Free-to-air Broadcasting and the GAA

The evolution of the modern sports league is directly linked to the growth of broadcasting revenue in sport. While many see sports broadcasting as a public good, since the late 1980s there has been a general migration towards subscription-based, satellite channels. The emergence of satellite broadcasting changed the position from one where content competed for scarce distribution outlets on terrestrial television, to one where there is an abundance of spectrum competing for scarce content. The general improvement in broadcasting technology and changes to the regulatory environment have aided this movement, allowing for restricted access.

Like all sports, the GAA has adapted to this evolution. In 2014 the organisation sold broadcasting rights to BSkyB, with 20 matches shown on its Sky Sports channels, 14 of which are exclusive. The continuation of this deal to 2022 has been argued on the grounds that it promotes the game internationally and provides coverage to Irish emigrants.

Not everyone is happy with this. Speaking on The Sunday Game, RTÉ hurling analyst Michael Duignan said that “the biggest disgrace of the weekend was on Saturday evening, that the Waterford-Kilkenny wasn’t shown on free-to-air television”. He continued: “The Sky deal is so wrong on so many levels and it’s not because I’m in RTÉ working for the Sunday Game. My parents are at home. My father is 83 years of age. A savage hurling man. Why should he go to the pub? He doesn’t go to the pub to watch a match. They have enough money in the GAA. How much money do they want? What about the people who have supported it all their lives that can’t watch it? I think it’s disgraceful.”

The Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2003 and Broadcasting Act 2009 do prevent “events of major importance to society” from migrating to subscription channels. The following are considered to fall under this category:

• The Summer Olympics
• The All-Ireland Senior Inter-County Football and Hurling Finals
• Ireland’s home and away qualifying games in the European Football Championship and the FIFA World Cup Tournaments
• Ireland’s games in the European Football Championship Finals Tournament and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament
• The opening games, the semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship Finals and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament
• Ireland’s games in the Rugby World Cup Finals Tournament
• The Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby
• The Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show

The Act also states that “Each of Ireland’s games in the Six Nations Rugby Football Championship is designated as an event of major importance to society for which the right of a qualifying broadcaster to provide coverage on a deferred basis on free television services should be provided in the public interest”.

In theory, far more could migrate to subscription platforms, including all provisional finals and the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals. While this is unlikely to happen, it is possible. After nearly 60 years waiting, I am sure every Waterford fan would say Saturday night’s game was of “major importance”. Those north of the Suir will obviously argue otherwise.

2017 Sports Economics Workshop

The 3rd annual Sports Economics Workshop will be held on Friday 21st of July 2017 at University College Cork. The purpose of this workshop is to discuss and stimulate interdisciplinary research ideas from those working in the areas of economics, sport, coaching, public health, management, and related fields in Ireland and abroad.

Professor Bernd Frick (Paderborn University) will deliver the keynote address at 2.00pm in the North Wing Quadrangle Council Room. This lecture will be based on his new book, Conquering the Pitch – The Economics of Soccer.

Professor Frick will explore the development of soccer as the world’s most popular team sport and addresses competitive balance across a large number of leagues. The book provides a thorough understanding of the market for players, coaches and referees, as well as the demand for soccer on television, in stadiums and in the betting office.

Prior to the keynote, a morning session will be held from 10.00am to 11.30am in the Kavanagh Pharmacy Building where a series of technical papers will be presented with contributions from the sports of cycling, rugby and soccer. The full session is as follows:

• Uncertainty of Outcome and Grand Tour Cycling – Joel Maxcy (Drexel University)

• Regional Development in Interwar England through Football Statistics – Babatunde Buraimo (University of Liverpool), Rob Simmons (Lancaster) University) and Stefan Szymanski (University of Michigan).

• Bonus Incentives and Team-Effort Levels in European Cup Rugby: Evidence from the Field – Robbie Butler (University College Cork), Pat Massey (Compecon) and Liam Lenten (La Trobe University).

The morning session will be followed by a roundtable discussion from 11.45am to 1pm where the current and future direction of sports research in Ireland will be discussed. Discussants will include Peter Smyth (Director of Research – Sport Ireland), Elish Kelly (Senior Research Officer- Economic and Social Research Institute) and Sean Lucey (Business School Research Manager – University College Cork).

The workshop is free to attend and those interested should register at www.sportseconomics.org/workshop.

Mark Blaug Student Essay Prize

In honour of the great critical economist Mark Blaug (1927-2011), the Foundation for European Economic Development (FEED) is financing and awarding an annual student essay prize.

Eligible essays for the prize must be critical discussions of any aspect of modern economics.

Rather than applying economics to a particular problem, eligible essays must reflect critically on the state of economics itself, as Mark Blaug did in many of his works.

Critical reflections may include the assumptions adopted, the suitability of the concepts deployed, the mode of analysis, the role of mathematical models, the use of econometrics, real-world relevance, the presumed relationship between theory and policy, the unwarranted influence of ideology, the use (or otherwise) of insights from other disciplines, and so on.

The required language is English. Eligible essays are by university undergraduates, or by graduates who obtained their Bachelor’s degree no earlier than 1 January 2016. There is no residential or geographical restriction.

Undergraduate dissertations must be converted to essay format and reduced to 6,000 words (inclusive of references and appendices) or less. Author names, affiliations and email must be placed on the first page, below the title of the essay.

Up to two prizes will be awarded each year, depending on the quality of the best papers. The respective awards will be £500 and £300. FEED will reserve the right to award no prize, or one prize only, if there are inadequate essays of quality. The prizes will be judged by a committee of leading scholars.

Essays should be submitted by email to g.m.hodgson@herts.ac.uk by 1 October 2017. The awards will be announced in late 2017 or early 2018.

The Mark Blaug Student Essay Prize is promoted in collaboration with Rethinking Economics.

Cheltenham Success and Funding

The 2017 Cheltenham Festival ended last Friday and proved to be a remarkable four days for horse racing in this country. Irish trained horses won 19 of the 28 races, beating last year’s previous best of 15. For the second year running there were more Irish trained winners than English, which is all the more remarkable given that “15 Irish winners or more” could be backed at odds of 4/1 as late as Tuesday morning. Irish trained horses won 3 or the top 4 prizes, and Ireland also dominated the leading trainer and jockey tables.

Much of this success can probably be put down to state investment in the sport. From 2008 to 2017 Revised Estimates of Public Expenditure show that the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund was allocated just under €650 million through the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism and more recently the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Of this, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) received just over €500 million.

While national hunt racing is just one part of the sport, the majority of this funding is used to subsidise prize money at the 26 race courses on the island of Ireland. HRI support equates to roughly two-thirds of the prize fund, with owners, sponsors, funding from Northern Ireland and the European Breeders Fund contributing the remainder. The HRI 2016 Factbook discusses the recent improvement in most indicators in the sport, with only the trend in on-course bookmaker numbers a current cause for concern. The reason for this is largely explained by technological innovations and the resulting rise in online gambling.

The funding of horse racing can be compared to all other sports. Sport Ireland (formerly the Irish Sports Council) is partly responsible for these (their website lists more than 60 sports) and received just over €550 million for the ten-year period from 2008 to 2017. This includes payments to the National Sports Campus from 2012. This equates to a 94 cent investment in Horse Racing Ireland (administering a single sport), for every €1 investment in Sport Ireland, which covers everything from angling to wresting.

While the 2017 Revised Estimates indicate the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund will surpass its pre-crash allocation this year, Sport Ireland will experience a drop in funding year-on-year. If the country wishes to replicate the remarkable performance of Irish national hunt racing in other sports, further investment in Sport Ireland should be priority.

Continued success in the Cotswold can be expected in the years ahead.

2017 WINIR Conference – Call For Papers

The 2017 World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research Conference will be held from Thursday 14th to Saturday 16th of September 2017 in Utrecht University, Netherlands.

The conference welcomes contributions from any academic discipline that address the challenges and dynamics of the economic, political, legal and social institutions of our time. Submissions on any other aspect of institutional research are also welcome.

Organisers are requesting abstract submissions (300 words max.). All submission must be about institutions, organisations and/or institutional thought.

Keynotes lectures, representing three academic disciplines, will be given by Johanna Mair (Hertie School of Governance), James Robinson (University of Chicago) and Juliet Schor (Boston College).

The conference will also feature a round table on “ICT, Open Societies and New Institutions” with José van Dijck (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), Haroon Sheikh (Dasym Investment Strategies) and Fredrik Söderqvist (Unionen), and will be preceded by a PhD workshop.

The abstract submission deadline is Monday 13th of March 2017. More information can be found here.

League of Ireland in the Spotlight

League of Ireland soccer has been in the spotlight recently. Last week, Dundalk arguably achieved the finest result in the league’s near 100 year history, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 1 – 0 in Group D of the Europa League. (A comparison of the potential financial return of this to date and that of success in domestic competition can be found here).

Moments after the full-time whistle RTE’s PrimeTime (coincidentally) broadcast an interesting report on changes to the structure of underage soccer in Ireland, and the possible implications this will have for both League of Ireland and schoolboy clubs.

International journal Soccer and Society in conjunction with Routledge/Taylor & Francis Online has also commenced publishing a special edition of the journal which focuses on the League of Ireland. The special edition addresses economic, historic and social aspects of the sport in Ireland. The collection of published papers to date can be accessed here .

The real winners from Rio?

With the 2016 Summer Olympics Games upon us, much of the world’s media has descended on Rio to cover more than 300 events, across 28 sports, for the next three weeks. Early reports have already complimented the facilities in place. This should not come as a surprise. An estimated $14 billion has been spent to date and includes new stadia, sports facilities, transport and communications infrastructure, accommodation, security, etc. The scale of investment is on a par with London 2012 but comes on the back of a similar outlay during the 2014 World Cup. That’s close to $30 billion dollars in 24 months.

While the Games will probably be a sporting success, it’s hard to see how this investment can be justified. A growing list of cities, are now home to unused, dilapidated or demolished Olympic venues. Brazil is likely to encounter similar problems in the years ahead despite the promise of “legacy” effects. Even London recently reported a drop in sports participation four years on from the most recent Summer Games.

Brazil of course will be no stranger to this. Estádio Nacional in Brasília, the second most expensive stadium on the planet, was rebuilt for the 2014 World Cup. The 70,000 seat arena is now primarily used as a bus terminal.

Over the past 40 years, only the Los Angles Summer Games in 1984 generated a net surplus. This was a consequence of the weakened bargaining position of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when faced with just one finalised bid to host the Games that summer. Riots (1968), terrorism (1972), public debt (1976) and boycott (1980) had all marred the Olympics in the decade beforehand. Los Angeles negotiated a deal with the IOC that maximised the economic benefits to the city.

Since 1984 other cities have jumped on the bandwagon, in an attempt to regenerate urban areas and turn a net profit. While Barcelona and London have been notable example of ‘success’, they failed to generate any financial surplus. This should not be a surprise.

Sporting events like these should not be viewed as investments. They are primarily consumption products. In the past the Games have brought other benefits; mainly a sense of national pride and increased levels of life satisfaction and happiness. If one monetises these, research suggests the Games are worth the cost. The richer the country, the greater the gain. Citizens from wealthier countries need a much bigger increase in income, to those from poorer countries, in order to experience the same jump in happiness.

And herein lies the problem for Brazil. The country is in the unique position of probably being the first developing democracy to stage the Summer Games (the extent of Mexican democracy in 1968 is debatable). This has brought with it problems. The riots at the World Cup were a manifestation of this. The extent to which the Games will make the population ‘happier’ is questionable. With political, economic, health, environmental and housing crises all present, these Games may not be a repeat of the past.

Rio is on the brink of its biggest ever party. A $14 billion hangover is waiting. The city needs to make the most of the next three weeks. While they party, the real winners are probably the taxpayers in Illinois and Spain. Two of the failed bidders for the 2016 Games.