Category: Sports

Silly questions to bug people with

You devote two hours a week to sports fandom, you say?  How much would you have to be paid to give those two hours up?  You’ll be paid in terms of extra time.  So if you give up your two hours of sports fandom, the benevolent genie gives you three hours for something else, whatever is your next best activity or activities.  That means a net gain of an hour a week and a time rate of return of 50 percent.  You won’t do that?  How about four hours back and a time rate of return of 100 percent?  Nope.  Really?

Sports must be fun.  Well…why aren’t you watching more sports?

OK, go draw your marginal utility curves and show your MU for sports first way above your MRS and then dropping off a cliff.  What’s the hard-to-substitute-for "Lancastrian Z good" that makes sports so imperative for two hours but so inessential for three?

Prediction markets in everything, Brazilian soccer player edition

It could be a fantasy football draft in any office in America –
only these trades are real. This is the office of Traffic, a Brazilian
company leading a new, and controversial, wave of investment in
Brazilian soccer.

Armed with 20 million reals of their own
money (about $12 million) and another 20 million reals they hope to get
from investors, Traffic is buying up contracts of young soccer players
all over Brazil. They then lend the players to teams, who pay the
players a salary and also allow them to showcase their talents. If they
are recruited by a big European team, Traffic and its partners reap the
largest share of the transfer fee. (The player, as usual, gets any
signing bonus, and an often hefty salary.)

“Instead of investing
in the stock market or real estate,” Julio Mariz, Traffic’s president,
said, “these people are investing in buying the economic rights to
football players."

Here is the full story and thanks to Hunter Amor Williams for the pointer; here is Hunter’s beer blog.

There are now 29 chess players rated over 2700

Here is the story and list.  Achieving a chess rating of over 2700 is very hard to do.  This is a reflection of either: a) just how much talent and sponsorship the modern world has, or b) just how narrowly restricted some people’s talents are.  In an age where a socially non-adept person still can earn good money in hi-tech, I lean more toward a) than b).  The boom in womens’ chess — not generally foreseen twenty years ago — I find especially puzzling and it’s not all driven by the Chinese government wanting to win medals.

The law and economics of surfing

When oh when will this be a Journal of Law and Economics piece?  Here is one excerpt:

The norms (for visitors) of mild localism include:

1) Don’t arrive in a large group[156]

2) Ease into the lineup (don’t compete aggressively too early)[157]

3) Let locals surf most of the best set waves[158]

4) Take extra caution to avoid violating any ordinary surf norms (i.e. don’t get in a local’s way!)

Together, these concrete norms can implement the abstract norm of ‘respect the locals’. Observing these norms demonstrates deference to the locals and helps mitigate the effects of crowding for the locals.

Here is the full treatment, the piece is interesting throughout though it starts off a bit slow with the familiar.  Thanks to Hugh for the pointer.

Kevin Hassett on whether NBA refs are crooked

In case you don’t know, Kevin is an economist at AEI.  Here is where things stand:

Hassett found no smoking gun.

But he did find some weird stuff in elimination games, when calls seemed to favor extending the series more than in other games.

He also found that home court advantage was much more important in the playoffs than in the regular season, which is a bit odd.

findings are consistent with what you’d find if you wanted to have as
many money-making playoff games as possible. Basically, if every series
ended in a sweep, there’d by very little opportunity to make money.
However, if every series gets to Game 7 — which happens when home
teams win every game — the teams and the League have not only three
more chances to make money, but the three most exciting games of the

Here is further explanation.  Here is the Hassett piece.  Note that fouls called on a team are often a measure of how tired that team is or how sloppy it is on defense.  So if teams play better with their back to the wall, at home, or if stamina matters more toward the end of the year, these correlations could potentially arise through natural means.

Is the NBA fixed?

Tim Donaghy, the ref who was caught gambling, says it is.  Here’s a good deal of evidence that it isn’t.  Small market teams do well in the draft and reach the Finals at a high rate. 

Yet I haven’t seen any MSM source, at least not in the context of these allegations, which admits the obvious: star players get favored treatment from the refs.  And this equilibrium is self-sustaining without any direct instructions from the Commissioner.  As a ref, you know you are expected to allow offensive fouls from LeBron James, the crowd expects it, other refs act that way, and you are never reprimanded for the non-calls.  So in at least this one way the NBA is clearly fixed and by the demand of the fans, even if they do not prefer to think of it as such.

But now imagine a nervous ref who wonders — if only with p = 0.2 — whether the NBA wouldn’t prefer to see the Los Angeles Lakers beat Sacramento and move on in the playoffs.  That same ref knows about the convention to favor star players.  And hey, the Sacramento team in those days didn’t in fact have any real stars.  What inference should you draw and how should you behave in your calls?

If the NBA has been tolerating at least one (and surely more) crooked ref, it is unlikely that other ref pathologies have been absent as well.  Toss in the $50 billion or so a year bet on NBA games and maybe you have some real action.

So it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the NBA is at least partially fixed, although not necessarily in the conspiratorial sense that many people might be expecting.

Here is what a professional gambler thinks.

The point taken from economics is that there are many ways of enforcing implicit collusion, not to mention that at some margin gains from trade do kick in.  If wealthy CEOs will cheat, why won’t NBA refs?

The incentives for violence in hockey

Here is my source.  Here is the paper.  Here is the abstract:

The level of violence in the National Hockey League (NHL) reached its highest point in 1987 and has reduced somewhat since then, although to levels much larger than before the first team expansions in 1967. Using publicly available information from several databases 1996–2007, the incentives for violence in North American ice hockey are analyzed. We examine the role of penalty minutes and more specifically, fighting, during the regular season in determining wages for professional hockey players and team-level success indicators. There are substantial returns paid not only to goal scoring skills but also to fighting ability, helping teams move higher in the playoffs and showing up as positive wage premia for otherwise observed low-skill wing players. These estimated per-fight premia, depending on fight success ($10,000 to $18,000), are even higher than those for an additional point made. By introducing a “fight fine” of twice the maximum potential gain ($36,000) and adding this amount to salaries paid for the team salary cap (fines would be 6.7% of the team salary cap or the average wage of 2 players), then all involved would have either little or no incentives to allow fighting to continue.

In other words, there are substantial incentives for violence in hockey.

A Cowen-Caplan dialogue

Bryan cites one from years ago, but in reality we reprise it in many different forms, about every three days or so:

Tyler: People like to think they’re special, but we’re all pretty much the same.

Me: No we’re not.  Some people are really great; others are simply awful.

Tyler: That’s just the kind of thing people say to make themselves feel special.

Me: You don’t really believe that.

Tyler: Do too.

Me: What if we use the metric of your willingness-to-pay to spend an hour with a person?
There are a few awesome people you would pay thousands of dollars to
meet. But you’d pay hundreds of dollars to avoid an hour with most

Tyler: [3-second hesitation.]  Well, it’s not clear why that should be the relevant metric.

Me: But it’s your metric!

Tyler: What’s so special about my metric?

Me: What’s so special about it? By definition, that metric
captures everything that you think matters. And by that very metric,
people are not "pretty much the same." They’re incredibly different.

It’s funny how Bryan thinks he can cite my actions as evidence against the correct belief.  That’s absurd; for instance I also don’t act as if determinism is true, but citing that doesn’t settle the matter.  I sometimes describe Bryan’s most basic world view as the belief that what is good is very very good and what is bad is very bad indeed.   I am more likely to see endowment effects at work.

Home court advantage in basketball

We all feel the Celtic ouch and perhaps some of us delight in it.  Matt writes:

Kevin Drum notes two smart responses to the question of why home court advantage is so big, with one hypothesis pointing to the refs and another pointing to the idea that there are actually lots of differences from arena-to-arena.

Of course if the arena is the difference you would expect shooting guards, who need a good feel for the lights and angles of the basket, to have a bigger relative advantage at home than do the dunking big men.  That should be easy enough to test.  And maybe a look at Lakers-Clippers or Nets-Knicks history can clear up the importance of arena by holding geographic area constant. 

I wonder if a third component of home court advantage has to do with sleep.  People sleep better at home, if only because they don’t have to go to such great lengths to get sex.  I recall reading that Larry Bird became a truly great player only once he…um…calmed down a bit.

Division of labor is limited by the extent of the market

His specialty is static apnea: holding your breath while remaining immobile in a swimming pool. It requires some of same skills as being buried alive for a week, Mr. Blaine said: “It’s all in your mind. You’ve got to stay calm and slow everything down.”

The guy can hold his breath for sixteen minutes; here is the article, interesting throughout.  He is also versatile:

As a self-described endurance artist, he’d spent 35 hours atop a 105-foot pole and survived a week buried in a coffin. He’d fasted for 44 days in a box suspended over the Thames, a nutritional experiment that was written up in The New England Journal of Medicine (with Mr. Blaine listed as a co-author).

Nor had I known this:

Immersing the face in water produces a protective action in humans similar to that in dolphins, seals, otters and whales. Called the mammalian diving reflex, it quickly lowers the heart rate and then constricts blood vessels in the limbs so that blood is reserved for the heart and the brain.

Why did the Houston Rockets draft Yao Ming?

Yao Ming is (was?) a very good player and of course he looked great on paper.  He’s now injured for the third season in a row and out for the year.  He has never been past the first round of the playoffs and it is not clear he will ever be healthy.  It is clear that players over 7’4" almost always have persistent injury problems; human beings with that frame were not meant to play professional sports, least of all contact basketball.  There are plenty of people that tall, but who has had the most successful basketball career?  I believe the answer has to be the not totally impressive Rik Smits

So why did the Houston Rockets draft Yao Ming?  They couldn’t not draft him.  The lessons for financial markets are obvious.  Drafting Yao Ming is like writing the disguised naked put.  You see the money in front of you, you see the return in front of you, you see the potential in front of you, none of the alternatives are so glamorous, and so you can’t not do it. Besides, other players get injured too.

Yao Ming, the naked put.  Think about it.

Betting markets in everything, Super Bowl edition

I have found odds on how long Jordin Sparks
will take to sing "The Star Spangled Banner” (wager under or
over one minute and 42 seconds) and which advertisement shown
during Super Bowl will top USA Today’s Ad Meter popularity
contest.  Budweiser is the -200 favorite (bet $200 to make $100
profit), followed by Go Daddy at +300 and Pepsi at +600.   

Looking through betting Web sites I have found more than
2,000 different "proposition bets,” the name bookmakers give
to markets that are about what happens around the game rather
than on the result.      

Here is the full story, and thanks to John De Palma for the pointer.  But in baseball, regulators are shutting down one nascent market.   

Bargaining theory

Bryan Caplan says:

When the bachelor gets married, he almost certainly starts doing more housework than he did when he was single.  How can you call that shirking?

Megan McArdle says:

I’m no neatnik, but this is . . . daft…Does Mr Caplan think that "person with the lowest standards wins"
should be a general rule for marriage? Can women unilaterally quit
their jobs because they’re content with a lower standard of living, or
spend the retirement fund on shoes because they don’t mind spending
their golden years in penury?

I believe there is no simple Coasian answer to this problem.  Even if bargaining were possible the final deal would depend on the initial allocation of the property right.  That’s a sign that an apparently "small thing" (after all, how much do you spend on a maid, relative to family wealth?) is treated as having large symbolic importance.  And what does economics tell us about symbolic goods?  Symbolic goods usually have marginal values higher than their marginal costs of production; Americans for instance love the idea of their flags but the cloth is pretty cheap, especially if it comes from China. 

Going back to marriage, the theory of symbolic goods means the man should take the woman’s most irrational requests (flowers?  the placement of the toilet seat?) and go to the greatest lengths to satisfy them.  Expand output where marginal cost is low, which in this case refers us back to the gestures not the real efforts.  That’s part of the Nash bargaining solution, namely to make concessions where it costs the conceding party the least.  If there is a case for the man not cleaning more, it’s that greater net gains may be had from satisfying other, less rational demands of the complaining party, in this case the wife.

In other words, it is OK not to clean more, provided you insist on the contrary on your blog.

Oops.  Time to go clean up.