Archives for Sports



Why America Doesn’t Love Soccer (Yet): A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

With the 2014 World Cup getting underway in Brazil, we’ve just released an episode called “Why America Doesn’t Love Soccer (Yet).” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The episode tries to answer a few questions:

1. Why doesn’t America love soccer the way the rest of the world does?

2. Would that change if the U.S. ever managed to win a World Cup?

3. Is No. 2 possible without No. 1?

Read More »



A Good Instrument Is Hard to Find

Phoebe Clarke recently posted a Deadspin article about an article that we just published in The Journal of Socio-Economics. The article, “The Chastain Effect: Using Title IX to Measure the Causal Effect of Participating in High School Sports on Adult Women’s Social Lives,” adopts an ingenious methodology pioneered by Betsey Stevenson (whose research is frequently featured here) in her 2010 study “Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports.” Stevenson estimates the effects of participating in high school sports on women’s economic lives, and finds that sports participation leads women to attain higher levels of education and earn more. I apply the same methodology to social outcomes, and find that sports participation causes women to be less religious, more likely to have children, and, if they do have children, more likely to be single mothers. Read More »



On Beauty and Biking

Our recent podcast “Reasons to Not Be Ugly” examined the beauty premium, as well as the “downside of ugly.”  A new paper by evolutionary biologist Erik Postma in Biology Letters highlights one more advantage of beauty: better endurance performance (in the form of faster cycling).  Bill Andrews of Discover‘s D-brief blog summarizes the study’s setup:

As the paper’s abstract explains, “Females often prefer to mate with high quality males, and one aspect of quality is physical performance.” So the more physically fit a human male is, the more human females might want to bang him. But how to test for this — and, specifically, how to test for this with the measure of physical performance being endurance, a trait not easily quantified?

Read More »



Predicting the Winter Olympics with Economics

How many medals will U.S. athletes win at the Sochi Winter Olympics?

To answer this question, one might want to think about the abilities of the athletes involved in each competition.  And then use that information to forecast who is going to win each event.

Of course, that approach requires knowledge of the athletes involved in a wide variety of sports.  Furthermore, even if you knew how to measure ability, you would also have to figure out some way to forecast each athletes’ performance.

In a recent paper by Madeleine Andreff and Wladimir Andreff — “Economic Prediction of Medal Wins at the 2014 Winter Olympics” (PDF) – an approach advocated by a number of sports economists is employed.  Read More »



The Wednesday Lecture Tradition

I get invitations to guest lecture at English universities on Wednesdays, but almost never for Wednesdays in the U.S. I didn’t know why this difference exists, until one of the inviters mentioned that many English universities keep Wednesday afternoons free of regularly scheduled classes, historically so students can engage in inter-scholastic athletics.  Universities thus have created a positive coordination externality.

We economics professors don’t engage in these athletic endeavors, but the athletic coordination creates a positive externality for economists:  In scheduling seminars, we know that most faculty members at other universities are free to visit, and most of our colleagues should be available to attend the seminar. (HT: NT)



More Channels, More Specialization

There’s a story in the July 3 edition of The Australian about the Fox Footy (Australian Rules Football) Channel. That the channel exists illustrates how changing technology increases well-being.  With the plummeting cost of TV production and transmission has come a great growth in the number of specialized channels.  When I was a kid, the U.S. had three networks and a few independent channels in big cities. Today, things like the Fox Footy Channel have increased the ability of the medium to cater to specialized tastes. 

Since I’m not the only American who likes Australian football, or footy, I expect to see the channel on U.S. TVs soon — thus increasing variety, increasing my total utility.  Any thoughts on likely future channels that will cater to even more specific tastes?



In the Season of Aaron Hernandez, Try Some Jacky Kaba and Shamarko Thomas

I like following sports for a lot of reasons beyond the sheer entertainment; I’ve explained why here
and here. The cast of characters is constantly evolving and, often, capable of producing true drama. Sometimes this drama takes the form of an Aaron Hernandez crime story. But more often, if you’re willing to look, you’ll find the story of a Jacky Kaba or a Shamarko Thomas.

Who???

Here, read for yourselves. Jacky Kaba, originally from Liberia, played basketball at Seton Hall University and is now an associate professor of sociology there; his research has appeared on our blog. Jerry Izenberg has written a fine piece about Kaba on the occasion of his gaining U.S. citizenship.

Shamarko Thomas is an undersized defensive back just drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers; Everett Cook has written an inspiring article about his personal and familial struggles to date. I hope Thomas prospers (and I say that not just because he’s a Steeler).



FREAKest Links

1. Emily Oster answers relationship questions for WSJ readers.

2. Researchers predict a 15 percent decrease in abortion rates if Roe is overturned.

3. Is self-selection responsible for music students’ superior scores on the SATs?

4. Fast food consumers underestimate calories.

5. A new web documentary series about Kickstarter funding.

6. “The Beat of Sports” interviews Dave Berri about his recent post on the value of coaches.