Premier league fans want big names, not unpredictability

A LUMS economist has found that British TV audiences are less interested in watching competitive matches than they once were, instead favouring top talent.

Using data from the British Audience Research Board (BARB), Professor Rob Simmons, together with Dr Babatunde Buraimo of Liverpool University, examined the impact of unpredictability of outcome on the size of TV audiences.

The team conducted a study of 631 out of the 660 Premier League games that were televised from 2000-01 to 2007-08.The other 29 games were excluded as the data for these matches was not available.

They studied the wage bills of every Premier League club for each of the seasons and they also examined the odds for every game to assess the unpredictability of each fixture.

For each of these 631 matches they included other factors into their analysis, such as how well each team was doing in the league, the day the matches were played on, and whether the game was a derby.

The researchers found that until the 2002-03 season, if a match had a high level of uncertainty of outcome it would, on the whole, lead to higher viewing figures; but by 2008 that was no longer the case.

This coincides with an increase in the quality of talent – indicated by clubs’ wage bills – in the Premier League.

The higher the "combined relative wage" – the two clubs’ wage bills compared to other teams – the greater the TV audience for the match. TV audiences have a preference for matches in which the quality of football is high.

Professor Simmons explained: “Our results confront traditional wisdom which attempts to maximise uncertainty of outcome in professional sports.

“The classic notion of a pure sporting competition in which the outcome is unpredictable has clearly been replaced by a preference for sporting entertainment delivered by superstars.

“The implications of our findings are that the league, and its clubs, should reconsider their policies and prioritise attracting the best players.”

The research is published in the International Journal of the Economics of Business.