Category: Sports

The future of football, revisited

On one hand:

Ratings for regular-season games fell 17 percent over the past two years, according to Nielsen, and after one week of play in the new season, viewership has been flat. February marked the third-straight year of audience decline for the Super Bowl and the smallest audience since 2009. Youth participation in tackle football, meanwhile, has declined by nearly 22 percent since 2012 in the face of an emerging scientific consensus that the game destroys the brains of its players.

On the other hand, how many other focal experiences are left:

Yet even a middling franchise, the Carolina Panthers, sold in May for a league record  $2.3 billion. Advertisers spent a record $4.6 billion for spots during NFL games last season, as well as an all-time high $5.24 million per 30 seconds of Super Bowl time. The reason is clear: In 2017, 37 of the top 50 broadcasts on U.S. television were NFL games, including four of the top five.

The Green Bay Packers, the only NFL team that shares financial statements with the public, has posted revenue increases for 15 straight seasons. Leaguewide revenue has grown more than 47 percent since 2012. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s official target is $25 billion in revenue by 2027, or roughly 6 percent annual growth.

“The business of the NFL is very strong and continues to get stronger,” says Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., and an unofficial surrogate for league owners.

But what will happen if the number of brain damage cases continues to rise?  Here is more from Ira Boudway and Eben Novy-Williams at Bloomberg.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez.

Height, size, and tennis

Five of the 16 men in the fourth round of singles at the United States Open are at least 6-5, and seven of the 16 women are at least 5-10…

The serve is the aspect in which undersized players most feel the height gap — they do not get to hit down on the ball and thus cannot generate the same power as taller players.

In earlier decades height was not nearly as important for tennis success.  Yet:

Returning serve is one area in which shorter players tend to be better than the largest of their counterparts…

Flipkens said shorter players had to learn to analyze the game better, reading their opponent’s tosses to make the most of their return opportunities.

Austin said, “Anticipation is not an overt skill, but it is crucial to develop.”

Once the ball is in play, smaller players frequently rely on superior speed. “Everybody is taller than me,” the 5-1 Kurumi Nara said, “so I try to move well and more quickly than the other person.”

While bigger players are getting more agile, most still are not light on their feet. Low balls at the feet make them uncomfortable.

Glushko said taller players “don’t like the ball hit into the body,” and that applies to serves too.

Smaller players like Siegemund said the best tactic was to stand further back, allowing them to run down more balls — and to let the balls come down to a more manageable height. But to play defense and extend rallies, Seigemund said, smaller players must stay in top shape.

“All the players are fit, but we have to be fitter,” she said.

Some say the opposite approach may be more helpful. “The whole point of tennis is to rob your opponent of time,” Austin said. “You can do that with raw power or by hitting the ball early. Shorter players need to take the ball extra early.”

That is from Stuart Miller at the NYT.  In addition to having some interest in tennis, I wonder to what extent this is a property of achievement in general.  As the logic of meritocracy advances, and the pool of talent is searched more efficiently, perhaps individuals with a clear natural advantage — whether size, smarts, or something else — become a larger percentage of top achievers.  Yet those wonderful “natural athletes” will have their weaknesses, just as Shaquille O’Neal had hands too large for the effective shooting of free throws.  So a second but smaller tier opens up for individuals who have the smarts, versatility, and “training mentality” to fill in the gaps left open by the weaknesses of the most gifted.  Who are the “taller” and “shorter” players in the economics profession?  Politics?  The world of tech?  Are there any “short players” left in the top ranks of the world of chess?  I don’t think so.

And maybe, for these reasons, late growth spurts are a source of competitive advantage?

eSports update

In case you’ve been sleeping:

Tournament prize pools now rival those for some of the biggest events in traditional sports, and global audiences for some big gaming events have surpassed 100 million viewers, driven largely by esports’ exploding popularity in Asia.

The lion’s share of esports revenue comes from corporate sponsorships, according to industry analysis firm Newzoo, with ticket sales, merchandising and broadcasting rights bringing in additional revenue. Newzoo estimates that esports will generate $345 million in revenue in North America this year, in addition to more than half a billion dollars in revenue overseas.

You will note that total is much less than for major league football or baseball, which exceed $10 billion each.  Still, “more service for less gdp” is a common theme in the internet economy.  Consider this:

The 2017 League of Legends world championship, held in Beijing, drew a peak of over 106 million viewers, over 98 percent of whom watched from within China, according to industry analyst Esports Charts. That’s roughly on par with the audience for the 2018 Super Bowl.

In other words, the nation without the traditional “locked in” major sport franchises is choosing to jump to eSports.  And:

This year’s total DOTA 2 championship audience was roughly the same size as the total number tuning into the Kentucky Derby, and considerably larger than the peak Wimbledon, Daytona 500, U.S. Open or Tour de France audiences.

All of a sudden, more and more of the world is “stuff I never really heard of before.”

Here is more from Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog.

Olympic gold medals and longevity

Perhaps it is better to win the silver, to which other life outcomes might this apply?:

This paper compares mortality between Gold and Silver medalists in Olympic Track and Field to study how achievement influences health. Contrary to conventional wisdom, winners die over one year earlier than losers. I find strong evidence of differences in earnings and occupational choices as a mechanism. Losers pursued higher-paying occupations than winners according to individual Census records. I find no evidence consistent with selection or risk-taking. How people respond to success or failure in pivotal life events may produce long-lasting consequences for health.

That is from Adam Leive, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Good-bye soccer moms? (and dads)

Or U.S.A. fact of the day:

Over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players, according to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which has analyzed youth athletic trends for 40 years. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly.

…In general, participation in youth sports nationwide has declined in the past decade, as children gravitate to electronic diversions and other distractions…

“It’s lost more child participants than any other sport — about 600,000 of them,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

That is from Joe Drape at the NYT.

Corruption and sensitive soccer games

We utilize data from sensitive soccer games in 75 countries between the years 2001 and 2013. In these games one team was in immediate danger of relegation to a lower division (Team A) and another team was not affected by the result (Team B). Using within-country variation, our difference-in-difference analysis reveals that the more corrupt the country, according to Corruption Perceptions Index, the higher is the probability that Team A would achieve the desired result in the sensitive games relative to achieving this result in other, non-sensitive games against the same team. We also find that in the later stages of the following year, the probability that Team A would lose against Team B compared to losing against a similar team (usually better than Team B) is significantly higher in more corrupt countries than in less corrupt countries. This result serves as evidence of quid pro quo behavior.

That is a recently published paper by Guy Elaad, Alex Krumer, and Jeffrey Kantor.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The NBA vs. the NFL

[Lebron] James has more than 38 million followers on Instagram and nearly 42 million on Twitter. Brady, the N.F.L.’s biggest star, has 4.1 million Instagram followers and is not active on Twitter.

The best of those N.B.A. players are also power brokers behind the scenes. The executive committee of the N.B.A. players’ union looks like a future wing of the Hall of Fame, including James, Curry, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.

The John Branch article (NYT) is interesting throughout on the economics of sports, social media, American politics, and race.  I’ve said it before, but the NBA is one of the best-functioning institutions in America today.

Which system should be redesigned from scratch?

Here is another question I didn’t get to answer from last night:

Your blog talks about making small marginal improvements, but if you could redesign one system entirely from scratch, which one would it be, and how would it look compared to what is currently in place?

One answer would be “blogging, I would have much more of it.”  But my main answer would be higher education, especially those tiers below the top elite universities.  Completion rates are astonishingly low, and also not very transparent (maybe about 40 percent?).  I would ensure that every single student receives a reasonable amount of one-on-one tutoring and/or mentoring in his or her first two years.  In return, along budgetary lines, I would sacrifice whatever else needs to go, in order to assure that end.  If we’re all standing around in robes, arguing philosophy under the proverbial painted porch, so be it.  At the same time, I would boost science funding at the top end.

I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether.  Maybe you simply finish with an “assessment,” or rather you never quite finish at all, since you might return to take a class when you are 43.  Why cannot this space be more finely grained, especially in an age of information technology?

At lower ages, I would do everything possible to move away from having all of the children belong to the exact same age group.  The Boy Scouts are a better model here than “the 7th grade.”

The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment. and I don’t just say that because I root for Golden State.  Though that doesn’t hurt any, either.

Trampoline question

I gave a talk yesterday, and did not have time to get to this question, from Eric S., which we discussed during the dinner hour:

Who could launch themselves higher on a trampoline? LeBron James or Simone Biles?

She is a world class female gymnast, and much lighter (and less strong) than LeBron.  The question is assuming that both parties are motivated to win the competition, and have sufficient time to train to achieve their maximum potential in the contest.

Ultimately I settled on Simone as the better answer, mumbling something about small ants being very powerful for their size, and that magnification and extension of muscle spans ends up producing problematic results.  The power gain from the extra weight might be more than offset by the “drag” loss on the way up.  But I genuinely do not know.  Your view?

Addendum: This is an interesting article on animals and elastic springs.  And Jason Kottke adds comment, amazing photo too.

Washington Metro Qatar markets in everything

Metro significantly relaxed its policies on extended hours for the Washington Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, including extending service for Thursday night’s series win without ever planning for any cash to change hands, WTOP has learned.

Since last summer, Metro has required a $100,000 deposit for each additional hour of service, and Metro suggested Wednesday that the Capitals’ parent company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, would cover those costs for Thursday night’s game.

In fact, Thursday night’s extended service was part of a trade between the Caps and Metro that Metro valued at $100,000, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said in an email…

Revised requirements issued last year normally call for the $100,000 deposit two weeks ahead of an event for each extra hour of service. Instead, Metro is billing each of the other groups that agreed to pay for the extended service for Capitals playoff games after the fact, Stessel said…

The bills being sent to those other groups — Qatar (via the Downtown BID), Comcast and Uber — will already include the discount for any fares paid during extended hours of service.

Here is the bizarre story, via Bruce Arthur.  For those of you who don’t get the joke, the D.C. Metro system shuts down too early relative to when many sporting events are likely to end.

Elite competitors live longer, even in chess

The survival rates of GMs at 30 and 60 years since GM title achievement were 87% and 15%, respectively. The life expectancy of GMs at the age of 30 years (which is near the average age when they attained a GM title) was 53.6 ([95% CI]: 47.7–58.5) years, which is significantly greater than the overall weighted mean life expectancy of 45.9 years for the general population. Compared to Eastern Europe, GMs in North America (HR [95% CI]: 0.51 [0.29–0.88]) and Western Europe (HR [95% CI]: 0.53 [0.34–0.83]) had a longer lifespan. The RS analysis showed that both GMs and OMs had a significant survival advantage over the general population, and there was no statistically significant difference in the RS of GMs (RS [95% CI]: 1.14 [1.08–1.20]) compared to OMs: (RS [95% CI]: 1.09 [1.07–1.11]) at 30 years.

Elite chess players live longer than the general population and have a similar survival advantage to elite competitors in physical sports.

That is from An Tran-Duy, David C. Smerdon, and Philip M. Clarke, via a loyal MR reader.

The culture that is Arlington youth soccer

The Arlington Soccer Association is asking parents to pipe down this weekend, scheduling a day of “silent soccer” for its recreational league.

Managers of the 6,000-member league are encouraging parents and other spectators to refrain from cheering and offer their support silently on Saturday (May 12) for teams with players ranging from second grade through high school.

Dan Ferguson, ASA’s recreational soccer director, says fans of kids in kindergarten and first grade will still be able to cheer as loud as they’d like this weekend. But, for the rest of the league’s teams, he’s hoping to give players a bit of a break from the constant feedback they receive from the sidelines.

“It’s a reminder to adults that kids don’t need constant instruction to be able to play the game,” Ferguson told ARLnow. “Sometimes parents feel like their kids are lost when we do this, but we try to tell them: ‘That’s okay.’ We’re not really here for the wins and losses.”

Ferguson says ASA has been holding “silent soccer” days on Mother’s Day weekend for at least the last six or seven years, and he’s consistently gotten positive feedback from coaches and parents about the event. In fact, he says some coaches continue to ask spectators to keep quiet even after the weekend is over.

“The overwhelming reaction is the kids seem to enjoy it,” Ferguson said. “They can actually hear each other talk on the field, communicating with their teammates and giving them instructions.”

Here is the full article, and for the pointer I thank Bruce Arthur.  Via Steve Rossi, here is a related and more general post.

Superstars in the NBA playoffs, and the heightening of income inequality

Perhaps you have noticed that the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans swept the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in four games straight.  A month or two ago, it was not entirely obvious that the Pelicans would make the playoffs at all.  And all 22 ESPN analysts picked the Pelicans to lose the series.

The simplest theory about the Pelicans performance is that they have two superstars, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.  But while Portland was thought of as the superior team, they don’t have any player with the power and dynamism of Anthony Davis, whom I and many others consider to be a transcendent superstar.

One possible theory is this: an NBA series today is very well scouted and analyzed, and the players watch lots of tape.  Adjustments are made each game or even each quarter, based on a quantitative analysis of what is working and what is not.  This neutralizes many of the strategies of the lesser players, and furthermore having a good bench is worth less when it is easier to concentrate more of the minutes in the very best players.  It is not however possible to neutralize the impact of a transcendental superstar, even with lots of advance planning.  Those truly top players can improvise around any defenses thrown at them, or on the defensive end they can rapidly adjust to counter a new offensive attack.

Furthermore, in the playoffs effort is more or less equalized, as suddenly everyone is trying, even the bench players on the road.  That too raises the relative return to top talent.

In the playoffs, it is thus plausible that the quality and value of the transcendent superstars goes up.

As more and more of contemporary business becomes regularized and measured and motivated and based on well-ordered cooperating teams, might the same be true for the transcendent superstars of that world as well?  In essence, we’re always in the business “playoffs” these days, at least in Manhattan and Silicon Valley, and their transcendent superstars also become the difference-makers.

I do not seek to argue that is the main cause behind rising income inequaliity, but might it be one factor?

Of course my dream series for the finals is New Orleans vs. Philadelphia (Ben Simmons, Joel “built for…playoff basketball” Embiid.  That is hardly the most likely outcome, but it is now looking a lot more possible than one might have thought.  Philly, by the way, is the “all time hottest team entering the NBA playoffs,” at least by one measure.

Dulles Amazon northern Virginia cricket fact of the day

Loudoun County’s growth over the past three decades has been driven in part by Asian Americans, who have flocked there to work for AOL and other tech companies that have set up shop in the area. Today 18 percent of the district’s residents are Asian American. Nearly half of those are Indian American; between 1990 and 2010, the number of Indian Americans in the county grew by a factor of fifty. Drive past a park on a summer evening, and you’ll see cricket matches under way—the Loudoun County Cricket League has forty-eight teams and more than 1,200 players.

Here is more, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.