Satisfaction Theory

Former Morecambe, Stockport County and Grimsby Town striker Phil Jevons may not appear to be much of a deep thinker but the Jevons family are famous for defining one of the more interesting economic theories which goes a long way to define the actions of the typical football fan – the theory of utility and satisfaction. 

If Phil ever appears on “Who do you think you are?” or if ITV’s “This is your life” is taken out of its mothballs then there is a strong possibility that one of his distance ancestors could well have been economist and logician William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882). Bill was a bit of a brain box, creating a piano that played itself based on logic and an early “computer” that could analyse the truthfulness of an argument.  Forward thinking indeed for the mid 19th century.

Jevons work was widely read – ‘A General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy’ published in 1862 defined mathematics as an extension to Economics; ‘A Serious Fall in the Value of Gold’ saw Jevons explain that the utility or value to a consumer of an additional unit of a product is inversely related to the number of units of that product he already owns. But he will be probably best known for his theory on Satisfaction, which was published in 1870 that he will be best remembered.

Jevon’s theory was simple.  Too much of something makes you bored. Or in other words, the more you utilise something, the less satisfaction to gain from it. His theory has been applied to many situations – addictions for instance. But it can also be applied to the world of football.  For those who are old enough to remember, there was a world when live football on TV was restricted to the odd Home International and the FA Cup Final – approximately 5 games a season, all crammed into a 2-3 week period at the end of the season. If a British team made it to a European final then we were in luck and would see that too.  BBC’s Match of the Day and ITV’s The Big Match (in the South East) gave us a couple of highlights every weekend and that was it.  And we lapped it up.  Cup Final day was an eight hour footballing extravaganza that the whole family watched. Trivia fact for you – the 5th most watched live TV broadcast in the UK was the 1970 FA Cup Final replay between Chelsea and Leeds United with an audience of approximately 28.5 million people.

When England played Norway in a pointless early season friendly in September 2014 the official attendance was 40,181.  Official means that the FA included all those lucky people who bought Club Wembley seats some time ago…bought yes, attended the game? Maybe not, so the attendance was probably significantly lower than this.  Yes, but what about those watching on ITV I hear you say?  4.5 million people switched on at some point during the game – nearly half of that who enjoyed the delights of The Great British Bake Off on BBC at the same time.  Why?  Well, perhaps because of the theory that Jevons articulated.

Jevons said that the more that we consume of a product, the smaller the increase in satisfaction we receive from it.  With that statement he created the law of diminishing marginal utility.  Whilst we all want our team to be winning week after week, we would actually gain less and less enjoyment from each win – the air of expectation increases with each game which reduces the pleasure.  Interestingly enough, according to Jevons, demand for the product should actually decrease and that will in turn reduce the price.  Think of going out after the game and having a few beers.  At some point they stop being enjoyable and actually start doing you harm as the hangover kicks in.

In footballing terms we can see both sides of the coin.  Teams who win week after week are actually more in demand.  Crowds go up, fan satisfaction increases and in the true economic sense, a club could actually charge more for the product and the fans would continue to a point where the price for “satisfaction” becomes unsustainable.  But if a team starts to lose, then we get less and less enjoyment out of each game and eventually even the most ardent fan gives up.  The moral here according to Jevons, spurned another famous saying – “You win some, you lose some” – that’s what keeps us football fans interested.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is The Satisfaction Theory in a nutshell.

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