Sports

…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.

…in South Korea, the Hanwha Eagles (former team of Hyun-Jin Ryu) have gone “next level” by providing robots to stomp and yell unifying chants for those who cannot attend the game in person.

There is more here, good short video, the robots take on the actual faces of absent fans, and for the pointer I thank Isaac.

NBA salaries are subject to price controls at some margins, so neither Miami nor Cleveland could pay LeBron more.  Therefore a theory of profit maximization predicts LeBron will choose the deal that extends his career the most, so as to maximize lifetime income and perhaps also fun.  Another year playing also probably means higher endorsement income than a year in retirement.

In Cleveland he is not actually expected to win, at least not right away.  They can play the young guys a lot and rest his legs and extend his career, while developing the quality of the overall team.  And if the mix of players somehow comes through in a year or two, he looks like a basketball genius.  The East seems weak enough that Cleveland will at least make the Eastern Finals for the next few years, thus avoiding embarrassment.

Given their demographic structure and Bosh’s accruing softness, Miami is a contender only if it pushes LeBron very hard and thus shortens his career.  I speculate that he was very upset that he was pushed and played so hard all year long, to rest Wade, only to develop those disabling leg cramps at the end of game one against San Antonio in the Finals, which caused him to lose face.

I haven’t seen other analyses take career length into account.  LeBron is entering his thirties and watching the physical implosion of Kobe Bryant, one of his role models.  He knows Michael Jordan took two years off and ended up as a geezer on the Washington Wizards.  He sees Wade — one of his best buddies — a broken player at age 32.  Why not choose the outcome that might give him a few extra years of both salary and fun?

Addendum: Apparently LBJ is taking only a two-year contract with Cleveland.

James could have taken a four-year contract worth more than $88 million from the Cavs. But he now will be able to negotiate a better contract in two years and also has the choice to opt out after one season to renegotiate next summer. Player options only can come before the final season of a contract, another reason for the two-year deal.

That is emphasis added, the pointer here came from Angus.  I would mention that the theory of profit maximization is often underrated and that this Cleveland deal really is a good one for LBJ.

Joshua Tucker says yes:

…if LeBron waits until every other play has signed, those players will all have made their decisions not thinking they have the maximum chance of winning a championship.  Because they value both winning and making money, every one of those players will have signed for more money than they would have needed to sign had Lebron already signed with that team.  LeBron, upon joining that team, will therefore be playing with players who were more expensive than they needed to be.  This in turn means that whatever team he joins will either (a) have less money to sign LeBron or (b) have less money to sign other players besides LeBron and the free-agents they have already signed.  Either way, LeBron gets less of what he wants (defined here as money + likelihood of winning) than if the other free agents had known he was going to be on that team before he signed.

Therefore the converse should also hold: by moving sooner, LeBron should be able to get more of what he wants. By virtue of being the single best free agent available, Lebron instantly adds more to a team’s chance of winning a championship than any other player, and therefore will drive down the cost of acquiring other players to complement him as he seeks out additional championships.

But I don’t think that is right.  LeBron needed to find out if Wade and Bosh are willing to take significant pay cuts, to help Miami bring in better players.  So far it seems he is learning the answer is “no.”

More formally, you can think of this as threshold and discontinuity issues kicking in.  If LeBron signs quickly with Miami, and Wade and Bosh are selfish in pecuniary terms, Miami can’t do much of anything to become a decent contender.  That is because the salary cap makes it very difficult to bring in other good players at reasonable cost (the “luxury tax”).  No major free agents have stepped forward and shown their willingness to take a big pay cut to play with LeBron.

If that is indeed what has been learned, LeBron now can pit a few other teams against each other — Cleveland, the Lakers, maybe even Phoenix and Houston — and ask how big a financial commitment to winning they are able to make.  (Miami of course can be kept in the mix.)  It takes a while for those teams to signal their intentions, and that also requires waiting on LeBron’s part, if only to let the bids escalate.  That is the way to extract greater sacrifices from other players and also from the owners, a factor which I don’t see Tucker putting at the center of his analysis.

Of course LeBron won’t wait very long.  At some point each team has put its best plan on the table and then he will choose (for reasons similar to those outlined by Tucker), which is likely quite soon.  Still, it is privately optimal for him to start that process with some waiting and with a minimum of non-committal rhetoric, which is indeed what we are observing.

A Norwegian football fan has scooped a cool £500 after betting on Luis Suarez to bite somebody at the World Cup in Brazil.

Suarez has twice been spotted biting opponents in recent years, so the punter thought he’d put £3 on the striker to take a munch out of somebody at Brazil 2014.

And low and behold, towards the end of Uruguay’s clash with Italy, he bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini – triggering the bookmaker to pay out.

With odds of 175/1, it was a pretty amazing outcome, despite Suarez’s reliability for biting his rivals.

See above for the betting slip, all numbers are in Norwegian krone.

The link with photo is here.  For the pointer I thank Carlos Cinelli.

What would we do without the economists?:

Brazil will beat Germany to win soccer’s World Cup and also will score the most goals, according to a survey of economists across 52 countries.

The tournament’s host nation eclipsed Germany and Argentina as the top choice among 171 economists from 139 companies in a Bloomberg News poll published today. The Latin American country is also tipped to find the net the most times, topping Argentina and Spain.

Projections of a sixth World Cup victory for Brazil mesh with bookmaker odds and forecasts based on economic models created by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., UniCredit SpA and Danske Bank A/S. Paddy Power Plc and Ladbrokes Plc both rank Brazil as favorite, at odds of 3/1.

There is more here.  Even better would have been a survey of the economist bloggers.  In any case, here is a related survey from The Upshot.

When will we all?:

Zormelo, who works for individual players and not their teams studies film, pores over metrics, and feeds his clients a mix of information and instruction that is as much informed by Excel spreadsheets as it is by coaches’ playbooks. He gives players data and advice on obscure points of the game — something many coaches may not appreciate — like their offensive production when they take two dribbles instead of four and their shooting percentages when coming off screens at the left elbow of the court.

There is more here, via @EdwardGarnett.  Kevin Durant and John Wall are two of his better-known employers.  The NBA coaches, by the way, are not necessarily informed about Zormelo’s work.

Yaoming

Former NBA star Yao Ming is being sued by Beijing resident Feng Changshun for endorsing a health food product that Feng said misleads consumers, in one of the first consumer rights cases involving a celebrity since a new protection law was enacted in March.

Feng is suing Baxsun Pharmacy, a retail chain in Beijing, for exaggerating the benefits of its fish oil capsules.

Yao, a spokesman for the product, is also being sued. Beijing’s Xicheng district court has confirmed that it will hear the case.

Feng said he is seeking 500 yuan ($80.10) in compensation from the retail chain and 0.01 yuan from Yao Ming.

“(The lawsuit) is symbolic. I want (Yao Ming) to admit to infringements of my rights,” he said.

You can read more here.

There is a new paper by Benjamin Hermalin, with the intriguing title “At the Helm, Kirk or Spock? Why Even Wholly Rational Actors May Favor and Respond to Charismatic Leaders.”  The abstract runs like this:

When a leader makes a purely emotional appeal, rational followers realize she is hiding bad news. Despite such pessimism and even though not directly influenced by emotional appeals, rational followers’ efforts are nonetheless greater when an emotional appeal is made by a more rather than less charismatic leader. Further, they tend to prefer more charismatic leaders. Although organizations can do better with more charismatic leaders, charisma is a two-edged sword: more charismatic leaders will tend to substitute charm for real action, to the organization’s detriment. This helps explain the literature’s “mixed report card” on charisma.

Here is what actually drives the argument:

As shown below, a savvy leader makes an emotional appeal when “just the facts” provide followers too little incentive and, conversely, makes a rational appeal when the facts “speak for themselves.” Followers (at least rational ones) will, of course, understand this is how she behaves. In particular, the rational ones—called “sober responders”—will form pessimistic beliefs about the productivity state upon hearing an emotional appeal. But how pessimistic depends on how charismatic the leader is. Because a more charismatic leader is more inclined to make an emotional appeal ceteris paribus, sober responders are less pessimistic about the state when a more charismatic leader makes an emotional appeal than when a less charismatic leader does [emphasis added]. So, even though not directly influenced by emotional appeals, sober (rational) responders work harder in equilibrium in response to an emotional appeal from a more charismatic leader than in response to such an appeal from a less charismatic leader.

Would this same reasoning also imply we should choose intrinsically panicky leaders, because then, if we see them panic, we would think the real underlying situation isn’t so bad after all and we are simply witnessing their innate propensity to panic? Yet no one would buy that version of the argument.

I will instead suggest that we (sometimes) follow charismatic leaders because they have high social intelligence, and most of all because other people are inclined to follow them.  Some of those followers of course do not have rational expectations but rather they are touched by the charisma directly.  Given that, why not follow the focal leader, even if you yourself are not touched by the charisma?

A related question is to ask how many recent world leaders are in fact charismatic.  Obama and Clinton yes, but how about David Cameron?  How about most Prime Ministers of Japan, Abe being a possible exception?  Arguably Merkel has become charismatic through a sort of extreme, cultivated anti-charisma, but I would not cite her in favor of the theory.  Any Canadian since Trudeau?  Helmut Kohl?

Putin?  Well, he’s not charismatic to me but now we’re getting somewhere.  And what does Putin have that say Prime Ministers of Japan do not?  Could it be a citizenry that gets excited relatively easily by the brutish?  Come to think of it, the USA has a wee bit of excitability of its own, though more about national pride and foreign policy than anything like Putin.  Hint: does your theory predict that Argentina will have charismatic leaders relative to Denmark?  Yes or no?

In which business sectors are the CEOs most likely to be charismatic?

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Addendum: Hermalin responds here.

Jason Kottke blogs:

A Japanese TV show took three expert fencers and pitted them against 50 amateurs.

I honestly didn’t think this would be that interesting and expected the Musketeers to easily get taken out right away or, if they survived more than 30 seconds, to handily finish off the rest of the crowd…nothing in between. But it’s fascinating what happens. The crowd, being a crowd, does not initially do what it should, which is rush the experts and take them out right away with little regard for individual survival. But pretty much every person fights for themselves. And instead of getting easier for the Musketeers near the end, it gets more difficult. The few remaining crowd members start working together more effectively. The survival of the fittest effect kicks in. The remaining experts get sloppy, tired, and perhaps a little overconfident. The ending was a genuine shock.

There is a new paper by Philip Maymin:

I project historical NCAA college basketball performance to subsequent NBA performance for prospects using modern machine learning techniques without snooping bias. I find that the projections would have helped improve the drafting decisions of virtually every team: over the past ten years, teams forfeited an average of about $90,000,000 in lost productivity that could have been theirs had they followed the recommendations of the model. I provide team-by-team breakdowns of who should have been drafted instead, as well as team summaries of lost profit, and draft order comparison. Far from being just another input in making decisions, when used properly, advanced draft analytics can effectively be an additional revenue source in a team’s business model.

Note these are “partial equilibrium” estimates, namely given rivalry not every team can draft better to this extent.