Revenue management at Liverpool Football Club

Liverpool Football Club, of which I’ve been a fan for nearly eleven years now, is in the midst of a storm with fans protesting against high ticket prices. The butt of the fans’ ire has been the new £77 ticket that will be introduced next season. Though there will be few tickets that will be sold at that price, the existence of the price point has been enough to provoke the fans, many of whom walked out in the 77th minute of the home draw against Sunderland last weekend.

For a stadium that routinely sells out its tickets, an increase in ticket prices should be a no-brainer – it is poor revenue management if either people are scrambling for tickets or if there are empty seats. The problem here has been the way the price increase has been handled and communicated to the fans, and also what the club is optimising for.

At the outset, it must be understood that from a pure watching point of view, being in a stadium is inferior to being in front of a television. In the latter case, you not only have the best view of the action at all points in time, but also replays of important events and (occasionally) expert commentary to help you understand the game. From this point of view, the reason people want to watch a game at the ground is for reasons other than just watching – to put it simply, they go for “the experience”.

Now the thing with stadium experience is that it is a function of the other people at the stadium. In other words, it displays network effects – your experience at the stadium is a function of who else is in the stadium along with you.

This can be complex to model – for this could involve modelling every possible interaction between every pair of spectators at the ground. For example, if your sworn nemesis is at the ground a few seats away from you, you are unlikely to enjoy the game much.

However, given the rather large number of spectators, these individual interactions can be ignored, and only aggregate interactions considered. In other words, we can look at the interaction term between each spectator (who wants to watch the game at the ground) and the “rest of the crowd” (we assume idiosyncrasies like your sworn enemy’s presence as getting averaged out).

Now we have different ways in which a particular spectator can influence the rest of the crowd – in the most trivial case, he just quietly takes his seat, watches the game and leaves without uttering a word, in which case he adds zero value. In another case, he could be a hooligan and be a pain to everyone around him, adding negative value. A third spectator could be a possible cheerleader getting people around him to contribute positively, organising Mexican waves and generally keeping everyone entertained. There can be several other such categories.

The question is what the stadium is aiming to optimise for – the trivial case would be to optimise for revenue from a particular game, but that might come at the cost of stadium “atmosphere”. Stadium atmosphere is important not only to galvanise the team but also to enthuse spectators and get them to want to come for the next game, too. These two objectives (revenue and atmosphere) are never perfectly correlated (in fact their correlation might be negative), and the challenge for the club is to price in a way that the chosen linear combination of these objectives is maximised.

Fundamental principles of pricing in two-sided markets (here it’s a multisided market) say that the price to be charged to a participant should be a negative function of the value he adds to the rest of the event (to the “rest of the crowd” in this case).

A spectator who adds value to the crowd by this metric should be given a discount, while one who subtracts value (by either being a hooligan or a prude) should be charged a premium. The challenge here is that it may not be possible to discriminate at the spectator level – other proxies might have to be used for price discrimination.

One way to do this could be to model the value added by a spectator class as a function of the historic revenues from that class – with some clever modelling it might be possible to come up with credible values for this one, and then taking this value into account while adjusting the prices.

Coming back to Liverpool, the problem seems to be that the ticket price increase (no doubt given by an intention to further maximise revenue takings) has badly hit fans who were otherwise adding positive value to the stadium atmosphere. With such fans potentially getting priced out (in favour of fans who are willing to pay more, but not necessarily adding as much value to the ground), they are trying to send a message to the club that their value (toward the stadium atmosphere) is being underestimated, and thus they need greater discounts. The stadium walkouts are a vehicle to get across this point.

Maximising for per-game revenue need not be sustainable in the long term – an element of “atmosphere” has to be added, too. It seems like the current worthies at Liverpool Football Club have failed to take this into account, resulting in the current unsavoury negotiations.

Now that I’ve moved to Barcelona, Liverpool FC need not look too far – I’ve done a fair bit of work on pricing and revenue management, and on two-sided markets, and can help them understand and analyse the kind of value added by different kinds of spectators, and how this can translate to actual revenues and atmosphere. So go ahead and hire me!

On Schooling

Usually I’m quick to defend the school where I studied between 1986 and 1998. I made lots of good friends there and generally had a good time. Of late, however, in discussions on schooling, I find myself mention teachers from that school who I considered particularly horrible, mostly for their method of teaching.

Yesterday I was chatting with a classmate from this school who now works in the education sector, and she happened to mention that she considered her schooling to be mostly “a waste” and that she didn’t learn too much there. And I quickly concurred with her, saying all that I had learnt was at home, and school didn’t teach me much. So what explains my love for the school even though they might not have done a great teaching job?

From 1998 to 2000, I went to another school, where again they didn’t teach much, and instead assumed all of us went to JEE factories which would teach us anyway. What made things bad there, though, was that they didn’t treat us well. That school had a strict disciplinary code which was enforced more in letter than in spirit. Teachers there had a habit of loading us with homework, calling us for Saturday classes and having surprise tests. The problem with School 2 was that not only did they not teach well, but they also made life miserable in several other ways. The only redeeming factor for that school was the truckload of interesting people I got to meet during my two years there.

So what explains my love for School 1 despite the fact that they didn’t do a great job of teaching? The fact that they treated us well, and left us alone. The uniform wasn’t very strictly enforced, as long as you wore blue and grey. The school had an explicit “no homework” policy. Exams happened only according to schedule and there were few assignments. Even in class 10, we had three “periods” a week dedicated to “games” where we played volleyball or basketball rather than wasting our time in “PT”. Teachers were mostly very friendly and the atmosphere on the whole was collaborative and not so competitive.

My friend might think she “wasted” her 10 years in the school because she didn’t learn much there, but I argue that it was better than her going to another school where she wouldn’t be treated as well and where her life wouldn’t have been as peaceful.

FabIndia Koramangala

There are very few clothing stores that I can say I’m in love with. There are very few stores where I feel like buying a large proportion of merchandise on display whenever I visit it. There are very few stores where just the atmosphere makes you buy much more than you had planned to. And it’s a pity that on two of my visits to the store, I bought nothing.

I haven’t been to too many FabIndia stores outside Bangalore (only a handful of stores in Gurgaon and maybe one in Delhi) but having shopped a few times at the FabIndia store in Koramangala, I feel distinctly underwhelmed whenever i go to any other outlet. Having been several times to this beautifully designed house, I find FabIndia outlets housed in less spectacular buildings sad. Of course there have been times (including two days ago) when I’ve shopped at other outlets but the experience simply doesn’t come close.

The first time I went to the store was some four or five years back when Anuroop wanted to check out kurtas. I think we went there on Bunty’s recommendation but I remember that I hadn’t bought anything. I had quickly made amends for it a couple of months later when I bought a couple of shirts, and then a year later when I bought a dozen shirts at one go!

The only other time I went there without purchasing anything was yesterday morning, when I was visiting the store after a gap of some two or three years. The first thought was one of guilt – of having shopped in a less spectacular Fabindia store (the one at Kathriguppe) just the previous night, and then as I got over it I got overwhelmed with the variety on display. I suddenly got afraid that I might over-spend and made a dash for the exit.

I wasn’t gone for too long, though, as I returned in the evening with Priyanka, and this time we discovered something even more spectacular – something that I had completely missed during my hajaar earlier visits – the store cafe. The brownie was decent, and the coffee was just about ok, but that didn’t matter one bit. Once again, it was the atmosphere at play, and that the coffee shop had in plenty.

It’s something like a small arena. If you can perform some visual art (say a play or a dance) in a five feet square area, this is just the place for you! All around the 5×5 “well” (which is full of pebbles) are stone benches, at different levels. Cushions have been placed on some arbitrary benches, and we understood that that’s where it was supposed to sit. There wsa some music that I didn’t quite recognized but was quite pleasant, and the wooden trays in which the waiter brought our coffees were also beautiful – I might have bought something like that from the store had I been in a spendthrift mood yesterday!

If you are in Bangalore and are interested in cotton clothes you should definitely check out this store sometime. It’s in Koramangala, in the extension of the intermediate ring road. Make sure you go there leisurely, for there is plenty to see and buy (the inventory is about six times as much as that of an “ordinary” FabIndia store). And while you are there, do visit the cafe and lounge around there for a while. And think about Priyanka and me while you are there.

The Switch

Cafe Coffee Day is among the most unromantic places to go on a first date, or so they say. But then you need to understand that the venue can do only so much when it comes to creating the right “atmosphere” for the date. So if you think you are yourselves capable enough of doing a good job of creating a good “atmosphere”, you don’t need to bother about trivialties such as how “romantic” a place is or how good it is in creating “atmosphere” and just pick a place that makes practical sense.

There has been so much of One Day International cricket of late that it is difficult to keep track of various series and tournaments. One tournament that similarly got lost, mostly because the ultimate result was unremarkable (Australia won yet again) was the Champions Trophy, which happened (I think) in South Africa. I don’t remember much of the tournament; I don’t think I watched much of it. All I remember was that there was a game where India played Australia, and that Australia batted first.

Seating arrangement plays an important factor on a first date. Optimal seating arrangement ensures the optimal arrangement of eye contact. Sitting beside each other means you need to put too much effort to establish eye contact, and that is way too much energy. Sitting opposite each other can lead to overexposure – if things aren’t going that well, it’s tough to keep looking into each other’s eyes and that can lead ot awkward moments. It might be interesting to do some academic research in this matter but my hunch is that for a first date a ninety-degree seating arrangement is optimal.

For a few months now I have been on a diet. It has not been without results – my weight has come down by almost a fourth in the last six months. I haven’t done anything drastic, just a set of simple principles. And one of them is “no sugar in coffee”. I’ve given up on tea altogether since I can’t have it without sugar. When you are on a date, however, it is not nice to show off that you are on a diet, especially if you are a guy. it doesn’t give a good picture. So a good strategy is to order something like espresso, which you can claim tastes best without sugar!

I think it was an appeal for LBW that triggered it, but I’m not sure. I do remember, however, that it was a strong appeal that was turned down, but I don’t remember the nature of dismissal. Ashish Nehra was bowling if I’m not wrong. I have no clue who was batting. Maybe it was Haddin, or was it Paine who was opening in that tournament? Not that it matters.

Onlookers might have thought that the move was choreographed given how well we executed it. I don’t even remember their being too much eye contact as it happened. I don’t remember there being any conversation about it as it happened. All I remember is that one moment I was being distracted by Ashish Nehra’s appeal, and the next I was sitting with my back to the TV, comfortably settled where she had been settled a moment earlier, with her having taken my original place.

And I remember that our coffees had also exchanged places along with us!