By Tony Attwood
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In one sense it seems a crazy thing to do – to buy a big football club where the fans have expectations of success. After all most clubs lose money and have their coffers topped up most of the time by their rich owners.
So why do the rich do it? It can hardly be because they want to be popular with the fans. After all most fans seem to feel their club could do better with other owners. Certainly, the Kroenke family can’t have been expecting mass popularity when they bought Arsenal, and they haven’t had it.
At the moment Liverpool and Manchester City owners are presumably very popular with some supporters of those clubs, despite their past activities and associations, but then they don’t particularly seem to care about their image.
And although one can understand a very rich person wanting to rescue his local team that he supported as a child before he made (or inherited) all his money, that doesn’t seem to happen very often.
Power and prestige might be one reason for taking on a club, and of course that is what one gets, but the prestige only grows when the club is doing well, but the number of clubs doing well at any one time is usually only two or three.
It is also sometimes suggested that the reason might well be down to the fact that the value of football clubs seems to go up all the time, and so the club is an investment – rather like buying houses you don’t want to live in, simply because you know that the price of housing rises faster than inflation (at least most of the time).
That seems possible, but the cost of keeping a club in the league it is currently in, and the demand for improvement all the time, makes that seem a bit of an unlikely premise on its own.
So somewhere there has to be another reason, and I recently found a most interesting suggestion as to what is making the price of big football clubs rise and rise, irrespective of the clubs’ position in the league in which they play.
This suggestion came from the German newspaper SZ. It suggests that live betting as it is known in many countries, or “in-play betting” as it is often known in England, is the key.
This is gambling that occurs once a game has started. It allows viewers watching the game on their TV screens, to place bets throughout the game rather than only before its start, causing the odds to change in response to what’s happening during the game.
In short, the live betting business is booming, and everyone wants in on the action: TV broadcasters, tech companies, powerful sports associations…. SZ describes this as “an industry that has made it out of the muddy corner – and is on its way to becoming a kind of new stock exchange.”
Now it isn’t just goals in a football match that change the odds. Every action during a sporting event will change the potential outcome, altering the betting odds in the process.
The odds are of course decided by a computer algorithm that constantly updates the information. Then, depending on what is happening in the game, as well as past outcomes of similar events, the odds are changed.
But there is more to it than that, for as the FootyTipster site explains, “When something significant happens during the event, the sportsbook will usually suspend betting for a few seconds so the computer can work out the new odds. Betting will then continue. This will happen several times throughout an event…”
Of course the company running the website will say this is “giving you up-to-date odds reflecting what is happening in the live event” as FootyTipster puts it, but one could also say, the pause is to make sure the odds are forever in the bookie’s favour.
Because this approach allows and indeed encourages gambling during an event it is seen as the way forward, and since the clubs own the allegiance of their own supporters they can offer their own gambling system – or licence companies to be associated with the club through sponsorship.
But in-play gambling is what has got the gambling companies excited, and it is where the clubs see extra revenue emerging through owning the rights to the game – rights which are then sold to TV companies for ever larger amounts.
It would be nice to think the desire of very rich people to buy football clubs was something to do with an affinity for the club or its local town, but no. It’s a route to getting richer – even when the club loses.
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