Sports

Tivo and Netflix ought to have been made other entertainment more popular and football less popular as a form of entertainment but instead more people are watching football than ever before. Gabriel Rossman asks why?

We can start with a few basic technological shifts, specifically the DVR and broadband internet. Both technologies have the effect that people are watching fewer commercials. From this we can infer that advertisers will have a pronounced preference for “DVR-proof” advertising.

….In practice getting people to watch spot advertising means programming that has to be watched live and in practice that in turn means sports. Thus it is entirely predictable that advertisers will pay a premium for sports. It is also predictable that the cable industry will pay a premium for sports because must-watch ephemera is a good insurance policy against cord-cutting. Moreover, as a straight-forward Ricardian rent type issue, we would predict that this increased demand would accrue to the owners of factor inputs: athletes, team owners, and (in the short-run) the owners of cable channels with contracts to carry sports content. Indeed this has basically all happened….

Here’s something else that is entirely predictable from these premises: we should have declining viewership for sports….If you’re the marginal viewer who ex ante finds sports and scripted equally compelling, it seems like as sports get more expensive and you keep having to watch ads, whereas scripted gets dirt cheap, ad-free, and generally more convenient, the marginal viewer would give up sports, watch last season’s episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix, be blissfully unaware of major advertising campaigns, and pocket the $50 difference between a basic cable package and a $10 Netflix subscription.

…The weird thing is that this latter prediction didn’t happen. During exactly the same period over which sports got more expensive in absolute terms and there was declining direct cost and hassle for close substitutes, viewership for sports increased. From 2003 to 2013, sports viewership was up 27%. Or rather, baseball isn’t doing so great and basketball is holding its own, but holy moly, people love football. If you look at both the top events and top series on tv, it’s basically football, football, some other crap, and more football…. I just can’t understand how when one thing gets more expensive and something else that’s similar gets a lot cheaper and lower hassle, that you see people flocking to the thing that is absolutely more hassle and relatively more money.

It’s a good question. Demographics don’t appear to explain the change. Football skews young, male and black but none of these are undergoing rapid increase. (It’s the aged that are undergoing high growth rates but it’s baseball that appeals more to the old and that isn’t doing great). Fantasy football is big but is it cause or effect?

One possibility is that precisely because there are so few common events to coordinate on, the ones that do coordinate become more important. Why football and not baseball or basketball? Why not? It’s not hard to spin stories but it may also be that random advantages snowballed.

Other theories?

I found this piece by Alex Hutchinson very interesting, here is one excerpt on the issue of incentives:

One reason marathoners are running faster is that road racing is more lucrative. When the Sheikh of Dubai put up $1 million in prize money plus a $1 million world-record bonus in 2008, the Dubai Marathon instantly became one of the world’s fastest, despite its desert temps (average high in January, when the race is held, is 75°F). In fact, prize money for road races more than doubled since 1998, while track racing purses have gotten smaller (see below). As a result, runners are increasingly heading straight to the marathon. But big money can also draw the fastest runners away from the fastest courses, and the standard winner-takes-most prize structure favors cat-and-mouse tactics as runners race each other instead of the clock. When the Amsterdam Marathon switched to time-based prizing in 1999, four different runners immediately smashed the course record by 90 seconds. The sub-two-hour solution? A big pot of money that runners can win no matter where they race, and that is shared equally among all who break 2:00 in that event.

It is not obvious to me why a big first prize is not a good incentive, for instance why does it militate against speed to “race each other instead of the clock”?  Is it that the runners stay on too few courses, thus lowering the variance of performance outcomes?

In any case the hat tip goes to Vic Sarjoo.

I’ve noticed in Hong Kong that exiters are not accorded absolute priority.  That is, those entering the elevator can push their way through before the leavers have left, without being considered impolite, unlike in the United States.  In part, Hong Kongers are in a hurry, but that does not itself explain the difference in customs.  After all, exiters are in a hurry too, so why take away their priority rights?  Perhaps we should look again to Coase.  If some people who wish to enter are in a truly big hurry, they can barge forward.  Furthermore, an exiter who is not in a hurry at all can hold back, knowing that someone will rush to fill the void, rather than ending up in the equilibrium of excessive politeness where each defers to the other and all movements are delayed.  That is not an equilibrium you see often in downtown Hong Kong.

There is another positive effect from the Hong Kong method.  If you will be exiting the elevator, you have to step forward early on and be ready to leave promptly, to avoid being swamped by the new entrants.  That means the process of exit takes place more quickly.  And so the entrants who are in a hurry actually do get on their way earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

#smallstepstowardamuchbetterworld

The pooling equilibrium

by on October 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm in Books, History, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

During the Nazi occupation of Paris:

Germans spent a good deal of their free time in the bathhouses and swimming pools of Paris for the same reason: “In a swimsuit, no one could tell the difference between a German and a Frenchman.”

That is from the new and excellent When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944, by Ronald C. Rosbottom.

Renee B. Adams, Matti Keloharju, and Samuli Knüpfer have a new paper:

This paper analyzes the role three personal traits — cognitive and non-cognitive ability, and height — play in the market for CEOs. We merge data on the traits of more than one million Swedish males, measured at age 18 in a mandatory military enlistment test, with comprehensive data on their income, education, profession, and service as a CEO of any Swedish company. We find that the traits of large-company CEOs are at par or higher than those of other high-caliber professions. For example, large-company CEOs have about the same cognitive ability, and about one-half of a standard deviation higher non-cognitive ability and height than medical doctors. Their traits compare even more favorably with those of lawyers. The traits contribute to pay in two ways. First, higher-caliber CEOs are assigned to larger companies, which tend to pay more. Second, the traits contribute to pay over and above that driven by firm size. We estimate that 27-58% of the effect of traits on pay comes from CEO’s assignment to larger companies. Our results are consistent with models where the labor market allocates higher-caliber CEOs to more productive positions.

In other words, Swedish CEOs are a pretty impressive lot.  Scott Sumner offers some related remarks on American CEOs.

Why not just fire them or cut their pay?  As you may know, ESPN just suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks.

One possibility is that a fined but still active worker may continue to “shoot off his mouth” and thus increase the ongoing collateral damage.  (Simmons called the NFL commissioner a “liar” and I believe he works for one of the network’s revenue sources.)  The suspension is a kind of cooling off period.

Another possibility is that ESPN wishes to shift the long-run bargaining equilibrium.  They wish to signal to Simmons that he isn’t as valuable to them as he may think he is, in the hope of either cutting his pay relative to trend or inducing him to be more careful with his future words.  They wish to show they can go without his output for three weeks, without (perhaps) a major loss of business.  Fining him would not shift the long-run balance of power in the same manner because ESPN is continuing to rely on the traffic which Simmons brings in and thus signaling that they really need him.

I do not know if the suspension is with or without pay, but a version of the above argument can work either way, with some modifications required.

If I were the commissioner, I would be insulted by the suspension of Simmons.  It suggests these are words which cannot be said, perhaps because they will elicit audience assent.  The suspension also signals that ESPN regards the commissioner as quite thin-skinned and presumably — especially if he is indeed thin-skinned! — he could be offended by that too.

In sticky nominal wage models, it remains an interesting question why more workers are not suspended rather than fired outright.  Indeed this used to be closer to the norm in many manufacturing labor markets.

Kabaddi, or the culture that is India

by on September 19, 2014 at 12:13 am in Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

Breath control is the essential skill for success in kabaddi, a game with ancient roots in which teams take turns sending a raider across midcourt who, on a single breath, tries to tag a member of the opposing team and return safely to his team’s half of the court before taking another breath. To prove to officials that he or she is not inhaling, the raider must chant “kabaddi, kabaddi” throughout the attack. The best players can do it for several minutes.

Kabaddi’s rules would seem irredeemably arcane until one learns that 435 million Indian television viewers watched the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League during its inaugural five-week run this year. Or that the league’s final attracted, for however brief a duration, 86 million Indian viewers, surpassing the tallies for the 2014 World Cup and the Wimbledon finals.

There is more here, from The New York Times, the article also explains the Thai sport of sepaktakraw.  Here is Wikipedia.  You can watch (and hear) some kabaddi here.

The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.

There is more here, all of it a bit gruesome.

The demonstration effect

by on September 12, 2014 at 10:31 am in Current Affairs, Sports, Television | Permalink

Or is it herd behavior?:

Since the video of former NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée out in an elevator leaked, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an 84% increase in call volume.

There is more here, from Kottke.

How to stay on the right career path

by on September 3, 2014 at 1:31 am in Economics, Sports | Permalink

Also known as labor market precommitment:

St. Louis Rams rookie defense lineman Ethan Westbrooks made the final 53-man roster on Saturday, beating out Michael Sam for one of the team’s final spots.

Westbrooks has a remarkable story of his own. In 2011 he was working at a Toys “R” Us and playing for Sacramento City College. Three years later, he’s in the NFL. According to Westbrooks, an unlikely motivational tool — a face tattoo — is part of the reason for his success.

Westbrooks told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner that he got a tattoo below his eye in 2011 because he never wanted to get a normal job again. Making it in the NFL would be the only way to prevent him from becoming “a guy that has a tattoo on his face looking for another job.”

The full story is here, with a good photo.

The pointer is from G. Patrick Lynch.

…the NFL has reportedly requested its top three choices for the 2015 Super Bowl Halftime Show — Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Coldplay — to pay the league for the privilege of performing at halftime.

There is more here, and here and here.  For the pointers I thank F.E. Guerra-Pujol and Sheel Mohnot.

A Reason-Rupee poll asked

Do you think all kids who play sports should receive a trophy for their participation, or should only the winning players be awarded trophies?

Overall, an estimated 57% Americans said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies but there were big differences according to gender, race, politics, education and income. 62% of men, for example, said that only the winning players should be awarded trophies compared to 52% of women. These results are consistent with experiments in which women tend to shy away from competition (perhaps with long-run consequences in the workforce). Whites opt for trophies to the winners-only at 63% compared to African Americans at just 44% and Hispanics at 39%. A whopping 80% of libertarians say that trophies should go only to the winners compared to conservatives at 63% and liberals and progressives both at 53%. More educated respondents were more likely to opt for trophies for only the winners.  Trophies for the winners also increased strongly in income which could be because people with high income feel that they are winners or perhaps because people with high incomes are the types of people who enjoy competition.

Trophy1

Note that these are raw differences not betas from a statistical regression and since income, race, education etc. aren’t independent we don’t know which are the most controlling although the results point in directions consistent with other evidence. The data can be found here.

A.O. Scott considers that question in The New York Times.   I am not sure I can sum up his view in a sentence, so I don’t know if this is criticizing him or partially agreeing with him.  In any case, I don’t see growing income inequality as the main driving force behind the decline of middlebrow American culture.  An individual’s level of education often predicts cultural consumption better than does his or her income, and education has not in general declined in this country.

Furthermore many forms of culture have grown much cheaper.  Once you are paying for cable, the marginal dollar cost of watching a show or a movie at home is zero.  Songs and music are much cheaper than twenty years ago, and eBooks make many (not all) books cheaper.  In other words, if stagnant income groups wanted middlebrow culture, they still could afford it.

Global markets are growing and those markets are often relatively middlebrow in their orientation, which should maintain the return to producing middlebrow culture.  And the United States continues to grow in population, even though the middle is shrinking in percentage terms.  The supply of creative activity is quite elastic, so it is hard to argue the wealthy have placed all relevant artists in their employ and thus choked or starved the middle.

It is much more expensive to organize a middlebrow art exhibit than fifteen years ago, and we see fewer good ones, but that is mainly because of 9/11 and insurance rates and related institutional issues, not income inequality.

My view is a lot of people never wanted middlebrow culture in the first place, at least not in every sphere of their cultural consumption.  The internet gave them more choice, they took it, and much of middlebrow culture lost its support base.  Consider one area where the internet still doesn’t play that much of a role and that is theatrical productions.  You can watch plenty of theatre on YouTube, but it’s not such a close substitute to seeing the show live.  And if you look at Broadway theatre, it seems more relentlessly and aggressively middlebrow than ever before.  Ugh, that is why I stopped going.  NFL football seems middlebrow to me and the audience base still is there, again because the internet has not come up with a close competitor.  If the sport has a problem it is the violence and injury, not that we’ve evolved into a mix of polo ponies and roller derby.

But there is one type of insurance that people buy to protect them from the consequences of unusually good luck: In Japan, the U.K., and, to a lesser extent, around the world, golfers buy insurance to protect themselves from the potentially bankrupting consequences of sinking a hole in one.

The concept of hole in one insurance may baffle the uninitiated, but to many it is a wise precaution as golf tradition holds that anyone who scores a hole in one should buy drinks back at the clubhouse for his playing group — if not everyone present. In Japan, many give extravagant gifts to friends and family after scoring a lucky ace.

And indeed there is such an institution:

A number of firms offer hole in one insurance, frequently bundled with other services that golfers commonly buy like insurance for golfing equipment or personal liability. (Apparently yelling “Fore!” can’t ward off lawsuits if you hit a ball right at someone.) Golfplan, a U.K. insurer, covers $340 to $510 worth of drinks for hole in one celebrations. (Clubs’ set of rules for validating a hole in one makes it easier to process claims.) When it is sold unbundled, hole in one insurance can be cheap; Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. Ltd offers Japanese golfers hole in one insurance for as little as a $3 premium. Outside of individual policies, golf tournaments also get hole in one insurance so that they can offer huge cash prizes for a hole in one as a marketing promotion — it’s the same type of “prize indemnity” insurance that covers teams when a fan sinks a half court shot or makes a field goal.

In the United States, where the custom is less firmly established, golf forums are filled with debate about what tradition demands. Some clubs have written the tradition into their rules. The New York Times notes that the membership dues at one San Francisco club include covering $250 worth of drinks to celebrate any hole in one, while a similar system at a club in Bremerton, Washington, gives pro shop and food and beverage credit to the lucky golfer — it’s up to him or her to share.

The full story is here, hat tip goes to Michael Rosenwald.  I wonder how many people buy this insurance simply to convince themselves (falsely) that they have some chance of making a hole in one.

…they all had help in the early going from Matt Scherer. Scherer is, or was up until about a week ago, a professional track pacer, one of only a handful of people worldwide who used his speed and finely honed sense of time to help other people run fast. Though he started out as a competitive runner, his resume is filled with other runners’ accomplishments.

Pacers, or rabbits as they’re sometimes called (thus the bunny photo loop on his website), are frequently used in track races of 800 meters and longer to standardize the early laps and facilitate lively competition and fast times. Their job is to accurately lead through the first lap or 600 meters in a very specific time, getting the field off to a good start before stepping off the track, in anonymity. The pacer is a visual embodiment of time. Other runners in the field can easily judge their pace by how close they are to the rabbit. In recent years, almost every middle distance and distance world record was set with the help of a pacer. They’re not allowed in World Championship or Olympic competitions, which may account for the few world record performances at those events.

The full story is here, interesting throughout, and for the pointer I thank Michael Cohen.