Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The economics of Arsenal

Robert Peston highlights a nice, rather knotty, little economics problem for Arsenal Football Club.

This conundrum highlights a number of areas of economic theory:
  1. Generalised agency problem. The interests of the different stakeholders in the club all, potentially, conflict with each other. The fans want maximum money spent on good players so they have a chance of winning something for the first time in years. The management of the club want (I guess) stability and a profitable business, which probably means accepting a lower probability of sporting success. The different shareholders want different outcomes: Usmanov may want an equity issue because, with more cash available than the other shareholders, it would probably allow him to increase his stake. Other shareholders want to preserve their stake relative to him, so they are less keen on the increase in investment. The players and manager presumably want to be successful on the pitch, well-paid and - in Wenger's case - to have his talent-building strategy and ability recognised. The fact that all these interests differ makes it hard to achieve a stable structure where the interests of all stakeholders are served. A bit like the banking sector really.
  2. Behavioural economics. The article pointedly refers to whether Arsene Wenger feels that he is not being allowed enough money. The implication is that his belief that the club is pursuing the right strategy is in part self-fulfilling.
  3. Capital structures. The balance between debt and equity finance is a problem I've covered before in this blog. In theory they are equivalent, but in reality they bring a whole different set of concerns with them. Equity provides more flexibility - in this case allowing the directors to choose between spending money on players now and paying the shareholders lower dividends - while debt, in a predictable economy, allows the controlling shareholders to increase their leverage and thus their short-term returns, at the cost of giving up some of their options.
  4. Time inconsistency. Would you rather spend the club's money on buying players this year - even if that means selling some assets with good long-term returns - or accept a lower chance of winning the league for the next couple of years and preserve more financial firepower for the future?
  5. Discontinuous or non-marginal consumption and utility. Football clubs are a notable case of a class of problems which do not obey the convenient assumptions of microeconomic utility theory. In general, it's much easier to analyse a situation if consumers have access to as much or little of a good as they want - for instance you can adjust your annual consumption of Coca-Cola pretty much to whatever level you like, and the utility you gain from it is likely to be a smoothly increasing function of the amount you consume, with the marginal utility diminishing as the quantity increases (a convex utility function). However the utility of winning the Champion's League is very different. We have seen how much money Roman Abramovich is willing to spend to win it, but we might reasonably guess that once he has achieved it once, his utility will drop off sharply. Perhaps if he could guarantee to purchase 10% of a win he might do so, but there is no mechanism to permit this. This makes the economic analysis of the behaviour of football club owners - and fans - much more difficult than typical consumer preference analysis.
There is a whole (if small) field of sport economics which touches on some of these issues. But even without venturing into the specialist results of the sports economists, this one little story raises a panoply of exciting economic questions which could keep us busy for weeks.

Tottenham fans are no doubt relieved to be spared most of these dilemmas. The discontinuity of utility is much diminished when the choice is between 11th and 17th place in the league table.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The discontinuity of utility is much diminished when the choice is between 11th and 17th place in the league table."

I suppose it would be nice if Arsenal could guarantee a purchase of 10 per cent of a win of the League Cup - given the sorry state of their trophy cabinet - let alone setting their sights on the Champions League and a place higher than fourth.

Good plug for the blog though.

clockendrider said...

"Equity provides more flexibility - in this case allowing the directors to choose between spending money on players now and paying the shareholders lower dividends". Arsenal haven't paid a divivdend for over 30 years. Interestingly this was the first thing Usmanov asked for last year when his shareholding was exposed. An interesting policy for for someone who claims to want to put money into the club.
His PR effort continues but he's just not credible. Taking lowlife journalists on an all expenses paid boozing and whoring trip to Moscow won't be forgotten by genuine Arsenal fans in a hurry....

Anonymous said...

Run along anonymous. The big boys are talking.

Great article. Adds a little perspective. I think the entire debate over Arsenals financials is entirely inconsequential as Usmanov has muddied the news headlines to such a degree (obviously by paying large ones for a well placed article) that it is hard to know who to believe.

The BBC article that led me here could very well be an unbiased piece but the fact that he says he won't lend bias to any shareholder perspective as he is an Arsenal fan but then goes on to present the Uzbeks opinion as 'interesting' is, in itself, rather damning of the side he has taken.

Thanks for the article, awesome blog.

MagicNumber7 said...

I seem to have posted my previous post as anonymous by mistake. My mistake.

Leigh Caldwell said...

Thanks for the generous comments MagicNumber7 and others.

As for winning the League Cup, I suppose everyone needs their own discontinuous aspiration. It would be interesting to model the utility functions of the different tournaments for the fans of each team. I suspect they might roughly obey a logarithmic function of the difference between the team's self-image and its actual performance.

If Macclesfield were to win the League Cup it would be almost as good for them as winning the FA Cup or the Premiership (putting aside the minor logistical problems of the latter); while for a team like Arsenal that aspiration is much less satisfying.

Indeed I am sure that if Tottenham were to win the League Cup again this year it would provide much less satisfaction than last time. Ambitions are always upgraded until past achievements are forgotten.

smashandgrab said...

rectum

booboo said...

titwank

oohtobe said...

this blog is sh*te! Why is there a geeza on here talking about the yids! Jog on mate!

fishcakesurprise said...

badger soup

nocigs said...

good chat

genius said...

guinness

mb said...

citibank

motormouth said...

081 811 81 81

miguel said...

i like chopping wood

son said...

hi mum

pdavis said...

have west brom gone down?

meme said...

go placidly amid the noise and haste,and remember what peace there may be in silence
as far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

kcampbell said...

zip it up smithy, zip it up!

bmoore said...

a long ball from dixon, finding smith!

Anonymous said...

It Doesnt Matter, Arsenal will always finish within Champions League Places, Arsenal have supporters in high places, ;-) please note, if Wenger wanted the League Cup he could have it every week!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry state of Arsenal's trophy cabinet? What, the one that includes 13 league titles, 10 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and 2 European Trophies?

How does that compare to Tottenham's?

They'd still love to be in our position, end of.

Anonymous said...

what did you say about my mum?

Anonymous said...

DYNAMITE!! ... ABSOLUTE DYNAMITE!!!!
(Cesc, not this tripe)

Anonymous said...

Why spurs fans ever attempt to gloat about anything is beyond me. You can't win any contest when it comes to comparing the success of your club to Arsenal's. Even if you drag up a 5-1 victory over a bunch of kids, the previous poster's quote will still have you in tears. :)