League is openly stating that they won’t guarantee lower ticket prices should tell you all you need to know – there’s absolutely no one heading to Abilene, Texas anytime soon.

You know it!

The Other Geoff

Other Geoff is the ‘#ABW Chief Blogger’ and can be found on Twitter here: @Hollefreund.

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