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 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.

Attempts/completions: 175/98
Passing yards: 1,011
Touchdowns: 2
Interceptions: 9
Sacks: 9
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.


I think you missed a big piece of the sales - all the NYJ Favre jerseys which were purchased by Vikings and Bears fans to rub salt in the wounds of the Packer fans.

Dan Parry

Well, well, well. Packers made a great move after all dumping Favre, who played in the last five weeks for the Jets the way he played Q4 and OT against the Giants in the NFC playoffs- a big nothin'. Nobody (except for the Lions) in their right minds would want Favre next year. He's done. Stick a fork in him... But Brett's jersey will now hang proudly alongside other Packer legends greats like, Starr, Taylor, etc. The Pack will be back to the top of the NFL.


To piggyback on PSI-Cop's comments:

He should not be totally blamed for the Jets' failure to make the post-season. Looking at the numbers, Brett delivered one of his normal seasons.

He had a passing rating of 81 for the regular 2008 season so his passer rating for the first 11 games would still be under 100. His career QB rating is 85.5 so this season is slightly below average.

His career completion percentage is 61.6%. He completed 56% of his passes during the last 5 games of 2008. He only needed 9 more completions during those 5 games to achieve his career average. When he went to the Super Bowls, his season passing averages were under 60% (59.3% & 59.9%).

In 21 seasons since the league went to 16 games, the Jets have exceeded 9-7 only 7 times. In 2005 & 2007; they only won 4 times. He might have taken them to 10-6 or even 11-5. However, he was not going to take them to a Super Bowl by himself. They will need a complete team for that.


Tom from Wisconsin

Why is it that sports heros just can't bring themselves to go out on a winning note? Boxers seem to be the worst of that group, but it tends to hit just about everyone. Favre, for all his greatness, is clearly past his best and its not going to get better for him. He had a great last season at GB despite a bonehead decision to throw for Driver into double coverage. He would be more fondly remembered had he kept his word to hang it up.

IMO, had he not publicly retired, he could have come back for as long as he wanted to in GB. Its not like the Packers dropped him; he dropped himself and the organization moved on (and wisely so according to most fans here). Now, having said all of that, Favre wasn't totally a bad move for the Jets - he did jump start the season in a way that Pennington might not have been ablt to do.

So here is the freakonomics question: At what point in a player's career does it make the most sense to seek a replacement? That presupposes, of coure, that you can generate some form of guesstimate of where you are in a career path.


Stephen J. Dubner


Thanks. Corrected.


Hey Lois,
Stick with Superman, because you obviously have no clue about football, calling Favre the greatest QB ever.

Steve from Philly

Although it is very easy for us to say the "Brett Favre Experiment" was a flop for the NY Jets, let us not forget that their are a multitude of factors which contribute to a team's (and a team's quarterback's) success and failures. All readers of this blog should read The Blindside by Michael Lewis to expound on this point. Then again 2/9 td/int ratio is pretty bad!

Michael "mickeyrad" Radosevich

Perhaps it's not so much the fault of Brett Favre or Eric Mangini as it is some kind of curse plaguing the former denizens of Shea Stadium. The Mets in recent years have become known for folding in the last weeks of the season, falling from being a near certain playoff team to an also-ran. Now the Jets seem to be reaching the same status.
I'd like to see some statistical analysis of how bad the collapses of these two teams were. How often does a team in a similar situation collapse & fail to reach the playoffs?
PS We used to suggest the Chicago Cubs move to Manila & re-name the team the Manila Folders.


Regarding the "economics" of this move, it is unlikely that it had any impact on Jets ticket sales. All Jets tickets are season tickets and there is currently a waiting list of 10,000+. The Jets have sold out every game for years (they are never blacked out on local TV, which happens if a game is not sold out). Theoretically, they could have upped the price of their tickets once Favre was on board, but considering how late in the pre-season he signed, ticket prices would have already been set. It surely had a huge effect on the after-market value of the tickets so individual season-ticket holders probably made money, but I doubt the Jets saw any significant uptick. They may have seen increased revenue for merchandise, but I believe that most, if not all, of this money is shared by the league. Many jerseys are sold at stores that are not affiliated with the Jets, so this money does not go directly to them. They may have been able to increase sponsorship money, but again, I would doubt this since those contracts are generally very long-term and would also likely have been set long before Favre came on board.

The value of the jerseys themselves would be interesting to study, but seeing as how the Jets missed the playoffs and based upon the way in which NFL teams produce and share revenue, I doubt the Jets were able to recoup on their investment. Fans may have felt it was worth it for the excitement the season brought them in spite of the late season collapse, but I don't know that it is "measurable" and, even if it were, I don't know that any fan would take solace in knowing that his individual suffering did or did not fit an "economic model".



Geez NYJ fans - be glad you didn't wind up like the Detroit Lions! Give Favre another year, then gripe. So what if he's all the terrible things you say he is, he's also all the wonderful things said about him. And remember the old saying "there's always next season.."

Ice Bowl Packer Fan

Please, everyone lets be honest, Brett Farve was signed
to sell seat licenses in the New Jet's Statium. I think he
did that well. He went as far in the end as a sore shoulder
would carry him. I know all the bar stories about him in Milwaukee and was glad to see him gone from the Packers, but he did put the spotlight on the Jet's just like
management wanted. One day he will be a legend, right now he's just a legend in his own mind.

Wendy Schmidt

Yes, I have to agree with several commentators -- a big section of these were purchased and worn -- even through yesterday -- in Wisconsin. For some, a figure very important in their religion had moved to another team, and it was incumbent on them to follow.


Pardon me if I am mistaken, but I believe the purpose of professional sports is to make a profit. Brett Favre coming to the Jets has proven profitable for their enterprise. That is the end of the story.

Should he look to be profitable next year, he will likely be back. Should Brett be more profitable in a tutu, he'll be back in pink.

There are an awful lot of children running around Wisconsin with names like "Brett" and "Sterling" for some reason. I can't help but believe that a certain drama queen drove a certain economic enterprise for more than a decade.

Seth B

You people are so cynical. That must come from convincing yourselves that you live in a city that is somehow better than the rest of the world combined. Poor Brett must have been miserable there.

It should be reiterated that he didn't choose to go to NY, he was traded. Maybe he should have stayed retired but either way, the Jets went from 4 wins to 9, and the Pack dropped from 12 wins to 5. But that is all probably just coincidence right?

Good thing the Jets forced out the heir-apparent franchise QB of the future due to similar impatience. I'm sure that the people of Miami are grateful.

stonesdano from Sheboygan, WI

Favre's replacement in Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers) had a great year statistically speaking with 4038 yards passing with 28 TD passes and only 13 picks. One thing I won't miss about Brett Favre is his holding the Packers hostage with his retirement talk like the past five years. I don't think New York fans will beg him to come back like the Green Bay faithful has done for the past couple of years. Let's face it, Brett has the itch to play when the weather is good and all of the mini camps are over with. When winter and bad weather comes along, Brett doesn't have that itch anymore. I think it's time for him to retire for good before he makes a bigger clown out of himself.

Think, please

Freakonomics? Whats wrong with you....Oooooh, yeah, thats right, you'll do anything to get a rise out of your readers, because thats what gets more people reading the column, and maybe paying attention to the little ads on the side.

I've got something for you:

1) Stay out of predicting football AND politics. For one, the main reason we lost is not Favre, its Mangina, and he's gone. As for politics, that election was given to Barack courtesy of your Repugnican friends in Florida(and don't give me any of that "Weeeellll, that could be the case", because it is.) Throw in Carl Levine's help in Michigan and you have Barack as president with Bill Clinton's team...the only way he COULD get anything done anyway. Sometimes you 'pundits' really make me sick...whats do different between you and Faux news?(Other than you can apparently walk and chew gum at the same time).

2) REAL Jetts fans do feel they got their money's worth. Otherwise, they aren't Jetts fans. Do we lament letting Chad go? Of course, because he was loyal; he took a beating, that was unnecessary because we wouldn't ante up for an o-line. The one to have been traded should have been the 3rd stringer, so we'd have had Brett, Chad, and Brett Ratliff...

As a NYJett fan, I'd be honored if he'd come back for at least 1-2 years...if Vinny testaverde could, why can't he? Now that we got rid of that Deadweight Loss Mangina(pronounced Man-GY-nuh; see, Deuce Bigelow)...we can start looking toward the future.

That future started with Woody; the next to go is Tannenbaum; he must pick a coach who's going to do the job. After that, OC/DC's need some looking at too. That silly wildcat formation is just a sign of desperation. We have a team that can beat others on its own merits and skill... stadium or not, the Jetts world is watching and we aren't looking to put the blame on Brett. We're honored that he would even BOTHER to join our team.

The question is, are the hire ups honored to have jobs? Or will they just give us the status quo so they can pay for the stadium...

right now, Jetts, except for Brett, deserve to be playing in a parking lot...forget the new stadium.



I don't understand how so many people can say that he's overrated, just there to sell seats, screwed the jets out of a good season, etc. The guy just wanted to play football. Why can't anyone appreaciate that for what it is, especially considering the time we live in. A Ice Bowl Packer Fan I believe you are not! And Chris, he may not be The Greatest Ever, but should definitely considered to be One of the greatest ever. Interceptions, QB rating, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah, talk about numbers all you want, but the guy made people interested in football. Especially if he plays for your favorite team. He carries himself in way that very few players and former players do. With class and dignity like that, his fans are proud to say that they're his fans, and even people that don't like him still respect that. So all you who say he sucks, can't win games, throws umpteen interceptions, blows the big games, is overrated, keep your hate fueled comments to yourself and don't blame the fact that YOUR favorite team (SF, CHI, DET, CIN, OAK, STL, CLE) can't get it done and probably won't for a very long time.

2007 NYJ: 4-12
2008 NYJ: 9-7 (at least they had a shot at the playoffs)



Football coaches place too much emphasis on who is the starter and keep them in the game too long. As Mr Dubner showed, BF's numbers dropped significantly towards the end of a long brutal season. My observation is that that happens all the time - older players can't heal as quickly as younger players - and teams with older players tend to start quickly, but then fail in December when the bangs and bruises pile up. Mangini has been fired, but he might have been able to keep his job if he had a backup to Favre that he could have played significant minutes in October and November, so that Favre would have been at the top of his game in December.

As far as the economics go - it's all about depreciation - accounting rules for depreciation are close to worthless for actually accounting for the value that is lost with age.


I'm surprised no one is talking about the December decline of Kris Jenkins and the collapse of the Jet's pass rush. That is more worrisome for next season than Favre's return.

mir ali

Realize that the Jets are NOT the Packers franchise and organization and fact they are NOT EVEN a Dolphins-like organization. Both those systems brought out the best in Farve and Pennington.
Until the Jets can do that, they can draft Brady or Montana and still wind up missing the playoffs.