Tim Hazledine: An economist's view of $100K contest

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Tui's ODI catch promotion was a huge success for the brewery and may have also been for the Black Caps.

Michael Morton helped fire up enthusiasm for Tui's $100,000 one-handed catch promotion with his success at the ODI in Hamilton. Photo / Christine Cornege
Michael Morton helped fire up enthusiasm for Tui's $100,000 one-handed catch promotion with his success at the ODI in Hamilton. Photo / Christine Cornege

I was once watching the evening news on Canadian television. They did a segment about the rise of "boutique breweries" - what we would call craft beers. The marketing manager of one of the big national beer companies, Labatt or Molsons, was asked if he was worried about the encroaching competition. The man could not hold back a smile.

"Are you kidding?" he said. "Thanks to these little boutiquey guys, here I am, on prime-time TV, talking about beer to four million thirsty Canadians. You cannot buy that sort of publicity for your product!"

The big brewers in New Zealand have proven to be pretty - well - crafty at persuading the media to give them free publicity, and never more cleverly or creatively than with DB's Tui Catch A Million promotion, which ran through the one-day and T20 cricket matches this summer, ending with the 50-over game between the Black Caps and India on Friday.

This one they really nailed - hit it out of the park. You will probably know how it worked, even if you have no special interest in cricket, and that's the point.

Purchase a ticket to the game and buy one of the special orange Tui T-shirts, take a clean, one-handed catch of a ball hit for six by a batsman from either side, and, bingo, they just give you a cheque for $100,000 - serious dosh - on the spot.

It's like Lotto, only much better. It all happens in public. It's hilarious. It takes quite a lot of skill and nerve, as well as luck, to one-hand one of those screaming cricket balls. And when you miss out, you've still got your T-shirt, to wear at future barbecues as you spin your "the one that got away" stories - more useful than a used Lotto ticket.

From DB's perspective it turned out brilliantly. They hardly had to do a thing. The cricket authorities provided the crowds. The cricketers obligingly biffed the ball into the stands 140 times. Sky TV played and replayed the action endlessly. The newspapers picked it up in stories.

The first catch, by Michael Morton, was taken early enough in the series to show everyone that it could be done, but was only repeated once, so that $800K of the pledged $1 million kitty was unused.

Indeed, if their claim of one adult in five at all 10 games purchasing a $30 T-shirt is correct, then Tui quite possibly broke even or even made a profit on the promotion - you do the maths. Good luck to them if they did - it's been a lot of fun, for all spectators.

Now, for an economist, fun is a quite a serious matter. We rather miss out on it - not personally, of course, but because we can't always easily fit it into our measures of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and economic well-being. The $100,000 prize won by Mr Morton won't show up in GDP because it is not taxable, it is not considered by the statisticians to be the reward for useful work.

And because the fun of the promotion, being the excitement and laughter generated by the many botched catching attempts, was there for everyone to enjoy freely - ie, it wasn't bottled and sold by Tui or anyone else, it simply will not show up in the economic data, as don't many other individual and social activities that bring joy (and despair) to our lives.

Sports in general, and in particular team sports with dedicated fan bases, are major generators of unmeasured fun, and deeper emotions.

As the fan from another code once said: "Football is not a matter of life and death. It is much more important than that." And I am now wondering whether the Tui Catch A Million promotion may have had deeper consequences for the serious fun that is cricket - in particular through the important part of the game that involves catching the ball.

There is a well-established maxim: dropped catches lose matches. New Zealand has not lost the last five matches we have played. If, however, you go back to the last five matches that were lost, I have little doubt that rigorous research would reveal that dropped catches were the key cause of failure. That is, if you subtract the runs that were scored by opposition batsmen after they had been dropped (and the runs scored by their batting partners in these circumstances) from the actual team total, I would be most surprised if, in four cases out of the five, the resulting adjusted total did not fall below the number of runs scored by the Black Caps. We would have won these games, too.

Now, is it fanciful of me to propose that the remarkable pick-up in our team's performance against India was largely due to better catching inspired by the example of the fans? After all, our highly paid professionals on the field will not wish to be shown up by an amateur in the stands pocketing a much harder, one-handed catch.

And then, some of those fans will themselves be the NZ cricketers of tomorrow, and the hard practice many of them have been incentivised to put in by the Tui promotion will eventually pay off in the arena. On present trends, the forecast is bullish. We may never lose another game. Yeah right.

Tim Hazledine is a professor of economics at the University of Auckland Business School.

- NZ Herald

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