Category: Sports

Model this NBA coaches and Adam Smith

Of all the head coaches in the NBA in either 2019-20 or 2020-21, there was a combined one All-Star appearance as a player, by Doc Rivers. At the league’s high point of former players as coaches, in 2001-02, there were 13 different former All-Stars walking the sidelines who had combined for 60 appearances.

Here is more from Kevin Pelton at ESPN.  Is it that data analytics matter so much more?  A general increase in the division of labor?  Or are today’s stars so prominent, perhaps because of social media, that a team does not need recognizable coaches to bring in the fans?

The Pelton posts considers further issues in mechanism design, such as whether a single free throw should be used to determine both points late in NBA games.  I would think that leads to an overinvestment in fouling from teams that are behind?

Sobering Up After the Seventh Inning

Drunk people commit more crime. Not surprising but here’s a clever identification strategy from Klick and MacDonald. Baseball stadiums stop serving alcohol at the bottom of the 7th but the time from bottom of the 7th to the end of the game varies so sometimes people have sobered up by the end of the game and sometimes they haven’t. So what happens when the game runs long or short?

This study examines the impact of alcohol consumption in a Major League Baseball (MLB) stadium on area level counts of crime. The modal practice at MLB stadiums is to stop selling alcoholic beverages after the seventh inning. Baseball is not a timed game, so the duration between the last call for alcohol at the end of the seventh inning and the end of the game varies considerably, providing a unique natural experiment to estimate the relationship between alcohol consumption and crime near a stadium on game days.

Crime data were obtained from Philadelphia for the period 2006–2015 and geocoded to the area around the MLB stadium as well as popular sports bars. We rely on difference-in-differences regression models to estimate the change in crime on home game days around the stadium as the game time extends into extra innings to other areas of the city and around sports bars in Philadelphia relative to days when the baseball team plays away from home.

When there are extra innings and more game-time after the seventh inning alcohol sales stoppage crime declines significantly around the stadium. The crime reduction benefit of the last call alcohol policy is undone when a complex of sports bars opens in the stadium parking lot in 2012. The results suggest that alcohol consumption during baseball games is a contributor to crime.

The equitization of human labor, Fernando Tatis Jr. edition

Fernando Tatís Jr. was 18 years old, just a low-level prospect from the Dominican Republic trying to work his way up in the San Diego Padres farm system, when he made a financial deal that would impact his entire baseball career. And it wasn’t with the Padres.

Tatís signed a contract with Big League Advance, an unusual investment fund that pays minor-league players money up front in exchange for a share of their future MLB earnings.

Tatís, now 22 and widely viewed as one of the sport’s best young stars, today knows what those earnings will be. He agreed to a record-setting 14-year contract with the Padres on Wednesday night worth an eye-popping $340 million, the third-highest total in MLB history.

His new contract also creates a significant obligation for Tatís: to pay a sizable chunk of his new bounty—perhaps close to $30 million—to Big League Advance.

Here is the full WSJ piece, via Rick Pildes.

The canine culture that is Miami

The Miami Heat are bringing back some fans, with help from some dogs.

The Heat will use coronavirus-sniffing dogs at AmericanAirlines Arena to screen fans who want to attend their games. They’ve been working on the plan for months, and the highly trained dogs have been in place for some games this season in which the team has allowed a handful of guests — mostly friends and family of players and staff.

Starting this week, a limited number of ticket holders will be in the seats as well, provided they get past the dogs first.

“If you think about it, detection dogs are not new,” said Matthew Jafarian, the Heat’s executive vice president for business strategy. “You’ve seen them in airports, they’ve been used in mission-critical situations by the police and the military. We’ve used them at the arena for years to detect explosives.”

Here is the full story, the first game under this regime is Thursday.

LaMelo Ball What Price Fame?

Ball, though, wasn’t content with just having been a solid player in Australia. Instead, he raised some eyebrows last spring when he attempted to buy his former team.

The talks eventually fizzled out.

It wasn’t a typical move for a teenager, but Ball isn’t a typical teenager. He has already lived on different continents, starred in his own reality show, worn his own signature sneaker and watched both of his brothers play professional basketball.

And at age 19, with only limited playing experience or credentials:

…he is already more famous than most professional athletes, with more Instagram followers than the majority of N.B.A. players. His highlights had been viewed by millions on social media before he was old enough to drive a car.

Of course the NCAA should pay its players.  This year it is possible that at least half of the top ten draft picks will have bypassed the NCAA altogether, Ball included.  Arbitrage!

Here is the NYT article.

The decline in pandemic sports viewership

It is not mainly about NBA politics:

  • US Open (golf) final round: down 56%
  • US Open (tennis) was down 45% and the French open is down 57% so far
  • Kentucky Derby: down 43%
  • Indy 500: down 32%
  • Through four weeks, NFL viewership is down approximately 10%
  • NHL Playoffs were down 39% (Pre Stanley Cup playoffs was down 28% while the Stanley Cup was down 61%).
  • NBA finals are down 45% (so far). Conference finals were down 35%, while the first round was 27% down. To match the viewership, activity on the NBA reddit fan community is also down 50% from the NBA finals last year.

That is from Daniel Frank, here are a few of his hypotheses:

  • Sports are very social. People love talking about sports with their peers and without interacting with as many people, people have less opportunities to talk about sports with others. This has the effect of making fans feel less engaged and more casual fans less likely to start watching, creating a cascading effect on engagement.
  • Watching sports is a great way for people to tune out, relax and distract themselves from normal life. With so many people working from home, having a less defined break from work to non-work, and potentially working less hard, watching sports feels like less of an escape than it used to.
  • People have started consuming politics like they do sports and their interest in sports has been cannibalized by political fanaticism.
  • Lots of people are experiencing mental health challenges and struggling and don’t have the same interest in things they used to enjoy like sports.

My intuitions are quite close to Daniel’s — what do you all think?

Jimmy Butler markets in everything

You’ve heard of Bubble Tea?  Well, this is Bubble Coffee:

In a recent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Butler said coffee was hard to find on the NBA’s Orlando campus. He and his French press are keeping his teammates caffeinated, one extremely overpriced cup at a time.

“You can’t get coffee nowhere here,” [Jimmy] Butler said in the interview. “So I might bump it up to 30 bucks a cup. People here can afford it.”

…According to the menu outside his Walt Disney World hotel room, Butler’s offerings include a latte, a cappuccino, a macchiato and more. A small cup goes for the hefty price tag of $20. (A medium and large go for the same price, so you might as well spring for the venti.)

Here is the full ESPN story, via Christina.

Incentives matter, high school college football divorce edition

For a transfer student to be immediately eligible under Georgia High School Association rules, he or she must make a “bona fide move,” in which the “student moved simultaneously with the entire parental unit or persons he/she resided with at the former school, and the student and parent(s) or persons residing with the student live in the service area of the new school.”

Moving to Georgia wasn’t a problem for Randy, who retired in 2012 after working for 32 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. Yvonne, who works as an administrative assistant, had to remain in California for her job. For Jake to be eligible for one season at Valdosta High, Randy and Yvonne legally separated to meet the Georgia residency rules. According to court records, Randy and Yvonne dissolved their marriage on Aug. 20. They plan to get back together once Jake’s season at Valdosta High ends.

“The requirements [are] a full family move, so that and, obviously, grades and that kind of thing,” Randy said. “So at this point, we got a legal separation. We’re right down the guidelines as far as being eligible to play.”

Here is the full story, via Tom G.

Those new service sector jobs, coffin whisperer edition

Also known as markets in everything:

Bill Edgar has, in his own words, “no respect for the living”. Instead, his loyalty is to the newly departed clients who hire Mr Edgar — known as “the coffin confessor” — to carry out their wishes from beyond the grave.

Mr Edgar runs a business in which, for $10,000, he is engaged by people “knocking on death’s door” to go to their funerals or gravesides and reveal the secrets they want their loved ones to know.

“They’ve got to have a voice and I lend my voice for them,” Mr Edgar said.

Mr Edgar, a Gold Coast private investigator, said the idea for his graveside hustle came when he was working for a terminally ill man.

“We got on to the topic of dying and death and he said he’d like to do something,” Mr Edgar said.

“I said, ‘Well, I could always crash your funeral for you’,” and a few weeks later the man called and took Mr Edgar up on his offer and a business was born.

In almost two years he has “crashed” 22 funerals and graveside events, spilling the tightly-held secrets of his clients who pay a flat fee of $10,000 for his service.

And:

In the case of his very first client Mr Edgar said he was instructed to interrupt the man’s best friend when he was delivering the eulogy.

“I was to tell the best mate to sit down and shut up,” he said.

“I also had to ask three mourners to stand up and to please leave the service and if they didn’t I was to escort them out.

“My client didn’t want them at his funeral and, like he said, it is his funeral and he wants to leave how he wanted to leave, not on somebody else’s terms.”

Despite the confronting nature of his job, Mr Edgar said “once you get the crowd on your side, you’re pretty right” because mourners were keen to know what was left unsaid.

You might think “that’s it,” but no the article is interesting throughout.  For the pointer I thank Daniel Dummer.

My Conversation with Matt Yglesias

Substantive, interesting, and fun throughout, here is the audio, video, and transcript.  For more do buy Matt’s new book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger.  Here is the CWT summary:

They discussed why it’s easier to grow Tokyo than New York City, the governance issues of increasing urban populations, what Tyler got right about pro-immigration arguments, how to respond to declining fertility rates, why he’d be happy to see more people going to church (even though he’s not religious), why liberals and conservatives should take marriage incentive programs more seriously, what larger families would mean for feminism, why people should read Robert Nozick, whether the YIMBY movement will be weakened by COVID-19, how New York City will bounce back, why he’s long on Minneapolis, how to address constitutional ruptures, how to attract more competent people to state and local governments, what he’s learned growing up in a family full of economists, his mother’s wisdom about visual design and more.

Here is one excerpt:

It was so much fun we even ran over the allotted time, we had to discuss Gilbert Arenas too.

Should NBA referees call fouls objectively in playoff games?

I call them “rule of law” foul calls, because they are in accord with clearly defined standards for a foul call.  In contrast, in the “good ol’ days” referees used to think: “I’m not going to let a foul call determine the outcome of this playoff game in the decisive moments.”  So unless the defender really slugged the guy, or whacked his hand down when shooting, the refs would “let them play,” and the chips would fall as fate determined.

But Wednesday night I saw three critical foul calls (across two games) in the closing moments that were all “marginal fouls.”  They were, in my opinion (and in the opinion of former referee Steve Javie), all legitimate foul calls.  But just barely, and I am pretty sure that none of them would have been called fifteen years ago, or maybe not even five years ago.  Bumping into a guy after he already missed his shot and the clock ran out?  Is it a foul objectively speaking?  Yes.  Should it be called?  Well…

The case against rule of law fouls is that games decided by the referees have less legitimacy, and that in turn hurts both the legitimacy and the popularity of the league.  Even if it was “objectively a foul,” the fans either don’t know that, were unwilling to recognize that, or they may, like I, favor the good ol’ days when fouls were called less objectively and also less frequently in the closing moments of close games.

The case in favor of rule of law foul calls is that replays and social media make the truth easier to determine, and place extra burden on the refs to appear fair and consistent over time, to protect the legitimacy and popularity of the league.  Furthermore, the heightened salience of racial issues encourages a more consistent standard to limit charges of discrimination, whether those charges are founded or not.  It is more defensible to always call the same play the same way, regardless of the clock or the closeness of the score, which are ultimately somewhat subjective standards (just how close does the game have to be?).

So I recognize that rule of law foul calls may now be necessary, even if I do not myself prefer them.

One relevant point here is that with better recording and a wider dissemination of the recordings, the NBA has in fact moved much closer to the rule of law.

So it can be done, and perhaps others can do it too.  Just like the spit testing.

Addendum from the comments: “The real reason must be gambling – they want gambling on the NBA to be legitimate, and this causes a lot of problems if the refs have a lot of latitude to make choices. The NBA has had problems with this.”

Why so much scoring in the bubble?

Toronto just beat Brooklyn 150-122, and an ESPN headline for another game reads “Mitchell’s 51 upstage Murray’s 50 in classic duel.”  Toronto is also a team with a sometimes iffy or stagnant offensive, especially in the half court set.  So why are so many points being scored?  I see a few hypotheses:

1. It is harder to commit fouls, since referees can hear every slap, push, and grunt.  That in turn favors the scorers.

2. The players are still somewhat out of shape from the long layoff, and perhaps that favors offense over defense.  (A’ la Leontief, might the defense quality be determined by the “most out of shape” player?)

3. The absence of a live crowd demotivates the defense more than the offense?  Similarly, perhaps the absence of home court effects demotivates the defense more?

4. Playing every other night is exhausting for all but the top players.  Defense is more or less evenly distributed (you can’t leave anyone totally open, unless it is Charles Jones), but offense is concentrated in a smaller number of top scorers.  Differential stamina effects thus favor the offense.

5. Good offense beats good defense anyway.  Due to the absence of late night partying, boozing, “frolicking,” etc. we are seeing better, purer forms of both offense and defense, and that on net helps the offense.

6. Lack of travel and consistency of courts favor the offense more than the defense.

What else?  And which of these are true?

College football is education too

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

So far the data are fragmentary, but they indicate that parties, bar-going and after-hours fraternization — not athletic practices — have been the major risks contributing to Covid-19 clusters among young people of college age. For all the talk of banning athletics, how about university regulations banning all alcohol consumption (including off-campus) for all registered students, under the pain of academic suspension? [NB: more schools have started trying at least partial versions of this since I wrote the column.]…

There is the risk that football players and other collegiate athletes will bring the virus home to their parents and older relatives. Still, that danger seems to be at least as high if they are bored and going out drinking, compared to practicing and trying to secure their place on the team. It simply is not obvious that athletics create a new risk.

Under the current system, student athletes can opt not to participate, just as many NBA players have elected not to play in the league’s “bubble.” While there are social pressures to go ahead and play, they are no different than the pressures to socialize more generally. Yet there are no calls to ban young people from socializing, even though that too is clearly a dangerous activity — perhaps the most dangerous activity — in terms of Covid-19 spread.

There is much more at the link.

The greatest gaming performance ever?

Or is chess a sport?

First Magnus Carlsen “privatizes” chess competition, naming the major tournament after himself, setting all of the rules, and becoming the residual claimant on the income stream.

He reshapes the entire format into a seven set, four months-long series of shorter tournaments, consisting of multiple games per day, 15 minutes per player per game, with increment.  It seems most chess fans find this new format far more exciting and watchable than the last two world championship matches, which have featured 22 slow draws and only two decisive games (with the title decided by rapid tiebreakers in each case — why not just head to the rapids?).

Magnus won all but one of the “sets” or mini-tournaments, along the way regularly dispatching the game’s top players at an astonishing pace, often tossing them aside like mere rag dolls.  Even the #2 and #3 rated players — Caruana and Ding Liren — stood little chance against his onslaught.  Carlsen kept on winning these mini-tournaments against fields of ten players, typically all at a world class level.

A Final Four then led to a 38-game, seven-day showdown between Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, not decided until the very last set of moves yesterday.  Note that at the more rapid pace Nakamura may well be a better player than Carlsen and is perhaps the only real challenge to him (at slower classical speeds Nakamura would be in the top twenty but is not at the very top of the rankings).

Nonetheless Carlsen prevailed.  Nakamura had the upper hand in terms of initiative, but in the final five-minute tie-breaking round, Carlsen needed to pull out 1.5 of the last 2 points, which indeed he did.  He drew by constructing an impregnable fortress against Nakamura’s Queen, and in the final “sudden death Armageddon” round a draw is equivalent to a victory for Black.

Along the way, at the same time, Magnus participated in Fantasy Football, competing against millions, at times holding the #1 slot and finishing #11 in what is a very competitive and demanding endeavor.

The Covid cost of professional sports events

We compare COVID-19 case loads and mortality across geographic areas that hosted more vs fewer NHL hockey games, NBA basketball games, and NCAA basketball games during the early months of 2020, before any large outbreaks. We find that hosting one additional NHL/NBA game leads to an additional 783 COVID-19 cases during March-mid May and an additional 52 deaths. Similarly, we find that hosting an additional NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball games results in an additional 31 cases and an additional 2.4 deaths. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that the per-game fatality costs exceed consumption benefits by a wide margin.

That is from Coady Wing, Daniel H. Simon, and Patrick Carlin.  I think we have not a good enough model of the heterogeneities of prevalence across regions for those to be reliable estimates.  Still, I am happy to see more work on the question of what in particular causes Covid cases, and also whether sporting events play a significant role.