Economic Theory explained by Football – Part 7 – The Veblen Effect

In the seventh of his deep-thinking articles, our in house Economist Stuart Fuller demonstrates why lowering ticket prices is a bad thing.

Hands up who wants a Rolls-Royce?  Ok, apart from Cynical Dave and Deaks who can’t drive.  We would all love to own one, right?  But it is just a dream for when we win the lottery, or England enjoys Sahara-like conditions and the solar panels on the roof of the Main Stand pay us a fortune.  But what if they reduced the price by 90%?  Would you still want one then if every Tom, Dick and Deaks could afford one?  Second thoughts eh?  That is the Veblen effect for you.

15791879632_0be24a2e8b_kThorstein Veblen* came up with this theory back in 1899.  Sheffield United had just won the FA Cup and paraded the trophy at Bramall Lane.  Veblen was unhappy that only a few thousand fans were in the ground, singing a version of Annie’s Song that was so cruelly credited to John Denver nearly eighty years later.  He hated the fact that it was an “Exclusive” club, with ticket prices kept high to keep out the riff-raff.  “Let them eat Eccles Cake” he famously said, referring them to becoming Sheffield Wednesday fans.

Veblen’s theory was relatively simple.  He noted that some types of luxury goods, such as high-end wines, designer handbags, luxury cars and tickets to see United were prestige items, or as he liked to call them, Veblen goods.  He noted that in decreasing their prices, people’s preference for buying them also diminished because they are no longer perceived as exclusive or high-status products. Similarly, a price increase may increase that high status and perception of exclusivity, thereby making the goods even more preferable.  So he argued that Sheffield United should actually increase their ticket prices to drive up attendances.

Even a Veblen good is subject to the dictum that demand moves conversely to price, although the response of demand to price is not consistent at all points on the demand curve meaning that it is not simply good enough for a football club to slash its prices as people will not see any value at all in what is now on offer (See our previous article on Pay What You Want Theory).

It seems someone in the Premier League found Veblen’s original work in a drawer when moving desks at Premier League HQ a few years ago and passed the idea across to the Premier league clubs who immediate put their ticket prices up thinking the fans will flock through the gates.  They were wrong, Veblen was wrong and yes, we all want a Rolls-Royce for the price of a Lada.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Veblen Theory in a nutshell.

*Whilst Veblen came up with the theory, it is unclear whether he really was a Sheffield United fan.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Economic Theory explained by Football – Part 7 – The Veblen Effect

  1. Nobody needs a Rolls Royce. If you can afford one you haven’t used your time in fortunate financial circumstances to consider how you obtained so much money. Did you share the income with your employees? Did you charge your customers too much? Fans want to watch football and see their team win. They don’t want to support a football industry that rakes off a profit at the expense of their national or local teams. There should be a minimum wage or pension and there should be a maximum income, otherwise rich individuals will be (and already are) richer and more powerful than entire nations. Democracy cannot survive in that environment and neither can football as a career choice for thousands of talented and enthusiastic fans and players.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s