The Super League might be dead, but a global consolidation of elite teams is inevitable

The frantic furore over the European Super League killed off the proposal before it had a chance to get off the ground. But this is likely little more than a pause while the football community regroups and puts together a better PR strategy. Some form of consolidation around elite teams is inevitable.

Professional football clubs in Europe are an unusual sort of beast from the perspective of economic theory. Companies act to maximise profit. But that concept is not defined neatly: a pricing policy which exploits customers and increases profits in the short term may still prove disastrous. 

But clubs have not traditionally even tried to maximise profits, the primary motivation seems to have been the opposite – maximising costs.

Spending more money means getting better players. The correlation between how much a team spends on its players and its league position is not perfect, but it is very high. It is the principal reason for success.

The new generation of American owners of England’s top clubs bring with them a completely different attitude, one which is completely normal in corporate life.

Success continues to be vital, as in any sphere of business activity. But a key purpose in America is for the club to treat it like any business and generate a profit.

This profound cultural difference does not mean football fans embrace socialism. Fans have few qualms about the stupendous amounts of money handed out to the top players. For example, Marcus Rashford of Manchester United has a contract reportedly of £10 million a year.  

American economist Sherwin Rosen, writing before the rise of the internet, explained the curious economic phenomenon behind activities such as watching a sport or going to a film. They all involve what economists call “joint consumption”.  

If I am watching United on the television, it does not matter how many other people are viewing at the same time. The game is still available for me to watch.  In contrast, if I book a table at a popular restaurant or a particular seat on a flight, no-one else can use it.

Rosen argued that advances in communications technology such as radio and television increased enormously the potential size of markets involving joint consumption.  

Being physically present at a live performance, whether opera or sport, is a different experience from watching it live on TV or streamed. True fans value the former, but the producers make money from the latter. It is the physical fans who cut up rough, but ultimately the global audience is far more important.

These fundamental points in economic theory mean that the pressure to form organisations such as the Super League will grow rather than decline.  

Poor King Canute is wrongly believed to have tried to order the tide to stop coming in.  Attempts to suppress some form of elite soccer competition emerging will eventually prove just as futile.

Paul Ormerod
As published in City AM Wednesday 28th April 2021
Image: Emirates Stadium via Flickr

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.