This paper of free markets and liberal economics may not, you might think, be in favour of a new regulator. But a new referee for the business side of the beautiful game is not one to be dismissed out of hand. In fact, it has plenty going for it.
At first principles, the best results for consumers tend to occur from freer markets. Competition drives prices down and quality up, so the argument goes. But even those free markets occasionally need a watchdog; for all the many frustrations created by the FCA or Ofgem or whoever else, few genuinely believe markets should operate without some sort of arbiter. By ensuring there is a level playing field – ideally with only as many rules as absolutely necessary – the best performers can still thrive.
But what of a busted market, like English football? Our columnist Paul Ormerod argued yesterday that the incentives – spend big, win big, and to hell with the consequences – mean that a regulator is unlikely to stop the excesses of modern football. Fan ownership may even exacerbate them without board members willing to say ‘no’. On matters of ownership and ‘heritage assets,’ the English Football League and the Premiership of course already have the powers to stop ‘unfit’ owners taking charge of community clubs, albeit those powers are left largely unused.
Should a regulator step in to stop a community club, with new ownership, pursuing promotion to the Premier League – only to fail to do so, and risk a century-long institution going pop as a result? Instinctively, it doesn’t seem so – just as it wouldn’t have been right for regulators to stop the aggressive management of RBS trashing that historic brand in the run-up to the financial crisis, so well-chronicled by Iain Martin.
But football is different. The top of the game still needs the bottom of the pyramid; Harry Kane spent time playing for Millwall and Leyton Orient before establishing himself in the Spurs and England team. Money has to flow down, too. Sustainability of an industry matters – and a light-touch regulator may ensure the football-playing goose keeps laying the golden eggs.