What’s a goal (or five) worth?

September 14, 2009

simon_chadwick-Professor Simon Chadwick, Director, Centre for the International Business of Sport, Coventry, UK. The opinions expressed are his own. –

There is a famous song, composed in the run-up to UEFA Euro 96, in which the Lightening Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel refer to England’s 30 years of hurt (the period at the time since England won its one and only World Cup).

England recently took a step closer towards addressing their continued failure to win world football’s biggest prize, by beating Croatia 5-1 to qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa. In so doing, the team also overcame its two years of hurt, following a failure to qualify for Euro 2008 at the hands of their Croatian rivals.

While the fervent mood amongst passionate English fans and patriots alike will no doubt grow as we progress towards the start of the tournament in June 2010, there is likely to be much more action off the pitch than there is on it – and not necessarily just in England, in all of the countries that have teams which qualify for South Africa.

Indeed, as we get closer to the 11th June kick-off, World Cup micro-economies will start emerging domestically and internationally across the world.

Many English, Korean and Brazilian fans will already have booked their flights, arranged their hotels, possibly even have bought their replica shirts, flags and hats, diverting expenditure away from other industrial sectors or from their savings accounts. During English summers, the intensity of such expenditure is becoming legendary, if not mind-blowing.

Whether bedecking one’s car in flags and stickers, hanging a banner out of the bedroom window, buying the latest England merchandise, bulk-buying beer and burgers for a garden barbeque or relentlessly purchasing packs of stickers for a World Cup album collection, all are becoming the essence of what football tournaments have become.

The question is: how much are such micro economies worth? In England, there are various estimates of this, ranging from 1.2 billion pounds through to 2 billion pounds or more. Such figures in themselves have taken on an almost mythical status, as reliable scientific data about the economic effects of winning is unavailable.

We think we know what happens, there have historically been plenty of predictions, but we don’t actually seem to know what the precise economic impact will be when that winning goal goes in, nobody has ever collected the data.

In addition to the tangible impact of “that” goal in qualifying, there is a consensus too that qualification for big tournaments is also likely to generate intangible positive impacts.

The “Feel Good Factor” is seemingly worth something, with people working harder and spending more, as national team success induces a sense of euphoria, whilst also diverting people’s attention away from their normal everyday travails.

Moreover, in terms of national identity, the enhanced national self-esteem that such high profile success brings is surely worth millions, if not billions, of pounds? But again, this is accepted wisdom rather than scientifically proven fact. Nobody really knows if this is true because nobody has ever set out to measure the impact.

It would be easy to surf the wave of hype and expectation that inevitably accompanies a national team qualifying for an international tournament, but one needs to mitigate the potential for a positive impact with the potential for negative impacts. Has anyone ever monitored the decrease in productivity around World Cup time, as people spend more time chatting and speculating than they do producing and managing?

Moreover, is anyone prepared to acknowledge that absence through sickness stats go through the roof around tournament time, especially when a game at a crucial stage of the tournament kicks –off in the middle of the day?

And what about the drunk and disorderly behaviour of some fans down at the local pub and the noise they make, or the litter that people generate when watching games on public viewing screens in the local park? All of these activities, and more, have a negative impact and, so, a cost attached to them. The question is: how much?

And could it actually be the case that the costs of qualifying could, in theory at least, outweigh the benefits of progressing to the finals of a World Cup? Nobody knows because nobody has ever set out to accurately measure it before.

My prediction for next year? From an English perspective, Quarter-Final defeat, probably on penalties, following the sending off of a key player for a questionable challenge on an arch enemy. Off the field, who knows?

Given the conventional wisdom, my next prediction is an economic impact of between 1 billion and 2 billion pounds – that’s a decent enough of a margin of error. But we really need precise, robust measures of impact to know exactly how important the World Cup will be.

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