Football fans scuppered the ESL – not the State

by Matthew Eason

Supply and demand is a fundamental part of our market economy. It drives our businesses and informs how companies interact with their customers. It is rewarding to see that in action as all the proposed European “Super” League members from the UK have decided against following through on this foolish endeavour following the outcry against them.

However, it is amusing to watch the online contortions that some on the Left are going through to avoid recognising that it is market forces that have ensured that the draft plans have been consigned to the scrap pile. Some are praising their “enemy” – Boris Johnson and his Conservative government – for deciding to intervene.

Of course, this ignores the fact that government intervention has not forced UK clubs to change their mind over the ESL. For a start, the Government has not even moved beyond critical words and the early stages of “exploring their options”. If the ESL clubs had truly been determined, this level of “intervention” would not have stopped them.

What really stopped UK clubs from following through – and thus stopped the ESL plans dead in their tracks – is the passionate and vehement repudiation of the plans by fans. The clubs backing down and pulling out is a response to clear public pressure and collective action from the fans.

The Left and others may not like it – but professional sport is a business. The decision to create the ESL would have been determined by the owners and CEOs of the clubs involved to make themselves more profitable – to earn more money for the clubs and their shareholders. This is no different to any other for-profit business on the planet.

However, just like any other business football clubs are reliant on their fans/customers to pay the bills. It became obvious very soon after the announcement that fans were not on board with the proposed ESL. Without fans, there are no spectators – either in person at stadiums or at home on the TV. With spectators, there will be no or far fewer sponsors – what company would waste their money on advertisements that no-one will be watching? Without sponsors, ticket sales and other relevant income streams – not just for the ESL but at other games – the ESL quickly became a complete non-starter of an idea.

Market forces stopped the ESL – this should be an irrefutable point. Indeed, the CEOs who got it so wrong will face the consequences of their failures. Manchester United’s Ed Woodward has already gone – others may soon follow.

The ESL debacle is almost over and it is time for people to move on. The government has asked the well-respected and capable Tracey Crouch to head up a review of football governance. There was a telling phrase in the Culture Secretary’s statement announcing it – “these clubs have made it clear that I have no choice. They have decided to put money before fans. So today I have been left with no choice but to formally trigger the launch of our fan-led review of football.”

If this is the justification, the review feels wholly unnecessary and yet another example of the Government’s flawed instincts to actively seek out increased government intervention as well as a clear lack of appreciation for how professional sport works. Clubs operate due to the income that fans generate and if they lose the support of their fans remedial measures will soon be taken. There is no need for any knee-jerk government response – which will no doubt include vague ideas and suggestions to cap or cut ticket prices as well as TV fees to make it more accessible to fans.

It really is quite simple though. Football clubs are driven by the market – by their supporters’ choices – to make the best financial decisions for the club. Ticket prices and TV fees are expensive because that is what fans are willing to pay to watch their teams. If prices are too high – the fans will stop watching. If a club makes a decision the fans are not happy with – they will stop watching. If a club performs badly – fans will stop watching.

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