Soccer Socialism

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Soccer,
that is, to our American readers; but football to the rest of the
world. Why this naming convention should be maintained to distinguish
it from gridiron football is a bit of a mystery to me. After all,
how often are the bipedal extremities employed in such a game? When
American Football came to the television screens of Britain in 1984,
it was watched with some degree of enthusiasm, but kicking the ball
was mainly reserved for after touchdowns. I can report, however,
that we did improve on the product in reducing the number of commercial
breaks between plays! I guess it is just a cultural thing.

Meanwhile,
the planet’s greatest sporting tournament, the sixteenth FIFA World
Cup, gets underway on the 31st of May amidst charges of corruption
set against its president, Sepp Blatter. With as much as $360 million
unaccounted for during his watch and the alleged whiff of bribery
in the air, the lower-ranking FIFA executives have drawn the swords
as the FIFA presidential election looms only three days before the
World Cup begins. It looks like Blatter may be saved the trouble
of writing the opening speech.

The
USA will be competing in this four-yearly tournament and are placed
in a group consisting of South Korea (joint-host with Japan), Poland
and Portugal. Soccer is still a poor straggler in America behind
gridiron football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey. The smart
money is on the USA finishing bottom of the group, but I would be
loath to invoke any superior tones as my own team, Scotland, has
failed to qualify at all.

Ah,
yes. Scotland. As we speak, libertarian moves are afoot to progress
the game in Europe and perhaps beyond. The background is this. Scotland
has two dominant club teams, Rangers and Celtic. Celtic were formed
in 1887 to ostensibly feed the catholic poor of Glasgow’s East End
as well as keeping the youth engaged in wholesome sporting activities.
Rangers were formed in 1873 and historically claimed the Protestant
majority of Glasgow for their support. Together, they are called
the Old Firm and they rule the roost in Scotland. Between them,
they have scooped nearly 90% of all available trophies in Scotland
in over 100 years. A duopoly if ever I saw one.

Now
imagine a business, which creates and markets a successful product
to the local customer base. Naturally, success breeds profits and
a desire to expand to conquer new markets will arise. In the case
of football, that normally means the larger European tournaments
played between the top teams of each nation. However, the most successful
footballing nations from England, Spain, Germany and Italy have
monopolistic ideas and their exclusive lobbying group called G14
has been successful in increasing the numbers of their teams as
a proportion of overall entrants into these lucrative competitions.

This
shift of capital towards the larger nations creates a problem for
clubs like Rangers and Celtic who have absorbed as much as they
can from the “local” economy but find their access to the global
economy of European markets hindered by entry requirements biased
towards the country of origin.

Meanwhile,
the less wealthy clubs in Scotland whose turnovers are less than
that of the Old Firm combined have demanded a greater market share
in the distribution of TV revenues in disproportion to the actual
customer base they have access to (i.e., their fans).

In
this we see the socialist concept of redistribution at the local
level and the libertarian concept of freedom of association at the
international level. At the national level, Rangers and Celtic own
80% of the customer base. The last distribution of TV revenues was
60% to the Old Firm and 40% to the other 10 clubs in the top league.

Why
the disproportionate sums? The other clubs argue that being part
of a “society” (that is, the 12 team Scottish League), Rangers and
Celtic should hand over some of their rightful revenues for the
“common good” of that society. This is not a voluntary donation,
it is the coercive equivalent of a tax and if the other 10 do not
get more they will resign and form a breakaway league.

Now,
I have no problem with the European football authority UEFA laying
down such rules as to who can enter their competitions and on what
bases and I have no problem with the 10 smaller Scottish clubs forming
their own exclusive cartel with private entry requirements. They
are free to form their private groups and invite whomsoever they
wish.

What
I do have a problem with is the options left to Rangers and Celtic
in the pursuit of larger markets. An attempt to gain entry into
the top English league (and hence this G14 cartel) has failed because
they see no current financial advantage in admitting the two clubs.
Moreover, UEFA is a monopoly running from Iceland to Turkey and
they will eject any team who attempts to move out of their national
league.

The
hypocrisy is evident. UEFA states the rules for membership of its
exclusive club but will not allow anyone to move into other leagues/markets
without facing banishment. Freedom of association also implies free
movement of labour between the parties in agreement. As a further
example, the clubs in the league below the top English league are
in favour of Celtic and Rangers joining them but the regulatory
bodies of England and Scotland will not allow it. The fear is that
deregulated movement of clubs across borders will see the best teams
of humdrum middle-ranked nations leave to form multi-national leagues.

But
the ethic of free market competition demands it. If the richest
footballing nations carve up the majority of the broadcasting revenues,
then the clubs below them have the right to form associations, which
react to and challenge that structure. This is the only natural
way to avoid eventual stagnation of the product on offer.

Libertarianism
is coming to football. UEFA’s restrictive rules on movement of labour
will be challenged in the courts of the European Union and will
fail. We can then expect successful clubs in mediocre nations to
band together to form stronger pan-European leagues which successfully
compete against the existing top national leagues. Teams from Scotland,
Holland, Portugal and Belgium could form their own association and
compete with UEFA for TV revenues. This can only be good for improving
customer choice.

Meanwhile,
our ten little clubs in Scotland minus the Old Firm would have a
chance to win the Scottish league and inject a little competition
into their product. After all, no one beyond Rangers or Celtic has
won it since 1985…

May
21,
2002

Roland
Watson [send him
mail
] writes from Edinburgh, Scotland.

©
2002 LewRockwell.com

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