Category: Sports

Against family and entourage?

Many individuals travel between countries as part of their professional routines. How do they perform during those short trips abroad? To begin to answer this question, I analyzed the outcomes of over 5 million chess games played around the world. Importantly, tournament chess provides a clean setting in which location-dependent factors are mostly irrelevant; the audiences are quiet and the referees make hardly any judgments. Controlling for differences in chess skills, I found enhanced performance among players who were competing outside of their home countries. This finding was robust to additional controls such as age, sex, and skill momentum or game practice, and to the inclusion of individual or country fixed effects. This advantage, an approximately 2% increase in game outcome, suggests that traveling has a positive effect on performance.

Here is the full paper by Uri Zak, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

U.S.A. fact of the day

According to one recent measure, ninety-three of the top one hundred American television programs watched live across a single year have been sports related.  More people watched the Super Bowl than the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, and Tonys combined.

It is for this reason that I find it puzzling when some people simply are not interested in sports at all.  I find the “sports are just stupid” attitude defensible (though it is not my view), but that would in turn seem to make sports all the more interesting.

That is from Jonah Lehrer’s Mystery: A Seduction, A Strategy, a Solution, just published by Simon and Schuster.

Olympic Charter Cities

An interesting idea from Max. It’s getting harder to find a city to host the Olympics , a Charter Olympic City might be just the ticket to get a Charter City off the ground and share costs.

A public-private partnership model for building the Olympic village would alleviate some of the budgetary pressure on governments and provide a launchpad for stakeholders to get their special jurisdiction off the ground. The current funding model for Olympic projects is that governments foot the entire upfront bill and pay for private contractors to build the stadiums and a mini-city. In exchange, they don’t share the revenue from the games themselves or the developed area after the games with anyone (except the IOC).

…An Olympic charter city provides an alternative funding model that has the potential to be more profitable for cities and private developers. As in the development of a charter city, a portion of the upfront cost of construction would be paid for by a private developer, rather than entirely from the local government. This cost sharing is mirrored after the games where the local government and a private charter city developer share political autonomy, tax revenues, and the cost of providing public services for the Olympic charter city.

Sports are good for student athletes

The recent Supreme Court decision NCAA vs Alston (June 2021) has heightened interest in the benefits and costs of participation in sports for student athletes. Anecdotes about the exploitation of student athletes were cited in the opinion. This paper uses panel data for two different cohorts that follow students from high school through college and into their post-school pursuits to examine the generality of these anecdotes. On average, student athletes’ benefit—often substantially so—in terms of graduation, post-collegiate employment, and earnings. Benefits in terms of social mobility for disadvantaged and minority students are substantial, contrary to the anecdotes in play in the media and in the courts.

Here is more from James J. Heckman and Colleen P. Loughlin.  Maybe ten year olds are wasting too much time trying to be the next Lebron James rather than doing their homework, but at higher levels this does not seem to be the case.

A Regression Puzzle

Here’s a regression puzzle courtesy of Advanced NFL Stats from a few years ago and pointed to recently by Holden Karnofsky from his interesting new blog, ColdTakes. The nominal issue is how to figure our whether Aaron Rodgers is underpaid or overpaid given data on salaries and expected points added per game. Assume that these are the right stats and correctly calculated. The real issue is which is the best graph to answer this question:

Brian 1: …just look at this super scatterplot I made of all veteran/free-agent QBs. The chart plots Expected Points Added (EPA) per Game versus adjusted salary cap hit. Both measures are averaged over the veteran periods of each player’s contracts. I added an Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) best-fit regression line to illustrate my point (r=0.46, p=0.002).

Rodgers’ production, measured by his career average Expected Points Added (EPA) per game is far higher than the trend line says would be worth his $21M/yr cost. The vertical distance between his new contract numbers, $21M/yr and about 11 EPA/G illustrates the surplus performance the Packers will likely get from Rodgers.

https://web.archive.org/web/20210701003025if_/http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-9-P3K8HQvGk/UYcWeZaliqI/AAAAAAAAK0c/O6dacdopocI/s1600/rodgers+epa+vs+cap.png

According to this analysis, Rodgers would be worth something like $25M or more per season. If we extend  his 11 EPA/G number horizontally to the right, it would intercept the trend line at $25M. He’s literally off the chart.

Brian 2: Brian, you ignorant slut. Aaron Rodgers can’t possibly be worth that much money….I’ve made my own scatterplot and regression. Using the exact same methodology and exact same data, I’ve plotted average adjusted cap hit versus EPA/G. The only difference from your chart above is that I swapped the vertical and horizontal axes. Even the correlation and significance are exactly the same.

As you can see, you idiot, Rodgers’ new contract is about twice as expensive as it should be. The value of an 11 EPA/yr QB should be about $10M.

Ok, so which is the best graph for answering this question? Show your work. Bonus points: What is the other graph useful for? Holden points to Phil Birnbaum’s helpful analysis in the comments.

More puzzles at cold-takes.

The Covid culture that is Japan

Should gambling be functionally separate from professional sports leagues?

In my latest Bloomberg column I consider the NBA:

A conservative estimate is that sports betting in the U.S., both legal and illegal, amounts to about $150 billion a year. How much of that is on basketball is an open question, but the NBA generates about $8 billion of revenue a year. It is quite possible that betting on the NBA already generates more revenue than the NBA itself, so integrating betting money into the sport could have a major influence.

The appeal of all this betting money brings me to my second worry: that the NBA, for commercial reasons, will create more bettable events, such as a mid-season tournament. Tennis is well-suited for betting (and corruption) because there are so many discrete wins and losses distributed across games, sets, matches and tournaments. Very frequently something decisive is on the line.

I prefer the longer story arc of a basketball season. Unlike the French Open, which takes place over the course of two weeks, the NBA season is nine months long, and the ongoing stories often are the relatively small events, understood primarily by the harder-core fans. That requires more patience, but it makes for a richer long-term narrative.

To be clear I think sports betting should be legal, but simply done apart from the leagues, such as in Las Vegas or through non-league-affiliated apps.  And this:

The backdrop is that in 2018 the Supreme Court struck down federal restrictions on sports betting, clearing the way for states to allow the practice. State laws vary, and even when sports betting is legal, it may be restricted to casinos or to mobile devices. But the trend is to allow more betting, not less.

Finally:

Again, the question is not whether sports betting should be prohibited. It’s how much official sanction it should receive. What would you think of a university that allowed betting on which students passed their exams? Like schools, sports leagues play roles as rule-setters and impartial referees. Maintaining that role is more important than pursuing the gamification of everything.

A simple and stupid one variable theory of this year’s NBA playoffs (so far)

It is typically worth trying on such theories for size, no matter what their defects.

It is hard to avoid noticing that last year’s finalists — Miami and the Lakers — both exited this year in the first round, and ignominiously.  Injuries and fatigue were part of the reason why.

The teams that are doing best — Phoenix, New Jersey, and Atlanta — had minimal or zero playoff responsibilities last time around.  Usually of course playoff performance is positively correlated from one year to the next.

We will see if this theory has predictive value moving forward.  In any case, it does seem the league has discovered the margin where player fatigue truly is a binding variable.

Addendum: ESPN provides the data on injuries to stars.

Solve for the football culture equilibrium that is Mexican

Many fans shrug off accusations of homophobia and insist the chant is just a joke. “We do not scream at the goalkeeper because of his sexual preference, we don’t even care about it,” a YouTube commenter on a 2016 public-service video denouncing the chant wrote. “We shout to create chaos, because it is part of the atmosphere of a stadium in Mexico.”

For some, the chant merely illustrates wider homophobia in society.

Here is the proposal of an American academic:

“Convince fans that it brings bad luck to their own team,” Doyle said, “and this nonsense will stop.”

Now that’s a plan.  The actual (new) rule is to stop play if the chants become too extreme:

Nearly two years ago, FIFA approved a disciplinary code that allows referees to end matches if fans use chants or display behavior deemed to be homophobic or racist. However, because of COVID-19, Mexico’s national team has played few games in front of fans since the rules were adopted.

But when the team returns to the field May 29 to face Iceland in Arlington, Texas, Yon de Luisa, the Mexican federation’s president, said the new code will be strictly enforced.

If you are feeling just a bit generous in interpretation:

There is vigorous debate over whether the chant is offensive since the offending word is said to have many meanings in Spanish, one of which is a derogatory slur used to demean gay men.

Some countries should be just a bit more woke!

Paul Krugman or…LaMelo Ball?

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball will become the first athlete to enter the world of dynamic nonfungible tokens (NFTs) when he releases a set of 500 prior to the announcement of the NBA Rookie of the Year in June, ESPN has learned.

NFTs are unique blockchain-based tokens that give owners specific rights to the asset — photograph, video clip, artwork — they represent. Dynamic NFTs are a recent technological advancement and, unlike conventional NFTs, have the ability to change over time. If Ball is named Rookie of the Year, the 500 NFTs will automatically update to include the award, which is expected to increase the value of the collectible.

“As I learn more about blockchain, I realize this is the most powerful and unique way to engage my fans in a way that’s special to them individually,” Ball tells ESPN. “I see this as the future for fans and athletes connecting together.”

Here is more from ESPN.  In the meantime, “UC Berkeley Will Auction NFTs for 2 Nobel Prize Patents.

My Conversation with Mark Carney

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, definitely recommended.  Here is part of his closing statement:

COWEN: Last question. You wake up each morning. Surely you still think about central banking. What for you is the open question about central banking, where you don’t know the answer, that you think about the most?

CARNEY: I gave a speech at Jackson Hole on this issue, and I started — which is the future of the international monetary system and how we adjust the international monetary system.

I’ll say parenthetically that we’re potentially headed to another example of where the structure of the system is going to cause big problems for the global economy. Because it’s quite realistic, sadly, that we’re going to have a fairly divergent recovery with a number of emerging, developing economies really lagging because of COVID — not vaccinated, limited policy space, and the knock-on effects, while major advanced economies move forward. That’s a world where rates rise and the US dollar strengthens and you get this asymmetry, and the challenge of the way our system works bears down on these economies. I think about that a lot.

And this:

COWEN: If you’re speaking in a meeting as the central bank president, do you prefer to speak first or speak last?

CARNEY: I prefer — I tend to speak early. Yes, I tend to speak early. I’m not sure that’s always the best strategy, but I tend to speak early. I will say, one thing that’s happened over the years at places like the G20, I noticed, is the prevalence of social media and devices. The audience drifts away over time, even at the G20, even on a discussion of the global economy.

And from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, do note this:

CARNEY: …I think you’re absolutely right on that, there wasn’t. It is revealed that there wasn’t a liquidity trap.

Rooftops!  Finally, on more important matters:

COWEN: Are the Toronto Raptors doomed to be, on average, a subpar NBA team due to higher taxes?

And:

COWEN: What’s the best Clash album?

CARNEY: Fantastic question. London Calling, and one of my best memories — I was very fortunate; they came to Edmonton when I was in 12th grade in high school. I went to the concert and that was fantastic, yes.

COWEN: I also saw them, I think in what would have been 12th grade had I been in school that year. But London Calling is too commercial for me. I much prefer the Green album, like “Career Opportunities,” “Janie Jones.”

CARNEY: Well, “I Fought the Law” was the best song at the concert. I have to say, they had got to Combat Rock by this time, which was relative — [laughs] Combat Rock was more commercial, I thought, than London Calling, although they threw it all out the door with Sandinista!

Again, here is Mark’s new book Value(s): Building a Better World For All.

Maradona Plays Minimax

This paper tests the theory of mixed strategy equilibrium using Maradona’s penalty kicks during his lifetime professional career. The results are remarkably consistent with equilibrium play in every respect: (i) Maradona’s scoring probabilities are statistically identical across strategies; (ii) His choices are serially independent. These results show that Maradona’s behavior is consistent with Nash’s predictions, specifically with both implications of von Neumann’s Minimax Theorem.

From Ignacio Palacios-Huerta.

Offense vs. defense in the current NBA

…I do have to grudgingly admit the evidence seems to suggest that defense has become less important during this unusual regular season.

One way to look at this is the spread in ratings on both ends of the court. The standard deviation of teams’ defensive ratings relative to league average is the lowest it’s been since the 1984-85 season, while the standard deviation in offensive ratings is the second highest we’ve seen since 2007-08. That’s one way of showing that offense is not just winning the battle with defense but also controlling it.

Another way to show that is the correlation between a team’s defensive rating and its overall win percentage (.546). That’s the lowest it’s been since 1985-86. Meanwhile, there’s a far stronger correlation between a team’s offensive rating and its win percentage (.848). In general, offense tends to relate better to winning games than defense in the NBA. Typically, the two figures are much closer together than we see now.

That is Kevin Pelton, there is further discussion at the ESPN link.  Good news for the Wizards!  It also means you can’t trust your usual intuitions about who might be most likely to win the NBA title this time around.

NFT virtual horse markets in everything

Is it simply that we have made gambling too much fun and too intriguing?  Or should we upgrade our view of the welfare consequences of gambling?:

On Zed Run, a digital horse racing platform, several such events take place every hour, seven days a week. Owners pay modest entry fees — usually between $2 and $15 — to run their steeds against others for prize money.

The horses in these online races are NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens,” meaning they exist only as digital assets….

“A breathing NFT is one that has its own unique DNA,” said Roman Tirone, the head of partnerships at Virtually Human, the Australian studio that created Zed Run. “It can breed, has a bloodline, has a life of its own. It races, it has genes it passes on, and it lives on an algorithm so no two horses are the same.” (Yes, owners can breed their NFT horses in Zed Run’s “stud farm.”)

People — most of them crypto enthusiasts — are rushing to snap up the digital horses, which arrive on Zed Run’s site as limited-edition drops; some of them have fetched higher sums than living steeds. One player sold a stable full of digital racehorses for $252,000. Another got $125,000 for a single racehorse. So far, more than 11,000 digital horses have been sold on the platform.

Alex Taub, a tech start-up founder in Miami, has purchased 48 of them. “Most NFTs, you buy them and sell them, and that’s how you make money,” Mr. Taub, 33, said. “With Zed, you can earn money on your NFT by racing or breeding.”

One implication here is that automation is never going to destroy all of the jobs.  Here is the full NYT story.

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?