Game Theory: EPL’s Treatment of Europe is a Tragedy (of the Commons)

My last post asserted that it’s individually rational for each team in the EPL to not care about the Champions League.1 However, this leads to the very real possibility of a “tragedy of the commons” effect, and England losing a coveted Champions League spot.

The tragedy of the commons comes from Garrett Hardin, and describes a village where farmers all graze their sheep in a common area. This area belongs to everyone, and people are free to have as many sheep graze there as they can afford. It is in each farmer’s rational self-interest to purchase as many sheep as they can so they can sell milk, wool, and whatever else sheep are good for. As they buy more and more sheep, the commons become over-grazed, and all the grass dies. No one gets to graze their sheep, costing everyone money. Individuals acting in their own self-interest can hurt the collective in the long run.

We’re seeing that right now in Europe for England. It may be rational for teams to focus on the league and ignore the Champions League so they can focus on finishing in the top 4 and qualifying for next year’s Champions League. This is likely even more true for Europa League teams who need every edge they can get in the league to try and make the top 4 next year, so they’re more likely to tank the European fixtures. However, with UEFA coefficients (and Champions League spots being allocated to leagues based on their coefficient) being largely based on performance in continental competition, we’re seeing a tragedy of the commons.

It’s in each team’s interest to not worry about European fixtures and to focus on the league instead, but if every team does this then England could easily lose their 4th CL spot. When the individual good conflicts with the collective good, the collective good can easily disappear. Right now the EPL has too many sheep, not enough farmers maintaining the common area. Ignoring Europe, as rational as it may be for the individuals, is bad for the collective.

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  1. I use the word “rational” in the economic sense of the word – acting in one’s self-interest.

One thought on “Game Theory: EPL’s Treatment of Europe is a Tragedy (of the Commons)”

  1. Doesn´t this apply equally to other leagues? In fact competition for CL spots are tighter in Germany or Italy and those teams are more dependent on Cl funds so should the effect be potentially larger than for top EPL teams?
    Only teams with “quaranteed” spot are “free” but there is only few of them.

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