Domestic inequality: a recipe for European Success?

17 Nov

A few years back in an influential book, The Spirit Level, the authors made the argument that  among developed nations high levels of income inequality result in more crime, lower life expectancy and more obesity among other things. Their view was clear – inequality is a bad thing. And it is a view that many subscribe to, but when it comes to football is the reverse true? Is inequality actually a good thing?

One striking example of inequality being correlated with footballing success is Spain. The national team have enjoyed a period of international dominance with a World Cup win 2010, bookended by European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012. Spanish clubs have also collected four European Cup wins since 2006 yet, with the exception of Athletico’s win in 2013/14, you have to go back to 2004 to find a winner outside the big two.

Similarly there are many who rail against the inequality of the premier league era. If the national team has not quite enjoyed the success of the Spanish, then English clubs three European Cup wins since 2005 puts them second only to their Spanish counterparts.

Could there be a relationship between the two? Does an unequal domestic league equal success at a European level?

There is a logic to this. Top clubs in unequal leagues are more likely to be assured of qualification to the Champions League, or the Europa League. This provides them and their players with regular experience of top-level continental competition. It also provides them with assured access to greater revenues through broadcast rights, ticket sales and sponsorship opportunities.

Clubs are then more likely to be able to attract top players whose financial lust and ambition can be equally sated. Importantly too clubs can engage in long-term planning with a much lower level of uncertainty. On the other hand clubs who face much tougher domestic competition to qualify for Europe will have much less experience, will not have assured access to revenues, and will find it difficult to plan long-term as qualification is not necessarily a given.

One way to measure a leagues level of equality is to look at the spread of wins. From this can be calculated coefficient of variation (in technical terms this is the percentage of the standard deviation against the league average). A high number means that the number of wins is far more spread out, therefore we can assume the league is more unequal.

I’ve done this for ten top leagues in the 2011/12 season. Against this I’ve taken the UEFA correlation points that that countries clubs achieved from European competition for the next season, 2012/13.

Correllation Coefficient of Var

As can be seen, there is no real relationship at all, so it would seem that European success is indifferent to the relative equality level of a countries domestic league. There is though a paradox at work. Taking Spain, if we exclude Real and Barca, then the Spanish Primera Division is actually incredibly equal, in 2011/12 just one win separated 7th and 17th place. It is, in effect, a duopoly. The coefficient of variation, takes the whole league into account, but in terms of European success, what matters most is the relationship of the teams at the very top to the rest of the field.

Now, instead of using the coefficient of variation, I’ve taken the difference in league wins between the club finishing in second place and the club finishing third. This measures how far ahead of the field the top two clubs are.

Correlation wins Uefa

This time the result does suggest a pattern – the larger the difference between second and third the better the nations collective performance in Europe the next season. In fact the correlation coefficient comes in at 0.64. Although important to remember this is just a snapshot it does suggest there may possibly be a relationship between how far ahead the top two clubs are in terms of their domestic league and how successful their European campaigns the next season are.

Conference Clubs on Twitter – who has the most followers?

8 Nov

Recently I argued in several places that Twitter was a really good way of gauging clubs support, particularly for the top clubs who may have similar sized stadia – and therefore similar average attendances, but who may have very different levels of national, continental and even global following. At the other end of the scale though, among non-league sides, Twitter is also popular way of engaging with supporters.

As with the Football league clubs I collated the number of Twitter followers and tweets made by all clubs in the Conference Premier, Conference North and Conference South. This was done all in one day, the 26th October. ‘The task was made slightly more complicated by the fact that unlike the league clubs who all have a verified official accounts with Conference clubs this was more the exception. Several clubs were also represented by fan-run, unofficial accounts.

Conference Median

In the Conference Premier the median average number of followers was 8098. The figures for both the Conference North and South were unsurprisingly lower, though interestingly clubs in the Conference North had, on average, a greater number of followers than clubs in the Conference South. Taking the figures gathered for clubs in the Football League over the summer, and combining with the Conference figures for October, it is possible to – if not make a fully robust comparison – at least see where the average for the Conference sits in relation to the other divisions. As can be seen the average declines sharply between the Premier League and Championship, before becoming more gradual.

Twitter FL and Conf

Looking at the numbers on a club by club basis the top ten is dominated by ex-football league clubs. First place, in the Conference Premier, is occupied by Bristol Rovers whose verified @Official_BRFC account boasts 26,600 followers: This is over seven times greater than bottom club Alfreton Town. Joining them in the bottom five are four clubs who have recently achieved promotion from the Conference South.

Twitter Conf Prem 2

Looking next at the Conference North there comes a surprise – Hyde FC’s official accounts @hydefclive 43,800 followers. Repeated checks have ensured that this is not a typo or other error. This actually puts Hyde’s number of followers on par with many Championship clubs, and above most League One clubs. As the graph shows however, this is a total outlier. 2nd place club – and former Football League members – Stockport County only manage 10,300 by comparison.

Conf North twitter

There is no such outlier in the Conference South. Lead club Sutton @suttonunited manage 6,165 followers. This would put them in 8th place in the Conference North. The Conference South also seemed to feature many more fan run accounts with Havant & Waterlooville, Maidenhead United, Whitehawk, bishops Stortford and Wealdstone all being fan operated.

conf South Twitter

the differences between the Conference North and South would seem to be reflected in terms of attendances – the current average attendance, according to thelinnets.co.uk, stands at 631 and 482 respectively.

Looking at tweets made it is a Conference South club which leads the field. the fan-run @Wealdstone_FC account has, since starting in November 2009, made 40, 700 tweets to what currently stands as 3,916 followers. In second place is former league outfit and 2012/13 FA Trophy winners Wrexham AFC who’s official @Wrexham_AFC account has issued 26,100 tweets since its setting up in July 2009.

Prolific tweeters2

Town, United & City – Which Team Names are the Most Popular

29 Oct

I had a bit of time on my hands today and like you do, started wondering about the names of football teams, or to be more precise their suffixes: City, United, Albion and the like. 10 minutes later, by the combined power of Google and MS Excel, I had in my hands a list.

Wordle club suffixes 3

A Wordle of all club suffixes from the Premier League to the Conference Premier

 

Taking the top five tiers from the Premier League to the Conference Premier the most popular team name was ‘Town’ as in Huddersfield Town, Swindon Town and Braintree Town. In total 17 teams were named ‘Town’. Second most popular was ‘United’ as in Leeds United, Manchester United and Sheffield United, which accounted for 15 teams. Completing the top three was ‘City’ with this suffix being sported by no fewer than 14 clubs. Outside of this pack Rovers in fourth place mustered a mere five clubs, with Athletic on four and Albion, County and Wanderers all on three.

Most pop suffixes to albion

 

Where this gets interesting though is if we compare the distribution of the teams named ‘Town’ and ‘City’

Graph Town and City

 

As we can see there is a clear pattern here with clubs named ‘City’ more represented in the higher divisions and those named ‘Town’ better represented in the lower divisions. The explanation, of course, would seem to be that clubs from large settlements (i.e Cities) are more likely to possess the support and resources necessary to be successful at the top level compared to clubs from smaller settlements (i.e Towns). Stating the obvious perhaps, but still interesting nonetheless.

English League Attendances: The not so good news

24 Oct

If the headline figures are to be believed, English football attendances are in fine health. These graphs, based on data from the European Football Statistics website, though should worry English football clubs (and fans) a lot.

Attendances14

attendances 2008 14

Despite the Premier League reaching average attendance levels on a par with the late 1940s peak, growth has effectively tailed off. This is also the case for the Championship and League One and League Two which have seen attendances continue to stagnate for much of the past decade.

There are two key issues. For Premier League clubs the issue is one of capacity. This has been around 95% for some time and for some clubs and some games demand is much, much higher than capacity. This has effectively slowed the attendance growth which coincided with the ambitious post-Taylor report stadia building programmes of the 90s and 00s. For clubs this is, in the short term, no problem. The supply-demand mismatch means they simply charge more for tickets for the most popular games.

It is however, bad for the fans who are priced out and in the long-term it is also more of an issue. Eventually a maximum point will be reached at which prices can no longer be raised and clubs will need to invest in stadia expansion to boost matchday income (that is if demand continues to rise). There is some relief around the corner though; QPR, Tottenham, Liverpool and West Ham are all clubs with plans to carry out large scale stadia programmes in the forthcoming years.

For the bottom two divisions League One and League Two, the issue is not so much one of limited capacity, but one of limited demand. It is therefore a surprise to see that in the BBC price of football survey the average cost of the cheapest matchday tickets have risen by 31.7% in League One and 19% in League Two. This begs the question: Are these clubs banking on the resilience of their core supporters to put up with these increases? If so then it suggests that clubs are here are equally focused on the short term target of squeezing revenue out of existing supporters than the more long term aim of expanding their supporter base.

 

What became of the football blogging class of 2011?

14 Oct
blog titles

What happens when you put the title of every blog on the Guardian 100 list into Wordle

Concluding my three part series into football blogging this was meant to be a section.  On December the 31st 2011 James Dart of the Guardian published a list ‘100 football blogs to follow in 2011.’ It was a huge moment for blogging, more than just a moment of recognition it was an acknowledgement that football blogging had really transformed football writing..

The class of 2011 is in many ways blogging’s equivalent of Man U’s much lauded class of 1992; the pride of the blogging world, the freshest, the most promising. The question I wanted an answer to though is where are they now?

So I clicked through every blog in the 100. Just under four years on how many of the 100 are still active?

Guardian blogs 2

Just under half of the blogs featured on the list are still active. A similar number though appear inactive whilst a small number seem to  be dormant with their last post dating from August 2014. Interestingly some of the inactive blogs contained final posts which shed some light on the bloggers reasoning for calling it quits (and it will come as no surprise to those who have read the results from my blogging survey that time features particularly prominently).

In a post titled ‘The last post’ and dated Monday the 6th February 2012 Danny Last of European Football Weekends looks forward to a life beyond blogging when he says:

This will be the last post on European Football Weekends. But hey, don’t be shedding any tears – it’s been a thunderously good ride. At the start of 2012 I decided to take a little break from EFW, and see how things panned out. I’ve enjoyed that freedom so much that it now feels right to hang up the old keyboard. You don’t realise how much time it eats up until you stop. 

Other bloggers point to a change in their circumstances. For Tim Hill of the blog Talking About Football  2011 was definitely not the ‘year of the blog’ – on March 22nd of that year he explained his decision to quit blogging:

This is not a article  on how Tesla’s work on electromagnetism is subsumed within the football of Eastern Europe in the late 1970s. I wish it was, but it isn’t. No, it’s a post explaining the scarcity in posts recently.

Truth is, I’m engaged in work that has had me away from football since the turn of the year. To my knowledge, Roy Hodgson is still in charge at Liverpool, Gareth Bale is the best player in the world and Andy Gray & Richard Keys are respectable members of the Sky Sports team. I know no different.

I’ll be gracing the internet with my #newseriousness tag at the start of the summer.

Dominic Pollard was another blogger on the 100 list to quit in 2011. In a post titled ‘A Fond Farewell’ he says

Between having to finish my Masters dissertation and getting a new job, the time and focus is no longer there for me to continue running the blog with anything like the regularity and consistency that I would like. Thankfully there are many far better blogs than this which are thriving and growing all the time, all of which I intend to continue to read and recommend.

Rob Marr of dormant blog Left Back in the Changing Room, similarly points to a change of circumstances leaving him with less time to blog – though he signals his hope for a comeback. In a post on the 11th August this year he says:

I’ll be taking a bit of a break from the blog. Two weeks ago I became a father and, as you will either know or can imagine, this has left me previous little blogging time.

I shall return.
RCM
In all fairness it has only been two months, but will he like Danny Last  find the freedom from blogging liberating and move on, or find that he just doesn’t have the time to return? Time will tell.
Of course the story isn’t all doom, gloom and disillusioned, time-strapped bloggers. Some of the class of 2011 have gone on to greater things. Adam Bate, of the blog Ghostgoal – which is still (but only just) active writes in a post earlier this year about how blogging helped to open the door to a dream career:
I work for Sky Sports as a football feature writer. It’s my first full-time writing job. And yet, my dad is a retired mechanic from Wolverhampton. He’s not the editor of Sky Sports. In fact, I had no contacts in the industry. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did have some contacts. I wrote a blog. I was a blogger.
For  at least 46 bloggers though they continue pretty much as they had done when they had been on the cusp of 2011 – still blogging.

Were you blogging in 2011, or were you one of the bloggers in the 100 list? If so please leave a note about your blog and how things have changed since 2011 – whether you’re still blogging, or enjoying life after blogging!  

The Geography of Fandom: The Three Levels of a Football Clubs Support

6 Oct

 

In an attempt to locate the boundary between the supporters of Southampton and Portsmouth (all evidence does point to Park Gate/Locks Heath) I carried out a small-scale survey which involved a total of 161 self-identified supporters of either club (87 Southampton supporters and 74 Portsmouth supporters). Using an online questionnaire I asked people which club they supported and the first half of their postcode. Despite some contraversy about Gosport and Emsworth this showed some interesting things about both sets of supporters and their geographic distribution

Supporter geography stacked bar

For both teams, a significant number of supporters resided within the city boundaries. In the case of Southampton this was 23.0% and Pompey 33.8%

A great deal of supporters also appeared to live in a relatively concentrated area. Taking the top four postcodes for each club reveals the extent of this. In Southampton this was SO18, SO16, SO19 and SO31 (all but one of which are within the city boundary) which were collectively home to 23.0% of Saints supporters. For Pompey the concentration was even higher with 27% of supporters calling PO2, PO4, PO3, or PO6 (all within the city boundary) home.

Looking at the areas surrounding each city 24.1% of Southampton supporters live in the SO postcode area and Isle of Wight while 25.7% of Portsmouth supporters came from the PO area outside the city. It needs to be considered however, that this area is geographically much larger and contains more postcode areas. In fact if we look at the density of supporters per postcode area within the city boundary and outside it there is a dramatic drop. If we treat the Isle of Wight separately there were in the survey are 4.2 responding Portsmouth supporters per postcode area within Portsmouth, however for the wider PO area outside the city (excluding the IOW) this drops to 1.0. Similarly for Southampton the figures are 3.3 and 0.9 respectively

amrnded postcode average

Looking further afield 52.9% of Southampton supporters reside completely outside the combined SO postcode area and the Isle of Wight. The figure for Portsmouth supporters beyond the realms of the PO boundary is a much lower 40.5%. In this category are both supporters from areas such as Guildford, Reading and the New Forest, but many also come from much further afield, as far as Singapore.

What all this tells us is that support for Portsmouth is much more localised – 59.5% of the support-base resides in Portsmouth, or the surrounding area, whilst this is 47.1% for Southampton. This is probably to be expected from a team in League Two as compared to a team in the higher profile Premier League and no doubt looking at teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea, or Manchester United we would see a much greater proportion of supporters from outside their geographic areas, while for Eastleigh and Havant & Waterlooville support is even more likely to be concentrated in a small geographic area.

This all led me to create my general theory of clubs support:

Essentially a club has three layers of support, support within the city (or in the case of other teams the town, or village), support from the surrounding area and support from outside the area.

Within the city

Within the city boundaries can be found areas of concentrated support. In many of these areas there will be visual reminders of the club such as, memorabilia in pubs and cafes, or murals in club colours. In the immediate area is the City, which in almost all cases gives the club its name. The club is close and features in peoples conceptions of identity. There are also however, some areas  within the city of very low support density – such as areas with a high number of students.

The surrounding area

Although a club can expect a similar proportion of its supporters to be from the area’s immediately around the city as from within the city boundary the level of support is considerably less concentrated.  There is less importance to identity, though there may be an importance in terms of those who previously lived in the city, or who work there. People in these areas may also be more likely to choose to support local non-league clubs, or to support a big club such as Arsenal, Liverpool, or Manchester United.

Outside the area

These are those who support the club, but who live outside the city and the surrounding area: The bigger the club, the higher the proportion of supporters from outside their area. Supporters may have old ties to the city having lived there, studied there, or worked there, or have a relative who fits into one of those categories. Similarly they may also hold an attachment to the club based on some kind of affection for an aspect of the side, or the way they play.

graphic support

A diagram to show the three spheres of a clubs support-base

 

I once read Wendy Fonarow’s (1995) ‘The Spatial Organization of the Indie Music Gig’ which looked at the make-up on an indie gig in terms of the mosh-pit, the middle and the back. In this all three groups felt a closeness for different reasons – those at the front, in the mosh-pit interacted with the music physically, those in the middle claimed to have the best acoustics and those at the back because they were the friends, families, roadies and sound-techs. In a sense people in all three areas can feel closeness to the club. Those in the city feel it is a core part of their identity; those outside the city feel that they are making a conscious choice to stay in contact with the city, choosing to support the local club despite having arguably greater freedom to wander. Those far away choose to support the club, either to feel a connection to the city, or else have demonstrated their support by choosing the club out of a whole plethora of other clubs they could have supported.

Super Blogs, Content Shock and the Blogging Eco-System

3 Oct

One thing which occasionally gets mentioned in discussions around football blogging is the subject of the super-blog, or the mega blog. There is though no definitive definition of what constitutes a super-blog, but it can generally be taken to refer to one a blog which receives a very large amount of visitor traffic compared to other blogs – in other words an outlier.

In the survey bloggers were asked for their usual numbers of visitors with the top category being 1,000+ visitors per day. In total seven bloggers reported visitors in this top category. In the category immediately below 500-999 there were only two bloggers and the category beneath this 250-499 only three. By contrast just under half of bloggers reported receiving less than 99 visitors per day.

Blog visitors

The disparity between traffic is made clear if we assume that the seven receive the minimum 1,000 views per day whilst each of the remaining 34 blogs (one response was a Don’t know) received daily views at the maximum end of their category ranges. This rough-reckoning suggests that between them the 34 receive a maximum of 7,116 daily visitors while the seven receive a minimum 7,000 visitors. Therefore at the very least the super-blogs account for just under half of total traffic.

As the survey is limited in length it is hard to tell what sets the super-blogs apart in terms of their characteristics. One possible explanation though is age. Older more established blogs may have an advantage in possessing a readership and to benefit from search engine rankings. All but one of the 1000+ visitors per day blogs had been run by a blogger who had run football blogs for at least three years, with three being in the 5 years plus category. This characteristic alone though did not distinguish them as there were many other blogs operated by bloggers who have been football blogging for five years and over who reported having visitors in the less than fifty category.

The key difference between these 1000+ view-a-day blogs and the rest of the field appears to be the frequency of posting. All four of the respondents who reported posting on a daily basis were running 1000+ visitor-a-day blogs and an additional two respondents among the group reported their posting frequency as being more than weekly, but less than daily. What’s more it appears that many of these are planning on increasing their activity levels. Five out of the seven reporting that they expect their activity levels to increase over the next twelve months.

Blog int by visitors

It is here that I want to introduce another concept, that of ‘content shock’. This is the term used by Mark Schaefer who blogs on marketing (this link was made by Jake on the blog The Inside Channel). To begin with Schaefer conjures up a golden age

Let’s say that in 2009 I spent 5 hours a week creating content that would be consumed by my blog readers. This was a happy time because not only was the content competition weak, consumption was dramatically increasing too — more people were piling on to the web, on to social media, and on to mobile devices that extended the amount of time each day they could consume content.

His argument is that now however, thanks to content multiplying far faster than our capacity to consume said content we are approaching (or have already reached) the point of ‘content shock’.

What this means for bloggers, as content producers, is essentially the law of diminishing returns; the same effort now produces less impact in terms of readers than previously. As one blogger in the survey mentioned their biggest challenge was

Being satisfied with far less pageviews than articles of comparable quality would get 3 years ago.

How then to overcome this? In a follow up to his initial post Schaefer discusses strategies for overcoming content shock, stating that:

The only sustainable content strategy is to find an unsaturated niche and overwhelm the web with so much quality content that search engines only discover you. Effectively, you are creating content shock for your competitors.

You don’t necessarily have to be the best content creator if you are in this situation, but you have to be first and overwhelming. This is an uneasy fact we don’t often discuss but it is true.

What he calls a ‘shock and awe’ approach would seem to be a strategy which many bloggers would find difficult; As we also know from the survey one particular issue among bloggers is time. Any individual blogger seeking to post daily is also very likely to quickly achieve burn-out and/or run short on ideas.

If we choose accept this part of Schaefer’s arguments it would seem that in this new landscape the blogs which are better adapted to the environment are the ones which are more of a collective endeavour and benefit from at least several writers, or a community of writers. In fact Chris Nee defines the super blog as

sites that are written by (a large number of) multiple authors and have a layer of editing

It is these blogs which can best produce the necessary volumes of quality content to thrive in the current landscape.

There are of course counter arguments. Another marketing expert Joe Pulizzi suggested that content shock is something which will not occur. Using the analogy of the newsstand (think the magazine section in a large WH Smith’s) Pulizzi points to the developing of niches. This mirrors a debate which is also ongoing in football blogging. Beyond a doubt there is more crowding-out than before, but as one blogger in the survey drew attention to some areas they feel are underrepresented.

There need to be more good club blogs, especially in the lower divisions.

Others have pointed to similar areas of underrepresentation, women’s football for instance and in my personal experience I also find the posts which receive most attention relate to Wessex League football, a level which appears to be comparatively free of bloggers..

Pulizzi is also confident that real quality can still rise to the top, but beyond this he also talks of innovation and new platforms. In the context of football blogging this ties in with a discussion about whether blogging is more than just the likes of WordPress and Blogger.

Returning to the issue of the super-blogs, are they a bad thing?  Not necessarily. Many super-blogs have achieved their positions quite simply because they are good, very good. Think IBWM which manages to present an alternative to the mainstream and has maintained a distinct identity. It more than fully deserves its super-blog status. Even if there are lots of blogs which are creating content shock, there will always be a niche so long as your only area of interest isn’t Arsenal’s tactics (or if it is you’d need to be a sublimely brilliant writer)

As Chris Nee also points out occupying niches has been blogging’s biggest achievement

Football blogging is, in some places, still doing what it’s always done: providing quality coverage of the game where nobody else is bothering

To sum up in an increasingly crowded blogosphere super-blogs are those which are best adapted to survival in the current cyber-ecosystem. There do though remain niches where smaller blogs can survive and even thrive. The fundamental question though is what motivates someone to blog? It would be disingenuous to say that bloggers shouldn’t care about hits, but chasing hits is for the vast majority of bloggers is clearly now a fools-errand. Bloggers need to be seeking a different over-riding purpose, whether that’s as the case of the Caribbean Football blog to raise awareness of Caribbean football, or if it’s ultimately simply a case of having fun.

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