Do smart sports writers actually dumb down the games they cover?

In a Ramsey model this can be true.

I went to see a Thunder-Clippers game with Kevin and Robin, and as usual parts of the live experience were rather distasteful to me, including the noise, the arena announcer, and the cheerleaders.  These features of sports have, overall, become worse over time.

That said, NBA basketball largely succeeds in appealing to both high-status and low-status men.  (Roller derby and pro wrestling can’t quite bridge that gap, NASCAR is doing this more than it used to.  On arena strategies for making everyone feel exclusive, try this interesting piece.)  Neither group goes away from the experience fully happy, but each receives something of value.

High-status men receive ancillary products related to the NBA, such as statistics and clever analytics, from say Bill Simmons or fivethirtyeight or Zach Lowe.  These make the experience of watching the game more high brow and also more satisfying.  In response to that improvement, some other aspects of the experience can be dumbed down, without the high-status men defecting.  The stupid promotions and halftime shows, for instance, becomes less suited to what the high status men might be looking for.  But you can ignore them when you’re happy to sit there and think through PER for this year’s Kevin Love, whether the Wizards should take so many long twos, or why the Atlanta Hawks were such a surprise.

And thus we have another unintended consequence: making an experience smarter, as do the clever sportswriters, can also contribute to making part of that same experience more stupid.

Addendum: Watching the game, I also learned that the Thunder have a deeper team than I had thought, and that Chris Paul is no longer a quick point guard.


High status men don't watch cheerleaders and roller derby?

You mean Low-T men right?


The assumption here that high-status men are also high-intelligence men uninterested in skimpy female outfits is proven false by the history of the world.

Clearly the archetypical "high status male" is Sheldon Cooper, ironically found starring on a very low-brow show.

I guess if you take peak status to be white trash that hit it big, you'd be confused.

This reasoning also applies well to the NFL and media's success in relentlessly pushing the dumb deflategate scandal at the expense of Patriots fans who are not going to defect.

The one thing I've learned through professional sports is that cheaters are SUPER defensive when caught.

Also when everyone else is doing it, but wasn't caught this time. Not sure if it applies in this instance, but it is quite common.

A large segment of the audience believes the NBA and NASCAR are fixed, no different than pro wrestling or roller derby. I watched an interview of Mark Cuban (he owns the Dallas NBA team) yesterday and he was asked about it. His response wasn't exactly reassuring. Or was it? He said that if the NBA were fixed, then the large market teams would be winning rather than losing. Really? I'd argue that the "success" of small market teams is proof that something isn't right in Kansas. As for NASCAR, when Bill France was alive it was believed that he would order the caution flag if the cars became too spread apart, not even going to the trouble of staging an "accident". That was back when the cars were very different, some much faster than others. Today, the cars (and drivers) are virtually identical, which helps explain why all of them go around the track like a freight train. But even today the caution flag can appear out of nowhere, bunching the cars together, although there's usually some kind of "incident" to justify it. One popular driver and his ex-girl friend are involved in a nasty break-up. He claims she is a hit-man (or woman) for the military, and would frequently come home with blood on her dress. He is either a crank or a showman. I'd say showman.

I agree with this analysis. If you had a league with a mixture of large market teams and small market teams, and everything was on the up-and-up, the large market teams would tend to win more over time. Their higher revenues wouldn't just be spent on higher salaries for athletes, but on better medical staff, trainers, and scouts, so a salary cap wouldn't necessarily keep them down. I think all professional sports teams do some game fixing to keep up the win totals of their small market teams.

It's the goal of the NFL that teams should always win their home games, which is one of the objects of the obscene parity scheduling. This keeps fannies in the seats as background for the wide-angle shots in the very necessary television coverage. Spectators at NFL games serve the same purpose as those that attend TV game shows like "Family Feud" and "Jeopardy".

They really don't game fix. These ideas are insane. You couldn't keep a lid on that if it was happening in ALL professional sports. One isolated incident? Maybe. Gamblers attempting to fix games? Yeah it happens, rarely.

I'm not knowledgeable enough about NASCAR to comment on that but it isn't happening in the 4 major team sports.

+1, but some folks here will never believe you.

If the nba was fixed the playoffs would be all 7 game series.

Minor quibble- Zach Lowe, not Zack Lowe.

IMO the best basketball writer we have. I learn something about basketball in basically each article he writes. Kirk Goldsberry is also good, although he's a more focused on metrics while Lowe excels at explaining the little nuances I miss, like how different players set/slip different kinds of screens.

Definitely. Lowe is incredible. I often look for the stuff he points out in games, or try to evaluate how the Celtics do things compared to how he explains good teams do things. Spoiler alert: they do those things worse.

The Celtics should start cheating, like the other guys in town.

Who are these smart sportswriters of whom you speak?

Bill Barnwell,, and...well, that's about it for the NFL

There is some really good work being done on the film study side. Try (Chris Brown also regularly writes for Grantland.) Also, on the team level there are some good websites. I'm a Seahawks fan, so I know, which is very good for team-level analysis. Although it's fan-run, so articles can be hit-or-miss. When they're good, they're very good.

Also, for just good writing on the NFL, try Mike Tanier. He's a Football Outsiders alum, writing currently for Bleacher Report. (Yeah, yeah, I know. He's the only reason I go there, and only for his articles.) is the analogous Patriots-centric site that launched this year. Very good breaking down film; I've learned more this season than in the last 20.

Seconded on Chris Brown, who was the best football writer on the planet when he was a 22 year law student doing it in his spare time. Also check out, and the sadly defunct Trojan Football Analysis. Other than that, not much.

Yes, i forgot to mention Chris Brown. He is indeed fantastic.

+1 for Mike Tanier. I'll add Chase Stuart at Football Perspective. He also writes for Football Outsiders.

Everyone at fangraphs, a baseball analytics site.

Not Carson cistulli.

I you were really high status you would play not watch.

I am a player not a spectator.

Sometimes I have to be seen watching a regular game just to show I am one of the boys.

I you were really a high status player, you would not be commenting on blogs.


He's not a high status player, he's Andris Biedrins (ab)

In my opinion sports coverage lacks because the reporters do not have game experience to properly asses what happened on the field. Then pair that with the fact that players most likely do not communicate what they were intending or planning to do as a lot of the actions are series of steps that happen so fast in the mind it is difficult to recount in conversation. The best sports coverage I have seen or can recall was an episode a few years back when Phil Simms was having a conversation with Lawrence Taylor on his approach to matching up with Joe Jacoby. LT goes into great detail about hand positions and technique required to beat a block and links that to knowledge on blocking scheme and formations as to how a pass rush strategy needed to develop. Most of time we just think it is athlete against athlete but it is clearly not the case...this level of detail cannot be achieved by a reporter due to the fact they don't have the experience nor does their job allow them to deep dive into a single topic.

Why is it, then, that when I watch NFL halftime shows, the ex-coaches and players Fox and CBS stuff their studios with rarely have anything insightful at all to say about the games? Is it because the network doesn't want them to talk about anything in the kind of depth that would cause the casual fan to want to flip channels?

For the record, I agree with Tyler's take. There's a lot of annoying music and jumbotron crap at live sporting events during timeouts and it has gotten worse over time, which is actually rather odd because as much as tickets to NBA/NFL/NHL games cost (MLB is still fairly cheap) these days, the actual ticket buyers are substantially more up-market than they use to be.

@Jeff R.

I don't know why they don't let the former coaches and players go into detail...all those segments are really quick and set to advertising beats so...keeping the lights on and profits most likely are a reason...and I don't know if audience really wants to hear deep dive information. To be honest I was thinking not of live coverage but more of the pre and post game as being an opportunity to delve deeper.

Just like many great players don't become great coaches, they also don't become great commentators, since they can't explain or teach what comes naturally to them.

Next post should be: "Do dumb econ bloggers try to act smart?"

I disagree with the entire framing of this post, and especially with the characterization of Bill Simmons as appealing only to “high-status” men. First of all, lots and lots of women watch sports and obsess about them just as much as men. Secondly, Simmons’ entire appeal is that he’s an everyman. He sets himself apart by actually cheering for Boston teams in the style of a regular fan, and that’s why people (not just men) love him. A lot of writers have copied his style but he was a truly unique voice at the beginning of his career. His voice is different because other sportswriters use the same neutral template over and over, which causes them to avoid writing about certain topics.

And cheerleaders are only for the “low-status” men? I know that at the very least, male and female dancers and fans of dance like to watch other dancers. Cheerleaders don’t get paid a lot by the teams, but they leverage their status into lucrative side gigs like appearing at corporate events. Many cheerleaders hold or are seeking advanced degrees and make a high $/hr. overall with their dancing. Does Cowen approve of Cirque de Soleil or is he against all very fit people performing amazing physical feats to entertain an audience?

True men are uninterested in dessert and women, and enjoy a crummy environment and restaurants aimed at ethnic minorities who don't actually go to the restaurant.

Real men don't drink. Drinking is purely low status.

LOL! I was thinking the same thing.

Bill Simmons aims, successfully, at the large, upscale market of male college graduates who are intense sports fans. I would guess that 90% of his regular readers are from the right half of the Bell Curve. Simmons works hard to make his insights simple to read about, but the number of insights he has is extraordinary.

Look who's a Simmons fanboi!

For the record I'm a fan too. 'Extraordinary' though? Get a room! ;-)


Only political writers and political economists

Dumb down the game they cover.

I would suggest that political writers significantly dumb up the games they cover. So to speak.

Cheerleaders and dumb halftime shows have been a part of basketball for a long time. If they're over the top today its more because owners have to sell an 82 game schedule that is filled with mostly meaningless games against faceless opponents, except for the random visit of a team with a recognizable superstar or one of the few actual rivalry games.
The US pro sport with the wealthiest, best educated demographic is NHL hockey. Its also the most visceral, emotionally engaging and, if you've ever been to a game in Chicago or Boston, the loudest, most intense arena experience (although no cheerleaders, thankfully). Until very recently it had no advanced analytics and no tradition of great sportswriters, except for a few guys in Canada, mostly unknown to US readers. The sports' defining moment in the US-the "Miracle on Ice"-is steeped in nationalistic pride and emotion.And when I go to game and a fight breaks out on the ice , the people in the "high status" zones are up on their feet cheering as much as those in the rafters.
I agree with Tyler that advanced analytics increase my understanding and appreciation of sport but its tangential and it has come about mainly because of ta younger generations obsession with computers and stats and not because of any mainstream sportswriting and certainly not as a conscious effort by any NBA or NHL owners to appeal to "high status" patrons.

Almost all of what you say about ice hockey applies to soccer outside the US--Obviously working class and immigrant players play a game with broad appeal. The flow is crucial (only half-time as an opportunity for low-status appeals) with the pride of place (soccer teams almost *never* move) and the constant possibility of an upset driving support in the stadium..

Correct, but only because you added the qualifier "pro." College football provides the best competition, the best in-stadium experience, and the best-educated (and therefore highest status???) fanbase. PLUS cheerleaders.

'High-status men receive ancillary products related to the NBA, such as statistics and clever analytics'

And here I was, thinking that high status men received financial benefit from ancillary products related to the NBA because they are owners, players, agents, etc. while caring very little about statistics or clever analytics.

Yep, there you were, continuing your tenure as mayor of Wrongburg.

Roller Derby is the most underrated arena sport. Fencing is also underrated as a spectator sport.

In college (35 years ago) I was enamored of a woman on the women's fencing team so I would go to her matches. it was the single worst spectator sport I've ever attended. Action too fast to see, followed by a light, followed by an official's ruling as to whether the light's judgment was to be trusted, with essentially no guidance to spectators as to why the light's ruling was being overruled. And not that I'm bitter, but I never got anywhere with either.

Damn my typing... Never got anywhere with HER, either.

It works either way.

The 1984 Summer Olympics did a pretty good job of making fencing a spectator sport, holding the matches in front of a black velvet curtain, the ref in a tuxedo, with slo-mo replay on a big screen. My parents went and found it a fun outing.

In contrast, the wrestling matches I went to at the 1984 Olympics were terrible as a spectator sport. By all accounts, amateur wrestling is a great participation sport, but they need to rethink how to make it more spectator-friendly.

+1 on the roller derby. It's very entertaining and great for photographers because you can sit right on top of the action. The matches can be exciting although they're frequently blowouts.

On the pointlessness of watching other people play this sums it up:
Sonny: Mickey Mantle? Is that what you're upset about? Mickey Mantle makes $100,000 a year. How much does your father make? You don't know? Well, see if your father can't pay the rent go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don't care about you, so why should you care about him? Nobody cares."

By this logic, all entertainment that involves other people doing things to entertain you is "pointless".

Not at all. Let them entertain you, but don't get all wrapped up in their lives. When the game/movie is over move on with your life.

What makes you think 95% of sports fans don't do exactly that?

Tyler's constant reference to himself as high-status has me worried that MR commentators are rubbing off on him.

LOL, +1

The noise is out of hand. I went with my father to a Nationals game last year. It was literally (yes, literally, Mr Vice-President) impossible to have a conversation with him during the half-inning breaks due to the music and announcer. We won't back.

Why all the hate on cheerleaders?

Can't speak for the entire NFL, but in the case of the R*dsk*ns, the cheerleaders wear pretty revealing outfits. High SES men are not supposed to ogle (or at least they're not supposed to get caught). Low SES men, however, can get away with it.

I wonder if more high status men are Steelers fans. Only team in the NFL without cheerleaders.

Only team without cheerleaders in the NFL. Unless you include the Bears, Giants, Packers, Browns or Lions in the NFL.

Thanks, I really didn't know, I remember hearing it was just the Steelers, but obviously had it wrong.

Here's the names they should use if they change their minds: Steelettes, Cubs, New York Dolls, Lambeau Ladies, Brownies, and Lionesses

I suspect that, with "high-status men", Tyler Cowen is saying "high-status men from the point of view of a college professor" - men with high academic credentials and with intellectual interests, not what probably everybody else calls "high-status men" (rich and/or famous)

That was exactly my reaction - the post reads like high intelligence = high status. I'm not a big sports fan, but in the few times in my life I've gone to games and been around what would normally be understood to be "high status" people (owners, sponsors, etc.), they certainly weren't wonking out over "clever analytics."

"That was exactly my reaction – the post reads like high intelligence = high status."

My thoughts exactly. Tyler is conflating high status with high intelligence. And only a few days after making a brouhaha over his readers picking too many "nerdy" white guys.

"And only a few days after making a brouhaha over his readers picking too many “nerdy” white guys."

This makes complete sense. Cosmopolitanism is part of Tyler's ideal of "high status."

Tyler -

I am one of the many sensitive artists who come here to learn about economics. Your throwaway references to such things as the Ramsey model are driving many of us away. I can prove that this is a ostentatiously glib and downright hostile introduction by challenging any commenter to connect the dots between this theory and the Clippers.

Hopefully you are being driven away to Wikipedia...

I see that, as predicted, you are unable to connect the Ramsey model to the Clippers game.

Spot-on comment. Sadly, reading this blog is not a good way to learn about economics. Tyler's posts sound intelligent but he never explains his references and they are almost always too obscure to be understood.

That said, my guess is he is talking about the "Ramsey pricing rule", which according to this pdf:

says that consumers should be charged different prices based on their elasticity of demand.

Intelligence is not status.

So statistics can help one enjoy watching people running after a ball. Without making the question personal, could it be the same with food and sex?

And we all know the best website for sex analytics would just be named "analytics" with a well-placed hyphen.

And he almost got arrested for those business cards. :)

The English words you mean to use are low-brow and high-brow, Thomas Aquinas.

I read this blog for a while... starting to become boring...

Is that Frank Ramsey or a misspelled Jack Ramsay?

Was there twerking?

High brows aren't supposed to know what twerking is.

How about a post on the economics of status? Like, how effective is proclaiming yourself to be high status, either subtly implying it or outright declaring it?

Is it more effective in other "high status" company, or in low status? For example would a room full of male economics professors with the personalities of door knobs more quickly convince themselves and each other of their high status? What if you were to transplant them into the VIP section of a sports arena during a major event? Would they have an easier time signaling their "high status" among celebrities and power brokers with attractive women roaming around? Would implying that you know so-and-so, say a couple of famous billionaire brothers that pay your salary have an effect? And what about women, would being a charmless egghead who makes women's eyes glaze over while talking about the statistics of the event and, probably, the properties of the concrete used to construct the arena, be a detriment, or would that improve your status the way the musty odor and drab decor of a cheap Chinese restaurant in a godforsaken strip mall would improve it's status?

U mad, bro?

I get what you're saying, but I don't know how strong the mechanism, i.e. owners knowing demand from die-hards is inelastic to stupid stuff leads them to dumbing down the experience to increase demands of the stupids, could possibly be. (I don't mean "stupids" literally.) Would this just be second-order to the first-order effect of the NBA being more entertaining than MLB and more accessible (there is a better word for it) than the NHL? I feel this is confounded with "extent of the market" kind of arguments. But I don't really understand the market for NBA tickets because I'm a League Pass guy. Either way this post was pretty interesting.

Why is that the sport with by far the biggest global following among men and women, high and low status, has neither nudie half-time shows nor fancy analytics?

OK there are some football ["soccer"] stats omnivores but it's not really mainstream.

More free flowing games with fewer separable events are harder to analyze statistically. That is why basketball took longer than baseball. Soccer will take even longer.

The WWE should start publishing statistics.

How is the painfully slow realization that 3 points > 2 points more intellectually stimulating than the t-shirt cannon or kiss cam? The analytics revolution is important to the game (to an overstated, but real, extent)... but the analytics products packaged for high-status consumption by Kirk Goldsberry, etc rarely require much mental work on the high-status consumers part other than recognizing that "more points = better". I'm pretty sure the low-status crowd figured this out a long time ago. Analytics is useful, but at this point for many sports much of the low-hanging fruit is gone... for the NBA in particular, all of the analytics in the world can't come close to equaling competent management, a good coach, and having at least two stars on your team.

Analytics aren't simply 3>2. Low hanging fruit is gone but basketball specially is a very complex game with plenty of useful advances to be made. In every sport you see the teams that embrace analytics having more success than the average team. It's not a coincidence.

The right analytics can help you identify the right management, the right coach and the right stars. These things go hand in hand.

I agree with all of that; just that the analytics that Cowen apparently finds so stimulating rarely boils down to more than 3>2. Analytics-based sports writers are dumbing down their beat as well so that folks can read it and feel smart because they know just enough to tell their friends that Whitesides has the best PER in 2015 or whatever. It's pretty shallow as far as intellectual stimulus goes.

I'm not disagreeing with you on how writers use analytics, it's frequently garbage. PER is terrible, it's only used so much because ESPN showcases it.

What I'm saying is that analytics are incredibly useful to front offices, and in all sports there are still rapid advances being made.

One can be rich and yet low-status, or prole and yet high-status ... I propose to retire "status" terms and instead, specify that we are talking about high/low SOCIOECONOMIC LEVEL.

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