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.

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.


Mike

To all the glass-half-empty commentators here and elsewhere, get a life. Pro football is entertainment. On his best days (and Brett had some very good days this season) Favre is a wonderful diversion. His overconfidence has always been his bane; he often makes mistakes when he's trying too hard to make the big plays to turn a game around. The greater problem is playing when he's injured to pad his consecutive starts record. Years ago, it was a busted throwing thumb that led to an abysmal season. This year, an injured shoulder led to sub-par performances the second half of the season. It has always seemed a bit selfish that he doesn't just start the game and then and give his backup QB some field time. But hey, I don't ask my backup at work to do my job for me, either.

I'm a longtime Packer fan, but events conspired to allow me more chances to see the Jets than the Packers this year. Certainly in the first half of the season, Brett's infectious sense of competitive fun clearly energized both the team and the fans. Even through the struggles of the second half, you won't find a more congenial competitor on the field or off. I, for one, hope Brett recovers enough for at least one more season, and would have preferred he'd never retired in the first place and finished out his career at Green Bay.

Our society is coming to grips with the economics of a throw-away mentality. And for the first time in my life, I'm older than our next President. Growing up, I marveled at George Blanda's ability to put on the pads into his late 40s. I'm not halfway through my working life and plan to do everything I can to make a difference at my job as long as I can to keep my company from thinking I'm a deadweight loss waiting to happen.

A Favre-less NFL will be a far greater loss to the football economy in many, many ways, not the least of which is to deflate the hopes of so many middle-agers like myself who know they have a lot to offer their worlds, even if we don't Facebook or Twitter all day long.

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CheddarRules

Brett Favre is ultimately the greatest football player to ever lace on the cleats. He had a few rough years early slinging the ball and elevating a weak team to a playoff contender. Then for a decade, he was the top QB and the face of the NFL. In his latter years, he still managed to singularly elevate a team of players who should have given him better support. He was always willing to carry whatever load was required, and sometimes it cost him.

Favre was forced to take risks when he didn't have better talent around him.

He holds every meaningful record at the QB position. The INT record is simply a matter of starting every game for 17 years, and throwing so many passes when the defense knew that's what they had to do. It would be like demeaning Babe Ruth because he hit the most HRs ever during his career, but he also struck out the most. Who cares?

JZ

Tom,
Not everyone can be John Elway (the true G.O.A.T.)! But I respect to pros (Favre, Jordan et al) who just love the game so much that they have to play...even well beyond their prime. After all, it's not like MJ can just go to the YMCA and enjoy a shirts/skins game. To enjoy it at his level, he has to play against NBA pros, just as Favre needs the NFL.

Nancy from Nevada

Let's see....why don't you "losers" suit up and play football and let's see how "you" do at "39". You are just a bunch of arm chair quarterbacks........ Brett Farve is a "great" and I mean "great" quarterback. I do believe he is not the "only" player on the field. If you defense cannot play and your offense cannot receive for "beans"" then maybe....just maybe the whole lot of the team needs to be replaced. Apparently the "sickly" and "injured" Chad baby didn't hold up to his end of the deal for the Jets....maybe that was one of the reasons he got traded . After all you bunch of NY cry babies....the record this year is a heck of alot better than last years and I do believe "Chad baby" was a Jet back then.....And Aaron...well he sucked as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback this year....BIG TIME!!!!!

Peter

Pennington was boring even in victory. Anyone (and it only seems to be the announcers) who believe Jet fans should be regretful, is a sick puppy. Favre has to go, and will, but Pennington showed me all the same things on Sunday that made me want to dump him for years: floating passes, short dips and dunks, and a lackluster, boring approach to this sport. Sure, Bret has to go - but let's not get crazy and start to pine for a 'game manager' - give him a year or two in Miami and he'll get dumped for the same reasons. No one wants to watch that - he puts me to sleep... Zzzzzzz

JT

SJ Dubner and countless sports pundits tell us that Brett Favre has already joined a not-so-elite club: quarterbacks who stayed too long. But unlike Dan Marino, Joe Namath (remember him?), and Terry Bradshaw at the tail ends of their careers, Favre can still throw. His decision making has always been highly suspect; and sure he didn't do anything to improve his reputation this year. But even with a bum shoulder, he was making throws in '08 that QB's 15 years his junior can only dream about. It's a shame that his receivers dropped so many of them.

I'd never pay $80 for one of his jerseys, even if he'd won MVP. But I hope he gets to play for as long as he wants to, and for a team other than Detroit. He's fun to watch--most of the time.

And his counterpart in Green Bay didn't exactly set the world on fire this year, did he? What's an Aaron Rodgers jersey selling for these days?

deesto

Hey clint(38), you forgot a line in your NYJ history:
2006 NYJ: 10-6 (and the playoffs)
2007 NYJ: 4-12
2008 NYJ: 9-7

Now, who was that non-gun-slinging QB who took an overachieving NYJ team to the playoffs in 2006 (and 10-6 and a penalty away from the AFC championship in 2004, and 9-7 and the playoffs in 2002)? Maybe the same guy who's now done the same thing for a team that was 1-15 last season?

jack bishop

Regarding your cited article on The Deadweight Loss of Christmas and the general deadweightedness of many gifts - my girlfriend received a Thomas Kincade calendar as a Christmas gift from my brother. Unbeknownst to my brother, she hates Kincade's art. However, she regifted it to someone who (we hope) likes it better. Thus, she used it to satisfy 100% of an obligation to give a gift even though it was total deadweight for herself. This seems like an additional factor to consider in assigning a deadweight value. (I haven't figured how it can be applied to Brett Favre's Jet career. Maybe next year?)

Josh

Thank you, Stephen, for including football pieces in this blog. After all, wasn't the purpose of _Freakonomics_ to apply economic and statistical principles to everyday events? The work of Bill James, Billy Beane and others in applying rigorous statistics to baseball (As chronicled in Michael Lewis's _Moneyball_) has been fascinating and controversial. Well, now it's football's turn. Economists, mathematicians, statisticians, and game-theorists have turned their eyes toward the gridiron: attempting to tackle such questions as when coaches should punt, kick, or go for it.

One of the most controversial topics in these analyses is determining how to evaluate quarterbacks, and how valuable their play is to a team's success (See Malcolm Gladwell's Dec 15 New Yorker piece). Obviously, no recent quarterback has been as controversial as Brett Favre. I'll be glad to see him fade away, but I want to keep seeing football-related posts on this blog!

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Mark Lebow

The player you idolize enough to buy a team jersey with his name and number may face complications later in his career that make your choice dubious. He could have off-field problems, including with the law, he could leave as a free agent, he could suffer a career-ending injury, or he could just decline quickly and leave the sport.

The buyer has to weigh all these potential factors and decide if any would make it less enjoyable to wear the jersey. I myself still have a Packers Favre jersey, because I've decided that all the negatives in his departure from Green Bay don't outweigh his accomplishments here. Brett Favre is still the best player ever to wear the Green and Gold.

Grant

"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."

I'd be willing to bet Brett Favre rarely stepped foot in the city. The Jets play in New Jersey and I'm pretty sure I read that he chose to live in Pennsylvania. And Peter King is always telling us that he's this down-home farmer type who likes to "work the land."

But sure, carp on the supposed elitism of New Yorkers. It's always good for some nods of agreement.

Bears fan Joe

I am surprised at how little New York sports fans know. Even among those who seem to tilt in Favre's favor, their stats are wrong in so many of these comments. There are so many mistakes, I won't even bother to deal with it. Suffice to say, if you check the facts on a lot of these entries you will find wrong information all over the place.

Favre is, I think, 39. He holds all the important passing records in the NFL. He is generally considered to be the first player anyone would pick when assembling an all-time, Hall of Fame team.

I am a Unitas fan. I don't like Favre. Why should I? From the time he showed up at Green Bay until Lovie Smith showed up in Chicago he beat us--I don't know exactly--30 or 40 times, many, many times in a row--almost all the time. I think someone calculated that statistically his team is up 7 points the minute he steps onto the field.

Playing the number of straight games he has, including almost a whole season with a thumb on his right hand broken in two places, is remarkable.

I've never heard that he is divisive. I know that he was against Javon Walker's leaving--he thought it was a mistake (and it was) and against Mike McKenzie's attempt to tear up his contract after he had signed it. But he didn't go out of his way to be involved. Just gave his opinion as a fellow team mate after being asked several times.

After some medical problems, he got hooked on the pain medicine he had been taking. But he came out in public and announced it himself and got treatment to end it. He is generally considered, and all the Green Bay fans I know...and I know some who know him...say he is a stand up guy.

I think most Green Bay players thought he was a terrific team mate and a great leader. As far as moving to New York, he was probably in a tough situation. The Packers sat Aaron Rodgers for four years to let Favre play out his string. They couldn't wait any longer. The discussions and the p.r. and the trade stuff...just details.

Favre wanted to continue to play. And he can. I've watched Jets games. He can still play better than at least half the QBs in the league right now. So he took the NY job. What's the big deal? Now you want to go back and second-guess yourselves about Pennington because Miami put together a playoff team? Might as well second guess losing Parcells. A waste of time.

Not unlike Babe Ruth, who had the record for number of times striking out, Favre has the record for interceptions as well as TD passes. But I will bet you two tickets to "Spamalot" that there isn't a coach in the league who wouldn't tell you that he is the best of all time at his position. And there is not one who would not give a year's salary to have another Brett Favre to build a team around.

He's so good that Wisconsin fans watch Jets games whenever they are on just to see him. That's the NEW YORK Jets, by the way. That's unheard of. People in Wisconsin don't normally watch New York anything.

I'll just say that he is the best living quarterback. Of course, as I said, I'm a Unitas fan.

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Ed

The entertainment factor is key when you're talking about Favre. Is he the greatest ever to play the game? Well, if you base that on success in the playoffs and the Super Bowl, clearly not. Tom Brady, Bradshaw, Montana, Starr, Aikman... these are the greats when it comes to winning when it counted. Clearly, But Favre, selfish as he can be, is entertaining to watch. When he was younger, he could look terrible for a few quarters, then bust out with some spectacular improvisations on the field that completely changed the tenor of the game. He doesn't seem to do that very often anymore. On any given day, he's either very good or simply mediocre. He doesn't redeem the bonehead plays these days.

CL

Emotionally, I wish that the Pack had given him one more chance. Rationally, i was pleased to see him spend a season where he couldn't perform at his peak with the Jets, always an also-ran team, who should move to a market where they could get real economic support around them. Like LA, or Las Vegas, for example. NYC should be a one team town in all sports. 2 team towns don't work anymore. A 20th century idea that can't survive.

Ice Bowl Packer Fan

One of the wise who write here said I wasn't a Packer Fan. I have watched Bart Starr, Lynn Dickey, David Whitehurst,
Randy Wright, The Majic Man and others all lead the Packers. Mr. Farve is a great spirit who tried to rewrite the rules of Football, he is and was entertaining. He can win a game just as quickly as that wild spirit you all love will lose one. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer for Pro Football, Partying, Hunting and enjoying Life. Just one question, how many Super Bowl Rings would he have if he learned to truely manage the game. Gunslingers are remembered for how we preceive them as American Hero's. I will take them marksmen you knows what to do and when to do it. Who do you want in the fourth quarter, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dan Maranio, John Elway or Mr. Farve, all great quarterbacks and Hall of Famer's. P.S., Record held by Bart Starr, 269 Passes without an interception.

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James Doss

Second acts are hard to live up to! Remember Joe "Willy" in a Ram's jersey in 1978? Which gets me to wonder, how much my Joe Namath Los Angeles Rams Jersey would go for on ebay?

Kristin

As a longtime Packer fan living in Wisconsin, I'm guessing that roughy 6,200 of those day-one jersey sales were destined for folks in my neighborhood where they will now be displayed next to the endless collection of Brett bobbleheads, Sports Illustrated Special Editions (gotta love the retirement issue from last spring!), glasses, signed footballs, pics at practices, framed ticket stubs.....

-Kristin in Neenah

Fred

Come on now.

Brett is one of the best players of all time. The reason he had so many pics was because he was injured. That's right injured. He is a super bowl champion. Today, tomorrow, and for the rest of his life.

Yall are haters.

Tooth Fairy

Enough already! Why do economists spend their scarce time on such an issue?

KJ

the market has spoken, or at least eBay, Brett Favre jerseys are about $45