Daily Archives: 13 August 2007

Foolball economics

I’m confused about what Don Foster wants us to do about the price of football tickets in the UK:

“This just goes to show that rip-off Britain is alive and well.

“If European clubs can keep their prices down, there’s no reason why English clubs can’t follow their lead.

“Despite the recent enormous TV cash windfall and the promise to freeze ticket prices, many clubs are still massively overcharging their fans.

“Last season we saw empty seats at premiership grounds – when will clubs wake up to the fact that ordinary fans are the lifeblood of the game?”

Now, I should preface this by mentioning that football is not my greatest passion, but isn’t all this just a consequence of the business model adopted by football clubs in this country, as opposed to, say, Spain?

UK football, at least at the top level, isn’t a sport, it’s a business. Global brands compete with each other on a world stage, trying to attract the attention of Indians and the Chinese as much as English football fans. Foster is just plain wrong to claim that English fans are the ‘lifeblood’ of English football; if that was how it works, this wouldn’t be an issue. Lowering prices would hurt them in two ways: firstly it would diminish the amount they could extract from TV companies (if people can just turn up to watch a football match locally, complete with all the ambience of a live match, why would they bother watching it on TV?); secondly, it would harm their sales of corporate seating. You can be sure that the price they charge for tickets maximises their profits.

Football fans know all this, and while they like to whinge they are always ultimately happy to cough up, so what’s the problem?

If you do have a problem with it, the answer is very simple: switch your support from a team in the Premiership to a team lower down in the pecking order. People are doing this. On the other hand, if you want soulless corporate football, you have to pay for it.

Don Foster’s intervention implies, although does not state explicitly, that the government ought to do something about it; otherwise what does it have to do with a DCMS spokesperson? His allusion to “rip off Britain” is just plain daft: you can’t simply ‘buy’ a team in mainland Europe in the way that you could buy a car to avoid the over-pricing that was rife in the motor industry a few years ago.

There are lots of things that you could argue the market cannot adequately manage. Football is not one of them. The fact that most fans are chumps is another matter.

Official response to green energy targets: lie

The Guardian’s expose of DBERR’s response to the EU’s 20% renewable energy target which Tony Blair signed us up to earlier this year is sadly reminiscent of Yes, Minister, replete with calls to reclassify solar panels in Africa and nuclear energy as counting towards our renewable target.

The worst thing about all this is that our partners on the mainland are making us look like chumps. The civil service response to every green target has always been to fudge it; now we are lagging behind to a cringe-making degree. Even if you are a climate change denier, surely decreasing the UK’s dependence on foreign oil has to be a good thing? And how can a relatively land-locked country like Germany be spanking us on windpower? Isn’t that just plain embarrassing?

To catch up, all it takes is the level of spending recommended by the Stern Review, launched with great aplomb by the then-Chancellor last autumn. Instead, we’re ploughing public investment into money pits like the M6.

The tragedy of environmental policy is that for all the rhetoric, our Government isn’t even prepared to do the basics. It then turns around, having sat on its hands, and insists that we have to stick with things like nuclear energy. Sadly, with time pressing, I fear this may be a bullet we can’t afford to dodge, but let’s be clear what this means. Never mind stuff about the safety of plants or disposal of waste, the real thing we should be worrying about is where all that uranium is going to come from if worldwide demand for it trebles (which is a conservative estimate); is switching from foreign oil dependency to foreign uranium dependency really progress? What does this mean for global security? Sadly, I’m not optimistic.

A final point: most of the level of renewable energy across the EU appears to be coming from energy from waste. Perhaps it is time that environmentalist groups who so dislike the oil, gas and nuclear options should start muting their opposition to such a rich potential source of energy?