On Tuesday I was listening to the latest episode of Aston Villa Review. It was really good, as are everything that Steve and Chris do (you're listening to them, right? You should be). At one point Steve asked a question that got me thinking. I don't remember exactly what Steve said, but it boiled down to this: every year we spend money to support Aston Villa, and what do we get in return?
His larger point was that, in the absence of winning, the return on investment for most Villa fans was rapidly diminishing. But his line of thought made me go a bit further: what do we ever get from supporting Aston Villa? It's generally acknowledged that human beings are usually rational economic actors. If we spend money, we expect some sort of return on our investment. Sometimes that's a literal return (playing the stock market), other times it's a good (a new car!), and still other times it's an emotional benefit (we may get nothing by donating to charity, but it leaves us feeling good about ourselves). There is almost always some sort of pleasurable response to the displeasure of parting with our hard-earned cash.
What, then, is our return on our Aston Villa investment? Each season, at a bare minimum, we invest one of the most valuable of all assets: time. Generally something along the lines of two hours per week. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. I'm not here to judge. But you're reading. If nothing else, this is five minutes of your life in which you could be doing something else, but you said "Nope, I'm going to think about Aston Villa." Your time is unquestionably worth something (thanks for spending it with us!) and when you give it up we call the exchange an opportunity cost.
But many of us move beyond the abstraction of opportunity costs and into the tangible realm of actually spending money. We buy a kit. We buy merchandise. We buy a ticket. We buy (pity these folks) a season ticket. One match probably means a minimum of £30. A full season is easily calculable, but for the sake of those who have taken the plunge I won't do that. The hurt is already too real.
Any way you parse it, though, we invest in this club. We put something into it. And as rational actors, we should be expecting to get something back. And with few exceptions, in sport, the return is of the emotional variety. A win fills us with joy. Supporting a team and wearing that kit give us pride. Seeing a particularly amazing goal can fill us with wonder. Being part of the amassed thousands singing at full voice can provide community.
These are all great things, to be sure. But do they justify the cost of supporting a club? In the best of circumstances, and if we face this question as logically as we can, the answer is probably no. You could achieve joy, pride, wonder, and community for less. There are better avenues of investment to get these same returns. Make and fly a kite on a sunny day in a park with your friends from your neighborhood. Joy from the weather, pride in your craftsmanship, wonder at the ability of a simple object to stay aloft, and community with the friends. Total cost... £5? Maybe?
And that's in the best of times. Aston Villa have not been in the best of times for at least half a decade now. At this point it's hard to see how going to Villa Park will provide you with many emotions outside of despair. So an already irrational economic decision has recently become a downright stupid one.
But as I said, that's "if we face this question as logically as we can." We're football fans. If any word fails to describe us, it's logical. If we were logical people, we'd have dumped Aston Villa ages ago. You know Manchester United? Arsenal? Manchester City? Chelsea? If you want a good emotional return, you could root for those teams. But we don't. Why? Because those teams are miserable despite all evidence to the contrary. They're soulless. They're antithetical to what we all stand for.
And that, to me, is the most bizarre thing about all of this. We are CONSCIOUSLY making bad decisions. We take a look at our lot in life and say "Yep, this is fine." We, somehow, still manage to get all of those positive emotions out of this festering pile of a football club. We're resilient in the face of evidence and logic. We persevere and spit at rational decision making. We may give up temporarily, but Aston Villa are part of our DNA. We ARE Aston Villa, and whether or not they realize it, they are us, as well.
What we get from Aston Villa is indescribable, really. We can stab at it with poetic generalities, but we can never really pin it down. But who really cares. We've all spent years cheering for this club, and we're all (painfully) aware of the cost. And yet we all stick around. We've made our economic decision, and it's the type that would baffle the rational. And its the only type we could ever hope to make.
Besides, we wouldn't be Aston Villa fans if we weren't all too happy to ignore the basic laws of economics!