Category: Sports

Insurance markets in everything

In many golf circles, it was (and still is) customary for the lucky golfer to buy drinks for everyone in the clubhouse after landing a hole-in-one. This often resulted in prohibitively expensive bar tabs.

And an industry sprouted up to protect these golfers.

A newspaper archive analysis by The Hustle revealed that hole-in-one insurance firms sprouted up as early as 1933.

Under this model, golfers could pay a fee — say, $1.50 (about $35 today) — to cover a $25 (~$550) bar tab. And as one paper noted in 1937: “The way some of the boys have been bagging the dodos, it might not be a bad idea.”

Though the concept largely faded away in the US, it became a big business in Japan, where golfers who landed a hole-in-one were expected to throw parties “comparable to a small wedding,” including live music, food, drinks, and commemorative tree plantings.

By the 1990s, the hole-in-one insurance industry had a total market value of $220m. An estimated 30% of all Japanese golfers shelled out $50-$70/year to insure themselves against up to $3.5k in expenses.

Here is the full story, via Mathan.

Talent rules in the NBA

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

With the basketball playoffs starting this week, it is worth asking what can be learned from the NBA’s more recent history. This year the NBA story is one of talent — extreme talent. Talent so plentiful that even the middling teams are full of strong players. The broader lessons for the world economy are very optimistic.

Consider the three players competing for the Most Valuable Player award — Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Their play and statistics have been stratospheric. Embiid, for instance, led the league scoring, is a leading rebounder and defender, and his team is in contention for an NBA title. Yet he is not favored to win the award because the other contenders are (at least in my eyes) better yet. My pick is Jokic, who is the first NBA player with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.

Other top players, such as Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic and Ja Morant, might in other years be obvious MVP winners. But this year they don’t stand a chance. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Stephen Curry — the best players from the recent past — are still amazing but are practically also-rans.

And:

The lessons and implications for the broader economy and society are insanely bullish. If the NBA can do this, other parts of the world can, too. Just imagine business and science (and maybe politics?) all improving at the rate of professional basketball. The most important form of wealth today is human capital. As the world moves further from a brute-force economy, human capital is also the major force driving productivity.

The NBA shows that it is possible, over time, to do a much better job of both finding and mobilizing talent. Granted, most parts of the world are not as well-run as the NBA, so the process will be slower than it ought to be. But it is underway.

The implications are staggering. Yes, global problems are piling up at an alarming rate.  On the other hand, global talent is more accessible than ever. Which phenomenon is likely to turn out to be of greater consequence? As the co-author of a forthcoming book on the importance of talent, I suspect you can guess my view.

And I am still picking the Milwaukee Bucks to win the NBA title this year.

How heritable are various sports abilities?

Let us start with data from identical twins:

Take wrestling.  Of 6,778 Olympic wrestling athletes, there have been something like thirteen pairs of identical twins.  This implied that the identical twin of an Olympic wrestler has a better than 60 percent chance of becoming an Olympic wrestler himself.

That is from the forthcoming Seth Stephens-Davidowitz Don’t Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life.  From such reasoning you can divine the relative import of genetic factors for success in various sports.  Here are the derived calculations, with the number indicating “Percent of Same-Sex Siblings Who Are Identical Twins” (when both make the Olympics, or achieve some other status):

Track and field: 22.4%

Wrestlers: 13.8%

Rowers: 12.4%

NBA players: 11.5%

Boxers: 8.8%

Gymnasts: 8.1%

Swimmers: 6.5%

Fencers: 4.5%

Shooters: 3.4%

NFL players: 3.2%

MLB players: 1.9%

Alpine skiers: 1.7%

Divers, equestrian riders, and weightlifters: All zero percent.

My Conversation with Chuck Klosterman

Excellent stuff, we had so much fun we kept on going for an extra half hour, as he decided to ask me a bunch of questions about economics and personal finance.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is the CWT summary:

Chuck joined Tyler to discuss the challenges of writing about recent history, the “slow cancellation of the future” that began in the aughts, how the internet widened cultural knowledge but removed its depth, why the context of Seinfeld was in some ways more important than its content, what Jurassic Park illustrates about public feelings around scientific progress in the ’90s, why the ’90s was the last era of physical mass subcultures, why it’s uncommon to be shocked by modern music, how his limited access to art when growing up made him a better critic, why Spin Magazine became irrelevant with the advent of online streaming, what made Grantland so special, what he learned from teaching in East Germany, the impact of politics on the legacies of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison, how sports often rewards obnoxious personalities, why Wilt Chamberlain is still underrated, how the self-awareness of the Portland Trail Blazers undermined them, how the design of the NFL makes sports rivalries nearly impossible, how pro-level compensation prevents sports gambling from corrupting players, why so many people are interested in e-sports, the unteachable element of writing, why he didn’t make a great editor on his school paper, what he’d say to a room filled with ex-lovers, the question he’d most like to ask his parents, his impressions of cryptocurrency, why he’s trying to focus on what he has in the current moment rather than think too much about future plans, the power of charisma, and more.

Whew!  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: I see the world as follows. Every decade, to me, is super weird, but the 1980s and ’90s pretended they weren’t weird. The ’80s pretended to be good versus evil. The ’90s pretended that good won. But when crypto comes and persists, you have to drop all pretense that the age you’re living in isn’t totally weird.

You have internet crypto, and everyone admits, right now, everything’s weird. And that, to me, is the fundamental break with the 1990s because everyone pretended most things were normal and that Seinfeld was your dose of weird, right? Jason Alexander — that’s a very manageable weird.

KLOSTERMAN: Oh, absolutely.

COWEN: Some guy in an apartment in New York City cracking sarcastic jokes — like, whoop-de-do.

And:

KLOSTERMAN: …this guy, Mark Fisher, who’s dead now, had this idea about the slow cancellation of the future. I feel like that’s one of the most profound ideas that I’ve come across in the last 10 years of my life, and it seems so palpable that this is occurring.

An example I will often use is, if you take, say, 10 minutes from an obscure film in 1965 with no major actors, and then you take 10 minutes from an obscure film from 1980 where nobody became famous, and you show anyone these 10-minute clips, they will have no problem whatsoever figuring out which one came first. Even a little kid can look at a movie from 1965 and a movie from 1980 and instantly understand that one predates the other.

But if you do that with a film from 2005 and a film from 2020 — again, an obscure film where you don’t recognize the actors — you’re just looking at it aesthetically and trying to deduce which one came first and which one came second. It’s almost impossible.

This phenomenon just seems to almost be infiltrating every aspect of the culture…

And:

KLOSTERMAN: Before I did this podcast, I listened to your podcast with Žižek.

COWEN: Oh yeah, that was hilarious.

KLOSTERMAN: Are you friends with him? It sure seemed like it. And if you are, what is it like to be with him when he is not in a performative scenario?

Recommended.  And again, here is Chuck’s new book The Nineties.

My Israel-only Conversation with the excellent Russ Roberts

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, here is the CWT summary:

In this special crossover special with EconTalk, Tyler interviews Russ Roberts about his new life in Israel as president of Shalem College. They discuss why there are so few new universities, managing teams in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers, how Israeli society could adapt to the loss of universal military service, why Israeli TV is so good, what American Jews don’t understand about life in Israel, what his next leadership challenge will be, and much more.

We didn’t shy away from the tough stuff, here is one question:

COWEN: Let me ask you another super easy question. Let’s say we think that under current circumstances, a two-state solution would not lead to security either for Israel or for the resulting Palestinian state. Many people believe that. Let’s say also, as I think you believe, that a one-state solution where everyone votes would not lead to security for a current version of Israel or even a modified version of it.

Let’s say also that the current reliance of the Palestinian territories on the state of Israel for protection, security, intelligence, water — many important features of life — prevent those governing bodies from ever attaining sufficient autonomy to be a credible peace partner, guaranteer of its own security, and so on. From that point of view, what do we do? We’re not utilitarians. We’re thinking about what’s right and wrong. What’s the right thing to do?

Do read Russ’s answer!  (Too long to excerpt.)  And:

COWEN: Now, the United States has about 330 million people, yet there are more Israeli TV shows I want to watch than American TV shows. There’s Srugim, there’s Shtisel, there’s Prisoners of War, there’s In Judgment, there’s Tehran. There’s more. Why is Israeli TV so good?

ROBERTS: I’m glad you mentioned Prisoners of War, which doesn’t get enough — Prisoners of War is in my top five. If I had to list my top five, I’d pick Shtisel, Prisoners of WarThe Americans, probably The Wire, and The Crown. Do you have a top five that you could reel off?

COWEN: The Sopranos would be my number one. Srugim and Prisoners of War plausibly would be in my top five.

We then consider the Israeli topic at hand.  Interesting throughout, a very good dialogue.

Australian sentences to ponder

The world number one player was questioned for over seven hours about his paperwork and who had approved medical exemption permission for his arrival in Australia.

Here is the link.  Supposedly the star won his case.  But another source relates:

However, Australia’s immigration minister has said he is “currently considering the matter” and the process of suspending Djokovic’s visa is “ongoing”.

Resentment people, resentment.  And why are the politicians doing so much speaking, rather than say the public health authorities?  I am a fan, however, of Judge Kelly (FT):

Kelly said that Djokovic had been granted a medical exemption and had filled out the necessary paperwork to enter Australia. “The point I am somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?” the judge told the court. He also questioned whether Djokovic had adequate time to consult his lawyers and agent after being told he would be deported.

I might even watch some of the tourney.

Whither Australian liberty and rule of law?

According to a person close to the tournament with direct knowledge of the sequence of events, Djokovic followed every step of the country’s visa process properly. Moreover, the person said, Djokovic’s medical exemption was granted with all identifying information redacted, ruling out the possibility of favoritism for the tennis star.

But in the view of the person close to the Open, Australian authorities “did an about-face” on Djokovic’s status after his disclosure of being granted a medical exemption to covid vaccination requirements sparked outrage in Melbourne and throughout the country from citizens who have been subject to exceedingly strict protocols for nearly two years.

“He did everything correctly,” the person said. “But the goal posts have been changed — for him.”

Here is more from the very pro-vaccine Washington Post.  Has the culture there become so worn down from internal restrictions that they are so resentful?  Over ninety percent of the Australian public is vaccinated, and omicron is spreading there in any case.  Maybe there was some minor problem in the visa application, but so often there is — should the result really be such last minute political grandstanding?  It would have been easy enough to inform him in advance that maybe he would not be admitted into the country, right?  Is his case now really going to receive a fair hearing?

Football [soccer] has become more predictable

In recent years, excessive monetization of football and professionalism among the players have been argued to have affected the quality of the match in different ways. On the one hand, playing football has become a high-income profession and the players are highly motivated; on the other hand, stronger teams have higher incomes and therefore afford better players leading to an even stronger appearance in tournaments that can make the game more imbalanced and hence predictable. To quantify and document this observation, in this work, we take a minimalist network science approach to measure the predictability of football over 26 years in major European leagues. We show that over time, the games in major leagues have indeed become more predictable. We provide further support for this observation by showing that inequality between teams has increased and the home-field advantage has been vanishing ubiquitously. We do not include any direct analysis on the effects of monetization on football’s predictability or therefore, lack of excitement; however, we propose several hypotheses which could be tested in future analyses.

Here is the full article by Victor Martins Maimone and Taha Yasseri.  Via Michelle Dawson.

Tyler Cowen on complementarity and gratitude

One fan with a helpful perspective on the Wizards is Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at nearby George Mason University. He says that even he was surprised they were able to move Wall and then Westbrook’s contracts so effectively. But what’s more interesting to him about the Wizards these days is what’s happening on the court. “They have quite a few players who are ‘good enough’ shooters,” Cowen said in an email. “When everyone on the floor is a ‘good enough’ shooter, the good enough shooters are better than you might think.”

This is a useful way of thinking about the entire team. In a league where the ultimate goal is greatness, the Wizards are showing the power of pretty good. It’s the sort of progress that precedes success.

“Their ceiling still might be pretty low,” Cowen said. “But for the time being, we can enjoy the ride.”

Here is more from Ben Cohen at the Wall Street Journal.

Is Marriage A Normal Good? Evidence from NBA drafts

Little is known about the causal link between male economic status and marriage outcomes, owing to lack of data on unanticipated permanent income shocks for men. I tackle this by exploiting a natural experiment surrounding NBA drafts, an annual event where NBA teams draft college and international basketball players from 1st to 60th. Given high-quality expert predictions of player draft order and well-defined initial salaries decreasing monotonically by draft rank, I show that disparities between actual and predicted draft rank generate exogenous income shocks. This setup contributes novel income treatments that are not only large and individual-specific but also opportunely occurring early in both career and adult life, when marriage decisions are particularly salient. I additionally construct a new dataset tracking players’ major family decisions and am the first to show that marriage is indeed a normal good for men. All else equal, a 10% increase in initial five-year salary raises likelihood of marriage by 7.9% for the 2004-2013 draft cohorts. I argue my results constitute lower-bound estimates for general population men, as effect sizes are larger and more significant for lower expected salaries.

That is from Jiaqi Zou, who is on the job market from University of Toronto.  I like her statement of purpose: “I am particularly interested in identifying barriers and limiting beliefs that constrain individuals from their life’s pursuits.”

The”hot hand” depends on location

Here is new research by Robert M. Lantis and Erik T. Nesson:

Do basketball players exhibit a hot hand? Results from controlled shooting situations suggest the answer is yes, while results from in-game shooting are mixed. Are the differing results because a hot hand is only present in similar shots or because testing for the hot hand in game situations is difficult? Combining repeated shots in a location and shots across locations, the NBA 3-Point Contests mimics game situations without many of the confounding factors. Using data on the 1986-2019 contests, we find a hot hand, but only within shot locations. Shooting streaks increase a hot hand only if a player makes his previous shot and only within locations. Even making three shots in a row has no effect on making the next shot if a player moves locations. Our results suggest that any hot hand in basketball is only present in extremely similar shooting situations and likely not in the run-of-play.

This YouTube video, of Stephen Curry, is one of the greatest videos of all time.

Long soccer Covid

This paper estimates the workplace productivity effects of COVID-19 by studying performance of soccer players after an
infection. We construct a dataset that encompasses all traceable infections in the elite leagues of Germany and Italy. Relying on a staggered difference-in-differences design, we identify negative short- and longer-run performance effects. Relative to their preinfection outcomes, infected players’ performance temporarily drops by more than 6%.Over half a year later, it is still around 5% lower.

Here is the full paper, by Kai Fischer, J. James Reade, and W. Benedikt Schmal, via Florian Ederer.  How about chess?

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.