The Deadweight Loss of Brett Favre
If you’re looking for a silver lining in this bad economy and especially in a dismal Christmas retail season, you can at least console yourself with the thought that there will be less deadweight loss this year than in past Christmases — that is, less inefficiency generated by people spending money to buy things for other people who value the gifts at significantly less than they cost. (We once wrote a column that touched on deadweight loss, and here’s a seminal paper on the topic, by Joel Waldfogel.)
On the other hand … how about all those New York Jets Brett Favre jerseys? After a long and fruitful career with the Green Bay Packers, Favre retired last year, then tried to unretire with Green Bay, which didn’t want him, which led him to sign with the Jets, whereupon his new jersey became this year’s best-seller at NFLShop.com. The day after he signed with the Jets, his jersey broke the single-day sales record: 6,500, versus the old record of 900 (for Tony Romo).
A lot of Jets fans envisioned Favre leading them to the promised land, and as of five weeks ago, things looked great. After beating the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans, the Jets even had a few pie-eyed optimists talking about an all-New York Super Bowl (Jets vs. Giants), just as a few pie-eyed optimists once talked of an all-New York presidential election this year.
But then Favre started to look … well, like the quarterback the Packers were so willing to get rid of. The Jets lost four of their last five games (they really should have lost the fifth as well), and Favre was a big part of it. Here’s how he performed during that time — against a slate of opponents, it should be noted, who aren’t exactly world-beaters: Denver, San Francisco, Buffalo, Seattle, and Miami.
Passing yards: 1,011
Passer rating: 55.4
So how do all those people who paid $80 for Favre Jets jerseys feel today? Do they wish they’d spent their money elsewhere? How much would they pay for the same jersey today? Did they derive $80 worth of pleasure from it up to this point — i.e., was the thrill of the first two-thirds of the season worth the pain of the last third?
The sense of loss is even greater because the Jets were beaten on the last day of the season by the Miami Dolphins, who went from a 1-15 season last year to the playoffs this year while employing the very quarterback (Chad Pennington) whom the Jets ditched to make room for Favre.
What will this do for Favre jersey sales?
It is unlikely Favre will come back for another season with the Jets — so maybe sales will hold up since his jersey is essentially a collector’s item.
But it is also unlikely many Jets fans will have fond feelings for Favre any time soon. So it is hard to imagine too many of them buying a Favre jersey again, ever.
And what about wearing the jerseys they’ve already bought? Psychologists have noted a pair of phenomena related to this question: Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing) and Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORFing). This boils down to the fact that people like to wear a team’s jersey after the team wins (that’s a BIRGer binge) and they like to bury a team’s jersey deep in the closet after the team loses.
The market for used and new Favre jerseys would make a good case study for a young economist or psychologist. My prediction is that Favre will be almost universally disliked for a few weeks or months, but then he’ll finally retire for good, at which point he begins to regain his status as the beloved, grizzled gunslinger. Then we don’t hear about him too much for five years, at which point he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame, at which time his jersey becomes a No. 1 seller all over again.
But in the Packers’ green and gold, I’m thinking, not the Jets’ green and white.