Economic Theory explained by Football – Part 4 – Value Proposition

In the fourth of articles, I try to explain why Dulwich Hamlet rather than most other teams were the real winners on Non-League Day back in September.

On the 6th September, Non-League Day broke all records, with over 50,000 fans attending games in the top three levels of the grassroots game.  One of the biggest crowds was at Champion Hill, home of Dulwich Hamlet, where 2,856 people saw their Ryman Premier League game.  More people attended the game against Hampton & Richmond Borough than at Football League matches at Accrington Stanley, Dagenham & Redbridge, Exeter City and Morecambe.  Pretty impressive, but why did they get so many people to that game?

dulwich-hamlet-non-league-day-1The answer can be found in a theory first proposed by US Economists Ayelet Gneezy and his brother, Uri.  Their research took them around the US, visiting Theme Parks (that is a real job apparently) and testing people’s propensity to part with cash.  Their concept was to sell photos of visitors on roller coasters under the principal of “Pay What You Want”.  Whilst their results showed that more people bought the pictures than when they were at a fixed price, the average price was so low that they actually made a loss.  BUT when it was announced that the Pay What You Want was coupled with a charitable cause, the price paid on average increased by nearly seven fold.  They summed up this behaviour as individuals feeling bad when they paid less than the perceived value for something if they knew the money was going to good causes.

So what has that got to do with Dulwich Hamlet?  Whilst many clubs announced free or pay what you want for Non-League Day, fans didn’t necessarily see the value in the game they were paying to watch.  Some, for instance had already paid to attend as season ticket holders, others were simply skin-flints.  However, couple it with a charitable element, such as Dulwich Hamlet did and people are willing to pay more for the same event, because if they simply paid what they felt the true value to be, they would inherently feel bad – us humans do have consciences after all.

Our own experiences of Pay What You Want back this theory up.  Back in March 2013, 405 attended our midweek game against Carshalton Athletic.  The first encounter had been abandoned due to floodlight failure, yet the re-arranged game saw a bigger than average midweek attendance.  In fact, the attendance was identical to that a few days later on a Saturday when Kingstonian visited.  The average payment was approximately £2.40 per head, about 60% less than we would normally take on a match day.  Compare that to a Pre-Season game, on a Friday, in peak holiday season in July against a team just promoted from the County League with little or no marketing.  An attendance of 250 for the game against East Grinstead Town was more than we expected, but what was very interesting was that they paid £2.50 on average.  Why? Because all of the takings were for charity.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is The Theory of Pay What You Want in a nutshell.

In praise of Non League Day

photo 3 (2)Non League Day.  The best day in the Non League calendar…bar the first round of the FA Cup…or the end of season play-off/relegation six pointer.  And the game after Christmas.  Heck.  Every day is the best day of the season in Non League football.  Non League fans do not need a special day to celebrate all that is great about the beautiful game in its purest form.

Non League Day is about encouraging fans who drive past their local Non League grounds without batting an eyelid every Saturday as they head off to their very expensive bit of plastic.  It is about them trying something new, like a bottle of Schoodlepip (latest beer being sold in the Dripping Pan) and maybe finding something that you like (unlike the Schoodlepip).  Every Non League club needs more fans, more money coming through the turnstiles and more volunteers to help keep the ship afloat.

Last week it was announced that the Premier League had spent over €1 billion in the Summer transfer window. ONE BILLION EURO.  That is simply obscene. Whilst clubs at the top level may think they aren’t a business, they are.  At some point they will need to get a return on investment.  TV deals, head-scratching commercial deals with random partners and selling the naming rights of every part of their stadiums bring in huge sums of money – so much these days that the fans have become almost irrelevant.  And when something doesn’t have a value anymore, you can charge as little or as much for it as you like.  And that is why ticket prices continue to rise, because many clubs actually no longer value the fans who buy the seats in the Fly Azabaijan Airways Family Stand.

photo 2 (2)Non League Day gives clubs an opportunity to boost the revenues for clubs that are in many cases living hand to mouth.  The big decision to make is whether to discount your admission prices or not.  Obviously clubs want to get as many through the gate as possible, but who is the target market?  Premier League and Championship fans?  Those who think nothing of paying up to £100 for a ticket.  So will £11 really make a dent in their wallets?  What does “value” mean to them?  Our approach was one to highlight what Non League football was all about – inclusion, community, decent food and beer.  Remember, this was trying to give people a reason to come back time and time again, so perhaps loss leading isn’t the best strategy here.  Of course, some clubs used the opportunity to promote other causes – Dulwich Hamlet’s offer of “pay what you want” would see all of the gate receipts, less their costs, going to charity.  That is a great gesture and ticks the community box completely.  Others, such as Bungay Town decided to offer a punnet of mushrooms to anyone coming to their game.  Was it a success?  Find out for yourself here (just a bit of Funghi).

We were fortunate that we were playing Wingate & Finchley, where one of their directors is Mike Bayly, co-founder and one of the driving forces behind Non League Day.  Plans were soon drawn up for our respective disability teams to play a curtain raiser and with the sun shining, the team on their longest winning streak of the season (one game, three days granted) and Sky Sports in town it promised to be a top afternoon.

Lewes 3 Wingate & Finchley 0 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 6th September 2014

The simple law of economics in football is if your team is winning, people will come and watch you, irrespective of the price.  Football fans want to see a winning team (unless they play like an Allardyce team of course). That is why it costs more to watch teams like Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United than it does to watch Stoke City, West Brom or Burnley.  A second consecutive win for the Rooks, this time more convincing and less nail-biting than Wednesday night ultimately made Non League Day for Lewes, although they did need a slice of luck to get all three points.

photo 1 (2)Up until eight days ago it was fair to say that Lady Luck had given Lewes a wide berth this season.  Couple that with some dreadful refereeing and we went into the game last Saturday against Hampton & Richmond Borough with just two points and on a run of four consecutive defeats and with three red cards.  Whilst the game at The Beveree ended in defeat, we played for long periods against ten men and really should have taken a point.  Then on Wednesday Grays lost two players to red cards, both perhaps a big harsh having seen the replays but finally got our first win.  Yesterday it was a snap decision from the referee late in the first half that changed the game.  A ball was whipped across the six yard box and Nathan Crabb, steaming in at the far post, was impeded.  Penalty?  Yes.  Red Card offence?  Harsh as Crabb wasn’t guaranteed to get to the ball. But we weren’t complaining as Miss Luck was flirting with us.  Dixon stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way.

Half-time saw us try and give away one of our much talked about Beach Huts for a game with a penalty kick competition.  Good laid plans and all that but as the teams re-emerged and we still had three people in the competition, having scored all of their spot kicks I had to use a bit of on-the-spot and out-of-the-box thinking to resolve the contest.  Paper, scissors, stone is an official FIFA approved method to determine a competition, right?

Lewes started the second half impressively, with Nicky Wheeler demonstrating all the tricks in his winger’s spell book.  It wasn’t long before the Rooks doubled the lead when Wheeler’s cross was headed home by Nathan Crabb at the near post.  Two became three in the last few minutes when another Wheeler cross was headed home by substitute Luke Blewden giving the score a slightly unfair reading but did the Wingate fans mind?  Absolutely not.  They greeted the final whistle with a conga around the pitch, under their Sid’s Army banner and wearing masks of Sid James.  Of course, Sid James.

The mood around the ground had transformed in just three days.  That’s the beauty of football.  Non League Day had been a winner for us and let’s hope that up and down the country some of those “on loan” fans see the beauty of the grass roots game and don’t leave it too long before they come back again.


Arrested development

Lewes v Met Police 2013 NLDIn the space of four years, Non League Day has become a fixture in our footballing calendar. Today, even Premier League fans are starting to realise that there is life outside of the sanitised environs of the greediest league in the world, and for the price of a Premier League burger, you can actually see a whole 90 minute match, standing where you want and even, whisper it quietly, in some ground, having a beer whilst the game is going on. For us Non-League fans there isn’t really anything special about the game this weekend. After all, every week is a Non-League Day. We don’t need to be converted, we saw the light some years ago. However, this year, against the backdrop of a record shopping spree by English clubs during the transfer window, it appears that even the big clubs are realising that they can help out their little neighbours by putting an advert in their programme or on their website for games this weekend. Even Sky Sports have got in on the act, spending some time down at The Pan this week understand what Non-League football is all about and why it offers such a cathartic alternative to the Premier League.

However, could the footballing authorities done more to help the Non-League game? Absolutely. Off the top of my head, how about these three ideas:-

1. With no Match Of The Day on the BBC on Saturday night, why don’t they take the cameras to three or four Non-League games this weekend? What a perfect showcase for the game. Every club has a story to tell, whether it is about famous fans, charming grounds or simply the Non-League fans themselves.

2. With three international “double-headers” per season, why don’t Premier League and Championship clubs play friendlies against local Non-League sides? After all, with squad sizes of 40 or more first team players, even the top sides would only lose half of their squad to international duty. So instead of them going on an extended binge, why not take a side down the road to play against their local Non-League side? The squad would get a decent run out and the Non-League club would get a massive revenue boost from an additional game which would likely bring in higher than average attendances. West Ham playing a friendly against Ilford, Clapton or Barking would keep the club afloat potentially for a couple of seasons.

3. What about Sky scrapping the charging model for its services for clubs that mean that the monthly subscription for Sky Sports is based on the rateable value of the ground. NOT the actual club house, but the ground, meaning that for a club like Lewes, Sky Sports would cost us over £850 PER MONTH. Just up the road, the Brewers Arms has a much lower rateable value, as it is significantly smaller than The Dripping Pan and so fans go there to watch their lunchtime game, spending money over the bar which could have gone towards the club coffers. Fanciful? Well, it seems BT Sport have the right idea, offering a flat rate of less than a quarter of the cost of Sky Sports. Continue reading

Hyde and Speak

The last few weeks have seen an upturn in the Daggers fortunes, with eight points garnered from the last four league games. Although it hasn’t propelled us as far up the table as we would probably have liked, it has at least given us a bit of breathing room above the teams that are still hovering around at the bottom.

Following on from last weeks nerve destroying win over Bradford, things took arguably a backwards step during the week, thanks to a 2-0 defeat at Southend in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Having missed the game, the text updates from Dagenham Dan were brief although his considered opinion was that I hadn’t missed much. So that was alright then.

To be honest, the JPT is the most likely route that we would have had of getting to Wembley, although given the calibre of teams in the southern half of the competition it would have taken a phenomenal run to get to within sight of the arch this year.  That still wouldn’t stop me using bet365 football betting though to put a couple of quid on just that event.

Still, that avenue is closed off for another year, and so all we have to look forward to now is the FA Cup, the Essex Senior Cup (which is a big trophy literally) and several months of league games. Still, it could be a whole lot worse.

Having decided (possibly against better judgement) to go to the England game last night, it is with a sense of relief that we might actually witness a proper game tonight, instead of a one way traffic kind of encounter. Today we make our first ever visit to the Proact Stadium, the just over two year old home of Chesterfield. Continue reading

Taming the Green Dragon

Bloody Iain Dowie. We can’t get away from him! Yesterday we were in Cheshunt where he started his career for the FA Cup tie with Southend Manor. Today it was a trip to Hendon for the Ryman League game with Lewes. Dowie made a name for himself at Claremont Road, scoring 47 times in less than 90 games for the Greens before Luton Town came knocking offering Hendon £30,000 for his services which is still their record transfer received.

During the seventies and eighties, Hendon were a real force in Non League football. They won the FA Amateur Cup back 1972 and went onto the the Champions League equivalent the following season for European amateur football. They also reached the third round of the FA Cup where they took Newcastle United to a replay after an amazing draw at St James Park. The past decade has been harsh on the club with relegations and financial worries which led the position where they could not continue to fund themselves.

Just two years ago Hendon were forced to leave their spiritual home at Claremont Road. There are a number of reasons how and why this happened which is not for these pages. After potential groundshares with Harrow Borough, Northwood and Staines Town were discussed, an agreement was reached with Wembley FC to share their Vale Farm ground.

Vale Farm sits in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, yet the two venues could not be more different. Luxury at Vale Farm is a spot standing behind the goal and culinary delights are provided from a mobile van. However, the pitch has always been a thing of beauty as opposed to the National Stadium’s one as was used by England for their preparations for the 1966 World Cup no less.

Today they are a thriving Community-owned club just like Lewes. In fact this was to be the first “All Community” game of the season and the crowds were out in force. Not only was this a celebration of Supporters Direct in action, but it was also a great excuse to continue to celebrate Non League Day. And that meant a chance to shake the hand of one of the three who played such a huge role in this year’s activities, Cyndee Mitchell, the beauty behind this year’s success (Sorry Mike/James).

If Sky Sports actually realised that football existed below the Football League then this game would have been the only choice for Super Sunday coverage. Top of the table Hendon, with a 100% record versus pre-season favourites Lewes with 3 wins out of 4. It was bound to be an absolute cracker. And to boot it was a bonus game for Non League Day which had proved so successful yesterday.

After the sunshine of yesterday we woke to the return of the proper English summer – rain. And not just a light shower, or some “drizzle”. We are talking about a tidal wave of rain. On the drive up to the game via Central London streets were flooded, people were swimming in the streets and I was passed by a canoe going down Cheapside. But we soldiered on through and pitched up at Vale Farm just before kick off. Five pounds admission for showing my West Ham v Leeds ticket (realising some value I never thought would occur) and in place just as the two teams emerged.

Hendon 2 Lewes 2 – Vale Farm – Sunday 4th September 2011
Well let’s start with the positives. Lewes ended Hendon’s 100% record; the rain stopped and the sun came out and keeper Stuart Robinson didn’t get his leg broken. The negatives? Well it can be summed up by two words – Bloody referee. It was supposed to be Benjamin Furneaux but he obviously got stuck in the water so instead we had an unnamed chap who obviously just turned up in a black jumper. All we can hope was there was a referee’s assessor on duty at Vale Farm and Mr Furneaux imposter, and his assistants I might add, get “re-assigned” for retraining.

It started well enough for Lewes. Just two minutes were on the clock when Michael Malcolm snaffled (I love that word) the ball in the six yard box and Lewes were one to the good before most of the Rooks were out from the bar. GOOOOAAAAAAAAL shouted Big Deaksy, loud enough for Cynical Dave to hear. Why would that be an issue, you may ask, considering Dave is such a loyal Lewes fan. In fact he hasn’t missed a game for years. Well today he did. He was actually in a pub in Lords (Cricket, not religious miracle) sheltering from the rain. Cynical Dave? Fair weather Dave as Mr Marber said.

As with previous weeks Lewes bossed the game, snaffling (that word again) out any threat from Hendon and trying to get the ball wide to Ciardini and Kamara. If there was to be a second it was going to go in at our end. That was until our friend the referee got involved. With the half hour approaching, the linesman deemed that in the process of taking a drop kick, keeper Stuart Robinson had stepped outside of his area. Harsh as the ball appeared to be in mid air at the time but perhaps if the official concentrated on penalising blatant foul throws with the same vigour it wouldn’t have been so bad. From the resultant free kick Godfrey smashed a great free kick through the fragile Lewes wall to level the scores.

As I wandered around the pitch enjoying my burger I had a perfect view of Lewes’s penalty incident…or should I say lack of it. Have a look at the picture on the right expertly taken by Mr Boyes. Malcolm is clean through on goal. The ball is not running away from him, and the number 6 is the last defender. It would have taken a dive and a half to end up in that position should the offence have taken place outside the area, but that is exactly what the tin pot referee decided happened. The linesman, who was bang on level with play and in front of me, and three substitutes also saw the incident but refused to flag, telling the subs that “It was the referee’s call”. Sorry mate, you bottled the big decision. So instead of a penalty and an hour against ten men, Lewes had a free kick against eleven.

After a brief refuel in the club bar thanks to Narrow The Angle it was back to the action. Again it was Lewes who looked the most dangerous and it was no surprise that the Rooks again took the lead. It was that man Malcolm again, like a fox in the box, pouncing on a mistake by the keeper in handling a corner and smashing the ball home. Two almost became three when Aaron Watson’s Ricky Villa-esque run was thwarted by a great last gasp tackle in the area.

But the remaining action was to happen at the far end of the pitch. Firstly Ngoyi was able to capitalise on some poor defending from a set piece for Hendon and he drove the ball home to equalise, and then substitute Aaron Morgan was red carded for a shocking late tackle on keeper Stuart Robinson. Robinson was incensed with the tackle that left a huge gash in his sock and had to be restrained from getting physical with the Hendon player. However, the referee then bizarrely booked Robinson for time wasting as he changed his sock. If he hadn’t then his shin pad would have fallen out, which as we all know these days, is also a bookable offence!

Lewes brought on new signing Nanetti (“In the” to his team mates) and his jinking run and shot was well saved by Laurencin to bring the curtain down on an entertaining game.

So Lewes brought the Green Dragon’s 100% record to an end, but must feel aggrieved that one man had such an influence on the result. The good news was that the display had been the most positive we had seen this year, and the emergence of wide men galore in Ciardini, Watson and now Nanetti means Lewes will be a cracking side to watch this season.

Next up – Aveley and possibly the best match poster of all time!.

An alternative view can be found from this excellent website. More pictures from the game can be found here.