Thursday, 4 August 2011

Does Seven into Five Go?

Following his recent election to the Football League board Carlisle United Chief Executive John Nixon gave the world his killer idea to safeguard the future of lower league football and keep clubs living within their means - reducing the number of matchday subs a side is able to name from seven to five. The motion was duly brought and passed so, as of this Saturday, club benches the country over will be bearing rather less weight than they've become accustomed to.

Nixon's rationale seemed sensible; the measure would save the 72 league clubs an aggregate figure of £10 million pounds, no drop in the ocean when it comes to the funding of what are, essentially, hand to mouth social enterprises. His track record of stabilising a hitherto shaky Carlisle will surely have carried sway with those who saw him as a sage and wise advisor.

It hasn't gone down well universally though - South Coast based shrinking violet and Brighton gaffer Gus Poyet has gone on record lambasting the move which will stop his youngsters (he named the promising Jake Caskey) experiencing big matchdays and tasting a small amount of first team action.

So who's right?

The figure of '£10 million' raised a few eyebrows at Keith Mincher Towers when it was quoted; it seemed awfully large. A bit of 'back of the envelope' maths seems to bear out that notion too.

So what are the overheads of naming an extra two players in the matchday squad; travel and accommodation are obvious, as are a few sundries such as post match pizzas, strapping and kit washing (lets assume all kits are washed after every game) as well as appearance bonuses should the player get onto the pitch and goal bonuses should the substitution fulfil its aim.

Based on a small sample of hotels close to Carlisle away fixtures this season (Bournemouth, Stevenage and Yeovil - all prices correct as at 2 August using comparison site Kayak) the average price for dinner, bed and breakfast at a 4* hotel is £136 based on two sharing (as is normal practice on away days). If we use this across the 13 potential overnight stays Carlisle may have this year (Bournemouth, Brentford, Charlton, Colchester, Exeter, Leyton Orient, Milton Keynes, Notts County, Scunthorpe, Stevenage, Walsall, Wycombe, Yeovil) then the potential accomodation cost is £1,768 per season. The club travel to games by executive coach - its probably a fair assumption that the cost is the same regardless of number on board.

Assuming the cost of 'sundries' is £50 per game this works out at £650 per season.

For appearance and goal bonuses I've used Nixon's own rule that a player must play 15 minutes to gain the appearance bonus. Let's say two substitutes meet this in every game at £200 per appearance - this works out £18,400 per season. Going further and suggesting that a sub scores in half of these games that's another £4,600.

The total financial cost to Carlisle United of having two extra subs is thus potentially £25,418. This is a 'worst case' scenario wherein any sub used is from the 'extra' and so are goals scored.

If we extrapolate this £25,000 figure across the seventy two FL clubs we arrive £1.8 million per season. A significant figure but hardly in the ball park of Nixon's '£10 million'.

This calculation also ignores what I'd call the 'opportunity cost' of the change - this is what policy makers use to decide whether to go ahead with changes in Government direction or business strategy. It appears to be totally absent from the Football League's reasoning; this isn't surprising given it'd be incredibly difficult to quantify.

The initial thought on how to work out the opportunity cost of this change in rules was to look over Carlisle's results for the last couple of seasons and work out how much they'd have lost in prize money if they (theoretically at least) had less access to 'bench' alternatives. A quick e-mail to the Football League later and it was apparent that the 'prize' awards for places 3 to 24 were the same; there is no direct financial incentive for avoiding relegation, or winning the play-offs.

That isn't to say that there aren't benefits or disbenefits or promotion or relegation though. Coming back to Carlisle; they gained three points through the positive intervention of substitutes in 2010/11 - a meagre return for sure but the difference between finishing twelfth (top half) and seventeenth. Directly this meant the club was seeded for the League Cup (though copped a frustratingly tough draw away at Oldham) and indirectly it'll have put a smile on a few Cumbrian faces and could have helped the tenor of summer transfer negotiations.

Going back another year and the Cumbrians took 12 points from losing or drawing positions thanks to the input of subs (mostly Scott Dobie and Joe Anyinsah). This was the difference between finishing fourteenth and twenty-first - in the relegation zone. The opportunity cost here is much easier to visualise, if not quantify, lower league football means worse players, lower crowds and greater supporter antipathy. Surely that wouldn't go down well with Mr Nixon's punters?

It's impossible to know whether those substitutes who 'positively intervened' in games wouldn't have made the squad under the new rule and thus difficult to say how many, if any, of these points may have been lost. However, given that most positive interventions come from attacking substitutes it may be fair to assume that at least some of this gain would be lost. During the last season Carlisle manager often fielded as many as three forwards on the bench - there is no such luxury this campaign if all wventualities are to be covered.

An interesting aside come from Carlisle's Johnstone's Paint Trophy form. In reaching the final in both of the last two seasons, and winning in April, they needed the help of substitutes in progressing three times. One of these was a late equaliser from striker Jason Price in a first round tie against Port Vale last summer - the only defining act of his season in Cumbria. We can work out the opportunity cost of these changes - Carlisle's owners have stated that both runs to the final were worth £300,000 each to the club. Alas, the JPT has had a five subs rule since its inception.

The other lost opportunity is that flagged by Poyet - the chance to blood young players in match situations. In raising this issue he makes a fair point but one wonders whether he overstates it a little (in his usual flamboyant style). Is there anything Jake Caskey could learn from an 88th minute appearance at Portman Road which he couldn't learn better on loan at Gillingham?

So the £10 million saving is seemingly pie in the sky and the cost of losing those extra options could just see sides troubles compounded. Doesn't seem like such a sensibe idea any more...


  1. I say this with all the greatest respect in the world, you have written a blog with virtually no facts in and a lot of made up numbers.

    Barely even worth a read.

  2. In your figures you completely miss out pre match meals which can be costly.
    The "extras" required for a football team stay bump up the room price to it's a bit naive to just go on to a comparison site and pick a price.
    "Assuming the cost of 'sundries' is £50 per game this works out at £650 per season." never assume, it makes an ass out of you and me (or you in this case!)

    This blog has clearly been written on assumptions, (however long it took you to come up with them!)

    Calling people on twitter "cunts" who don't agree with you, very grown up.

    The more blogs you write the more ill informed and pretentious you come across.

  3. The biggest cost saving is based around the possibility to reduce the squad size by two full time employees should clubs choose to do so. Did I miss that part?

    The assumption that a reduction in the number of subs for BOTH TEAMS will in any way affect the outcome of matches is a strange leap of faith.

    Reading the slightly patronising explanation of "opportunity cost", and then your failure to grasp the concept of opportunity cost in any meaningful way represents two minutes of my life I will not be getting back.

  4. Enjoyable piece - wonder if kits do actually get washed. I'm sure everyone has played in a side before where some n'er do well team mate failed to wash the kit properly. I have visions now of a future occasion this season where Nikola Zigic fails to get down to the laundromat and is hence subjected to merciless "banter" from Marlon King and Liam Ridgewell.

    ...and as for the stats, well, it's an interesting exercise and may not be taking into account all variables, but the central point - that £10 million is a mythical figure - is well made.

  5. Some good points made in the comments which I'd like to respond to.

    Firstly, yes, the blog is written on 'assumptions'. It's very difficult for me to do anything else. Even if I had paid £20 for CUFC accounts from Companies House it'd be difficult to extract the level of granularity to make the figures water-tight. 'Anonymous' quite fairly points out some of the categories are underestimated - probably fair - but even if I times the amount for sundries by five it won't make an enormous impact on the overall figure. It'd still be under a quarter of a million quid 'across' the leagues.

    I also think I've been generous on the appearance and goal bonuses - the figure £200 - is based on about 10% of what I know is Carlisle's top earner. The calculation also says that they'll a) appear and b) score more often than they probably will.

    Lanterne Rouge's point on variables is a good one - it's impossible for me to include every club's plans. Leicester or West Ham, for example, will probably stay overnight at every game in better hotels than Morecambe or Accrington. All this is therefore is, at best, a bit of a guesstimate - I didn't intend it to be anything else.

    On 'opportunity cost' I just assumed 'no knowledge' - not all readers will have an economics degree (I don't - it's probably evident). Again I hope I was plain that it's pretty much impossible to quantify - I just feel that it may have been totally ignored in the FL figures.

    Final point - smaller squads. That hadn't entered my thinking. It's an important point. I think, for this season at least, the savings will be negligible as the change has been made so late. However, it should have a positive impact in coming seasons. Even if it cuts each squad by oneplayer at an average wage of about £2000 per week that'd be a big saving. That in itself is yet another assumption though.

    For what it's worth, Carlisle reckon it'll save £150k a season. I'd be interested to see the proper breakdown.

    I'm glad that some level of debate has been triggered, that's what I intended. I can but apologise for last night's hissy fit.

  6. As the poster of the third comment, the £10m is not out of reach. For example taking my point about reducing players.

    If 15 clubs in each division got rid of one full time pro.
    If the average wage across all 3 divisions for that was £1500 a week.

    Already you have £3.5m.

    Of course there is a massive hidden overhead to employing people which usually goes unmeasured, but I find an extra 15% usually covers it in most businesses.

    The above is based on pure guesswork, so what if it was an average of one player per team, or one and a half? What if the championship wages skewed it so the average was three grand? What if....

    £10m is not a figure anyone can justify with any degree of accuracy, but it is not hard to get to a ball park figure which starts to make sense of Nixon's claims.

    Two other points. Firstly apologies for not responding in verbose kind, but my stinking hangover prevents me being arsed to do so.

    Secondly, without getting personal, your reaction shows that there is no 'open debate' around your articles. You now claim that all 3 of the opening comments were made by the same person. I can tell you at least one of them was not. You consistently say you want open debate and will give people a forum to do so. however when you get criticism it is charecterised as 'one nutter who hates me'. I can tell you there are definitely AT LEAST two nutters........

    Must go, got some leftovers to reheat.

  7. Oh, I know there's more than two people who hate me ;) I never categorise it as 'one'.

    I hope I've dealt with the reaction from last night - it was totally childish.

  8. "My reaction last night was childish and pathetic - I'd spent 2 hours writing a post which took me a week to plan and research and the first comment was pretty much 'this is crap'. In fairness to the poster he then made some very good points below it and I will pick those up myself."

    Just saying....... :)

  9. Good post. What I would say is that many clubs take with them more than just the 16 first eleven players and subs on away trips anyway, so reducing the number of subs won't necessarily reduce costs in the way you've assumed. As for the £10m figure, unless the Football League publish how they come to this then we must take it with a pinch of salt.

  10. A reasonable assessment of the likely cost given that some assumptions are inevitably needed. To assume hotel costs based on 4 star overestimates it in my opinion. Leyton Orient stayed at the Cumbria Park! As for pre-match meals- players should only be having a light pasta meal. The opportunity costs are also overstated because it's the same for both teams. I don't think squads will be reduced on size either. Clubs don't have squads of 20 plus youth players to fill the bench. They have squads to cover for injuries and to change things when results are not going well. Where JN gets 150k from I'd like to know. When he proposed a move back to regional football the savings figures given then were questionable. I think 7 on the bench is an unnecessary luxury nevertheless.

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