By Tony Attwood
In the affterglow of last night’s lovely victory for Arsenal, I want to turn to something different, not because I didn’t enjoy last night, but because this is Untold, and we like to cover stories no one else will cover.
And what we consider here is a perfect example of the creation of a football related story out of no facts at all – which of course we have looked at many times before. But this one is different because it is presented in the Guardian – a newspaper that prides itself on providing the “independent journalism the world needs” – running a story about what is claimed to be a serious piece of research about the impact of football – when in reality (at least as far as it is presented in the paper) it is anything but.
The research claims to show how the performance of a team can relate to individual supporters, and boost the economy of the area from which the club draws its support.
The company involved is the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) which says it supplies independent economic forecasting and analysis to hundreds of private firms and public organisations. Their boast is that “Our predictions have a strong track record of forecasting accuracy at international, national and even company level, placing us consistently in the top handful of UK economics teams and winning us awards and headlines.”
That is quite a boast, and in this little piece I want to suggest that anyone taking CEBR’s boast seriously might like to think twice before they hand over their dosh – at least based on the piece of research reported in the Guardian. And one might think twice about the Guardian running this story based on what appears to be seriously unthought through research.
The claim in the report is that supporters link the club they support with their own successes and failures, “which can have an impact on people’s dopamine levels and overall confidence, resulting in higher spending on outings and goods.”
Dopamine helps to control movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. It enables us to see rewards that can be gained, and to focus our activities so we get the higher dopamine levels. Higher levels of dopamine give us greater feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. At that level the link looks reasonable.
The implication is that success for Arsenal makes me feel good, not just about Arsenal but about myself and as a result I spend more money locally. Indeed it suggests that the effect of a club winning the league could increase a city’s economic growth by 1.1%. The report then suggests that a Man City win of the title could be worth £220m to Manchester, or £133m to Liverpool, if Liverpool somehow won a title for the first time in 29 years, this year.
But you may already have spotted the problem with this, because although it might be true for those teams, there will be contrary indications. How will Manchester United or Everton supporters feel in either eventuality? Will their expenditure go down because they feel miserable about their dreaded rivals winning the league?
And it is also widely reported, and I have certainly witnessed the fact, that many Manchester United supporters are not residents of Manchester – and suddenly the generalisation that a club taking the title can boost the economy of the club’s city becomes more dubious. Does it apply in all cases, or does it apply to just a few select clubs? Even my own case runs counter to the assertion: I’m an Arsenal season ticket holder but live in Northamptonshire – did they analyse where supporters live?
This becomes an even more interesting question when one looks at championship winners by city and town…
|City / Town||Championships||Clubs|
|Liverpool||Liverpool (18), Everton (9)|
|Manchester||Manchester United (20), Manchester City (5)|
|London||Arsenal (13), Chelsea (6), Tottenham Hotspur (2)|
|Birmingham||Aston Villa (7)|
|Sheffield||Sheffield Wednesday (4), Sheffield United (1)|
|Newcastle||Newcastle United (4)|
|Blackburn||Blackburn Rovers (3)|
|Huddersfield||Huddersfield Town (3)|
|Leeds||Leeds United (3)|
|Wolverhampton||Wolverhampton Wanderers (3)|
I can’t actually imagine that Arsenal winning the League leads to a feel good factor across London. So we now have two questions: does the “feel good” factor in a city get countered by the negative feelings of supporters of a rival team, and does this apply in Manchseter if Manchester United win the title? Both questions are central to establishing the general assertion of the article that a title win is good for the economy in the city of the winning club.
If we look just at cities winning the Premier League the list of title winners by city runs like this…
- Manchester 16
- London 8
- Leicester 1
- Blackburn 1
This makes the article’s claim even stranger. The report claims that there could be a city bonus for a club winning the Premier League. But the authors don’t consider London nor the issue of Manchester United’s non localised support – and London and Manchester make up 24 out of 26 PL title winners. And only three of the Manchester 16 come from Manchester City – a club more associated with Manchester than Manchester United. And there is no consideration of the downturn in spending from supporters of a rival club from the same city.
Yet this is presented as a serious piece of work, by a serious set of researchers, yet at least as far as it is presented in the Guardian it most certainly is not, since it generalises out from data that only relates to a minority of situations, and offers no consideration of what happens to supporters of rival clubs.
It is just another example of football supporters being treated with contempt; we are so stupid, it seems we can be fed any pap and we’ll believe it. In reality time and again we are given stories that claim something, but present us with no serious evidence and which if we ever consider them, break down at the first investigation. No wonder many of us treat the media with such contempt when it deals with football.
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