Bernardo M. Villegas
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Soccernomics in the Philippine Setting (Part 1)

     The international bestseller entitled Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski just came out with the 2018 World Cup Edition.  Referred to by the San Francisco Chronicle as “the most intelligent book ever written about soccer,” this publication on the “beautiful game” can give football lovers in the Philippines many insights into how one day we can join the rest of the normal world to make soccer (football for the rest of the non-U.S. world) our major sport, instead of basketball where we may never be world champion because of the lilliputian nature of our population.  Although the authors of the book whose first edition appeared in 2009 are not infallible (they did not foresee that England almost won the World Cup in 2018), as an economist I must attest to the very empirical approach that they took in writing the book.  They always tried to back up their statements with strong empirical evidences. In fact, the subtitle of the 2018 World Cup Edition was “Why England Lose; Why Germany, Spain and France Win; and Why One Day Japan, Iraq, and the United States Will Become Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport.”  As the eternal optimist, I would add to the title the phrase “and why the Philippines may qualify for the World Cup in 2030!”

         My passionate interest in football started more than ten years ago when I was a visiting professor at one of the best business schools in the world, the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.  I happened to reside in an apartment right in front of the largest soccer stadium in the world, the “Camp Nou” of the FC Barcelona (Barca) football team.  Since then I have followed the ups and downs of the Barca team and expanded my interest to the leading European leagues such as Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, and the French Ligue 1, among others.  I have also been monitoring more closely the various football competitions in Asia where the Philippines has been gradually winning more matches.  In fact, for the first time in our history, the AZKALS, our national football team, have qualified for the Asian Football Cup that will be played in the United Arab Emirates this coming January 5 to February 1, 2019.

         There are two major reasons (beyond just pure enjoyment in watching the matches) why I have taken a close interest in the world’s leading sport.  The first is that as a business economist, I see the potential of football as a major industry in the Philippines if we can just convince ourselves that with the appropriate efforts of the private sector and strong support from the State, we can have a better chance of being world champions in football (soccer for the Americans) than in basketball because we continue to be a nation of individuals of low average physical height (dwarves to be blunt!).  Football does not require height as could be inferred from the fact that some of the best football players in the recent past are lilliputians such as Maradona, Messi and even Neymar.  Even one of the best football players in the history of FC Barcelona, Spanish-Filipino Paulino Alcantara (whose mother was from Iloilo) was short considering Western standards.

         To illustrate how big the football industry in the world is, let us consider what football clubs in Europe pay for transfers of players from one club to another.  As reported in the 2018 edition of Soccernomics, in the summer of 2017 alone, clubs worldwide spent $4.71 billion on transfers, reported FIFA TMS, the department of the FIFA that oversees international transfers.  The sum includes the world record fee of $263 million that Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) paid FC Barcelona for Neymar, one of the Brazilian football stars.  Those amounts would not be possible if the clubs were not earning billions and billions of dollars in television rights, endorsements, gate receipts, etc.  There is no question that football is a large industry in the nations where it is fully developed.  If we plan for the long-term development of the sport in our country, by the time our population would peak at about 150 million earning some $15,000 per capita or more twenty to thirty years from now, the football industry and all its income multiplier effects could be contributing a significant amount to our Gross Domestic Product.  Sports, leisure and entertainment will grab a much larger proportion of the typical consumer’s budget in a nation of predominantly high-middle income households.  (To be continued)