Money in sports. Or what does our high sociality have to do with it?

high sociality

The main successes of our species are directly related to high sociality. Of course, in sports, striving for sociality is expressed extremely strongly. Human ability to successfully exceed Dunbar’s number (150) allows one not to think that in the context of our next of kin a full stadium of people is in itself a tremendous achievement.

Not the marketers, management, or club players’ achievement, but the accomplishment of ordinary Homo sapiens. After all, if there were chimpanzees in the bowl of the filled sports arena, the craziest ultras’ behavior could fade against their background. This is the consequence of our species’ main feature. A high price was paid for high sociality. But, it seems, we begin to receive dividends.

Though today, that’s not exactly the topic of our talk. Today’s topic is about the way money in sports unites with this highest sociality, thus creating a familiar picture of the sports world.



It is salaries that connect sports with the rest of the human world. And if it were not for the salaries’ level in the top divisions of the top championships, even the thought would not have arisen that the difference exists. But in fact, there is no difference, as money gets its “weight” for our brain in the context.

Probably, in our days, everyone who is even slightly interested in motivation knows perfectly well that a high salary and financial bonuses are not equal to excellent motivation. Excellent motivation is internal motivation, which is just negatively affected by financial motivation.

In ideal conditions, in a competently functioning club or an organization, when signing a contract, the purpose is set to disclose the internal motivation of the player/coach/employee. And here, one really has to spend energy on the brain’s work to achieve that purpose as efficiently as possible.

When internal motivation is involved, we feel good. But as soon as the external motivation interferes, that is, we begin to work for money, for the sake of assessments, or to avoid punishment, some problems arise.

The worst thing is to encounter the Super-Chicken Model adherents, the essence of which is a constant struggle even directly in one’s team. No vast knowledge and experience are required to understand that this model is doomed to failure if the leader looks beyond today, having in mind at least some long-term perspective.

As has already been mentioned, the main feature of our species which has allowed people to succeed against our close and distant relatives was high sociality. Even our brains have evolved in such a way that without communication and “our” group of people, we will just go crazy. But if we do not understand the rules of the functioning of society or the society does not accept us, then according to suicidology, it serves as a key reason for a suicide in a healthy person.

As I’ve already written, Super-Chicken Model takes its name from the real experiment of biologist William Muir. Muir divided the chickens into two groups. One of them was an average group of chickens. For another group, the biologist selected exclusively the most productive individuals.

Can you guess what happened six generations later? In the first group, everything was fine, while in the second group, the most productive super-chicks had pecked each other. There were only three of them left, as they saw their own success in suppressing the rest of the group participants.

What do companies receive from such employees? Aiming at fighting other employees, instead of working for the organization’s benefit and maintaining the right microclimate in the working community.

With regard to salaries, even among athletes, the key factors are qualitative motivation (and understanding of the self-determination theory), argumentation of a specific amount, and the expected salary value.

We have already discussed the first point, while the second and the third ones are somewhat interconnected and largely depend on the society. The high perceived value means a stronger activation of the reward system. Although in a world without money, it worked simply and logically, but now it’s influenced by the society, which the club can affect to some extent during negotiations.

But the club can influence still more through an extremely simple strategy: it is more effective to make an open salary that is below the market average than a high classified salary. Why it is so, I’ve described in a separate article. I will only note that for top clubs this strategy will not work, but for the middle ones and outsiders, it will be just fine.



The increase in prices for transfers in that very football correlates with inflation in no way and grows faster than the football market itself. As is often the case, the context becomes the determining factor.

Each new transfer record simultaneously becomes a new “anchor” in further transfer dealmaking. Everyone looks at each other. This is our species’ specific feature. In the case of transfers, we see the evolutionary need not to stand out from the rest (to be just like everyone in one’s group, which increases the chances of survival, and hence reproduction of offspring).

If the market has already got used to the idea that today’s €100 million is €30 million a decade ago, not a single self-respecting and having pretensions to something football club will sell the player cheaper. Of course, many factors can result in a discount. Especially, if the club itself cannot be attributed to the Tier-1 level.

Clubs monetize their knowledge of sales techniques in different ways. Someone uses classical methods, while others adopt the behavioral economics’ fruits. Completing a transfer is a difficult and risky game. Everyone who watches football will easily remember at least a few transfers, when the buying club considered the deal profitable, but consequently, the football player did not play for various reasons.

Even in the most technologically advanced sports clubs, when assessing a player and making a decision, people still decide too much. The human factor can be a weak point in this case. Having trusted “intuition,” that is, unconscious mind, or by trying to logically take into account as many factors as possible, there is always a risk of getting the black swan as a present.

But in addition, the human factor will also be used by the selling party along with the agent and the player. No matter how much we want to resist provocation, still even knowing the entire list of already familiar cognitive biases will not particularly help to withstand them. We are not logical machines, and our conscious mind does not have access to the unconscious one.

Add to this even a small interruption in the supply of energy to the brain, and the brain’s prefrontal cortex will finally cease to be effective. Then, there will certainly be no chance to consciously resist the opposite side’s manipulations.



In the US market, ticket sales are a big industry in which one can really find serious professional growth. A highly competitive and serious in size market gives additional motivation and the need to constantly improve, update one’s knowledge.

Of course, it is desirable to talk to each target audience segment in its own way. Though, I am convinced that if the club resorts to selling discount tickets, or there is a significant number of unsold tickets left, it is a sure factor that you have to sound the alarm instead of sitting idle.

unsold tickets

No wonder, individual leagues make the accent just on vacant places. It’s again about our high sociality. The brain’s evolutionary features are used, which increase the probability of survival, and hence the chances of offspring reproduction. For example, in the case of MMA or esports, clusters with unsold tickets in a darkened hall are simply covered with a dark fabric.

Similar perceptual mechanisms are applicable to the ticket sales as well. This time, I will not dwell on pricing and the right proposal, which I’ve described earlier. In the context of this article, it is important to mention sociality. Being part of the group matters for us. This again increases our chances of survival and offspring.

If you work with fans correctly, if you use such mechanisms, take into account the influence of the same oxytocin, everything will be fine. No discounts will be needed. Create a habit, develop conditioned reflexes, etc. Making a discount of $5-10 for a ticket that allows you to visit the PGA Tour competition depending on the day of the week is obviously a controversial decision. But that’s exactly what the BMW Championship management does.

A similar case was with the Los Angeles Clippers NBA club which last season sold tickets with a good discount through Groupon even for the playoff matches. This season, generosity in the form of cheap tickets has continued. But what else can you expect from a club owned by Steve Ballmer? At the same time, the reverse side of the medal is that the Los Angeles club is indeed one of the most technologically advanced in the NBA.

As much as we would like to be logical animals, conscious mind is only a passenger who, in some cases, can reach for the steering wheel a bit and slightly adjust the movement. Our conscious mind has strikingly developed, but we shouldn’t refer to it often when selling in sports or creating experience.

Yes, we can find the application of “logical” pricing in the matchday, but in fact everything depends on how you work with the brand, what and how you create around it. I’m sure, the example and proximity of esports allows many sports marketers to take a slightly different look at many established elements and decide on more courageous experiments.



It would be quite strange if there hasn’t emerged gambling market around sports, and then esports. And it would be even more strange if representatives of this market interacted with consumers directly, without trying to use any concealed cognitive biases or the dopamine system evolutionary feature, for instance.

There is probably nothing shameful in this. Take at least a ludic loop, which is used everywhere. Especially cynical is its use by Uber and Lyft for drivers, which makes them spend more time on shifts, which actually negatively affects the safety of passengers. But in numerous small applications, developers may have no idea what mechanisms they use, copying the decisions of larger companies.

The use of cognitive biases, creating habits, and developing their own brands is something that gambling representatives have particularly succeeded in. Though, some big players on open spaces of the former USSR seem to be trying to destroy their own brand with dubious low-conversion sponsorship, but that is life.

With the development of online gambling, the main advantage of online before offline has become obvious: the same people spent online a lot more. For example, this is clearly demonstrated in a recent study by Dr. Melvyn Zhang on a hundred patients with ludomania (gambling addiction) in Singapore.

The average biggest debt ever received in a sample in online gambling was $20,000, while in offline gambling, it was $500. The biggest one-time loss in online gambling on average was $7,000, while in offline gambling, it was $2,000.

What is behind the person’s desire to make a bet? Someone warms up in this way the interest in the sports/esports/any other contest itself, but, of course, most players want to quickly enrich themselves. This, in turn, is again the result of our high sociality and place in society.

The thing is to invest that money in conspicuous consumption (no matter how “inconspicuous” it will look depending on the society and the set goals), promotion in the community, and getting the best partner. Conspicuous consumption is the logical continuation of secondary sex characteristics.

Of course, in reality, everything is somewhat more complicated, as there are additional factors. Daniel Kruger and Jessica Kruger in their conspicuous consumption interpretation theory adhere to the belief that the conspicuous consumption level is positively correlated with not the best environmental conditions, including a low life expectancy, less access to material resources, a low level of personal safety, low social cohesion, and socioeconomic inequalities.

That is, we are talking about developing countries, where, according to this very logical theory, gambling should have an advantage in popularity before the developed countries.

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Best regards,

Leon The Alien


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SEE ALSO: How to renew trust in the brand


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