Is financial doping making sport more boring?
Financial doping has been cited by several high profile sports figures, such as Arsene Wenger, as a threat to sports integrity. This summer’s transfer of Neymar Jr to PSG football club is seen as a high water mark for financial doping to date. The term financial doping was coined to describe using money to strengthen sports teams. Roman Abramovic’s Chelsea FC is a significant early example. You simply use money to attract better players, pay more than your competitors and if necessary also buy their best players. This leads to the key question as to whether this makes sport more predictable and therefore more boring. One of sports great appeals is unpredictability, the anxiety and excitement of what could be. Sports where you can predict the winner every time tend to be unengaging. Although, judging by the huge sums being paid for football TV rights spectators continue to be very interested.
To analyse if financial doping makes sport predictable we need to establish whether there is a correlation between wealthier teams and more success. If you look at Premier League football wage bills, they generally reflect premier league finishing position, the Olympic medal table also directly correlates with the expenditure of sports programmes in the respective countries- so wealth = success. Unfortunately there is an obvious issue with this correlation- success brings in money. As a result we are unsure which comes first, wealth or success? The wealth discrepancy in sports can broadly be placed into two categories- clubs who have long standing size and wealth, such as the New York Yankees, or clubs with more recent cash injections, such as Manchester City FC. As such, if we analyse only the clubs that have received large financial injections, from wealthy individuals or state ownership, we may be able to draw a fairer conclusion. Chelsea FC, Manchester City FC, and PSG are all good examples. Chelsea was the first to be bought, in (2003), Manchester City later (2008) and PSG last (2011). If we compare success rates for an equivalent time period pre and post cash injection we can gain some insight. For Chelsea the 14 years from 1989 to 2002 yielded one second division win, two FA cups, one league cup and the cup winners cup- so a total of 5 pieces of silverware, most of which are considered second tier. From 2003 to present however Chelsea have won 5 premier league titles, 4 FA cups, The Champions League and Europa League, giving a total of 11, 10 considered top level. Manchester City’s 9 years pre-money yields no wins, the period since has 4, including two Premier League titles. PSG had not won the French league since 1994, but since buy out they have won 4 in just 6 years. Clearly this is not an extensive list of all football teams analysed by financial clout, nor does it consider all sports but it does show a strong theme.
Financial doping, as you may choose to call it, increases success. Money talks; the Champions League competition is filled year after year with roughly the same teams, the winners can be predicted at the start from a maximum of 8-10 possible clubs. Money appears to maintain increased chances of success, even if it doesn’t guarantee it. It appears impossible for other clubs to break the mould without cash injections. Fortunately for the unpredictability of sport extra money doesn’t appear guarantee the success, there are plenty of examples of rich sports clubs struggling to win trophies- Manchester United have been consistently the richest club in the world for many years but struggled to win top trophies since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Ferrari F1 motor sports team are consistently the wealthiest but have not been dominant for many years either. The competitiveness may only be being maintained due to the vast wealth of many different clubs diminishing the differences. You could say that wealth and success in sport is self-affirming; having one boosts the other and visa-versa. However, if the trend continues the sports could be at risk of becoming too predictable and more boring.