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 saw a guy wearing an Atlanta falcon jersey with the #4 and Farve on the back. And that was at Dodger Stadium. I think Jets fans and GB fans will continue to wear the Farve's jersey for years to come!


Bears Fan Joe-

Was that sarcastic? I generally try not to get into it with individuals here, but your comment made little sense if it was serious. I'm tempted to quote "Billy Madison" here, but think I will bite my tongue and hope you were being tongue-in-cheek...


You spell "Favre" as "Farve" a couple of times in this post.

Now a Farve jersey might be worth something...

Jill from Texas

Steve, as a parent/spouse who bought a Favre Jets jersey for my son, I made him wait until the end of the Jets' season, knowing the reaction he'll get from coaches and friends in his Texas high school.

After the Jets' loss, I checked again with my son about his choice. He knows Favre's record and knows about his life and reputation, good and bad.

However, in my son's world of Texas 5A high school football, Favre represents a player's having a degree of control over what happens to him. To me, the jersey represents my hope that my son will continue growing into a man who will make his own decisions, measuring the consequences of his choices by his standards, not by those others would impose upon him.

Tom Peters

Brett who?


This subject is not as frivolous as it seems. Consider the markets for art, antiques, and "collectibles." People spend big buck for baseball cards, bottle caps, old shoes, and other detritus of everyday living. But ask yourself how much the equivalent objects from ancient Rome or Greece are worth. What would you pay for a sandal that might have been worn by Pericles (or might not)? What price does a potsherd bring? Likewise with antiques. No piece of furniture lasts forever; eventually they all become junk. And as for art, tastes change. Some objects will be recognized as masterpieces for centuries, maybe forever; but not every piece of art is a masterpiece. What price do the works of the journeymen contemporaries of Rembrandt and Renoir bring now?


Any of you Jet fans want to buy a gently worn Kenny Rogers Yankee jersey?


By the bye, Sammy Baugh passed on(94)this week. Whether Bret Fauve can approach his level of quarterbacking renaissance is beyonf my ken.....

Ace Parker, George Halas's Sid Luckman, Carol Rosenbloom's Johnny Unitas.....

Joe Montana in our time......priceless ingredients of leadership, herolic character, courage in face of masses of tundry flesh in "blitzs" and those debiliating sacks, putting you on "yer back".....

And the crowd or herd instinct loves it,seeing a mirror of themselves week after week decade after decade. playing out their own aggressions.


Sammy Baugh at 94 passed on this week and the renaissance he brought to the game.....week after week and decade after decade trancends our mortality ,doesn't it?

Leadership character judgment in face of masses of flesh bearing down on him...blitzes, sacks,bedlam and fear....

.Sid Luckman,Joihnny Unitas,Ace Parker, Roger Staurbach, Joe Montana,Phii Siims. their roots in schools and colleges,learning command. and respect.

For the herd instinct , their screaming fans across the continent, playing out their own aggressions, identifying with their heroes. a mirror of their/ better selves..,....


The ace in the hole will be played when the Jets lure Tuna to come back to NY next year. On a Tuna-led team, both the Jets and Favre will do a lot better, maybe reach the Super Bow l, and the Favre Jet jerseys will once more become valuable. But a lot more tuna sandwiches will be sold in NY, leading to increased health and a recession in the beef industry.


It's Packer green and yellow, not green and gold, isn't it? Like the cheese?

I think another crucial variable to consider is how many times Farve's cheesy blue jean ad will be aired during the playoffs. It's probably already driving down jersey sales. I wouldn't know about blue jeans. What brand was it again?

Fred from NC

Adding to the comments of PsiCop and Jake above, Chad Pennington most likely flurished in Miami because of the influence of Bill Parcells on their coach Tony Sparrano. Bill Parcells recruited Pennington for the Jets some 8 years ago, so he was knowledgeable about his abilities. Parcells is a players coach and knows best how to utilize talent, both strengths and weaknesses. I am sure this was conveyed to Sparrano.
In my opinion, Pennington would most likely NOT created the stir that Favre did when he came in, because the NYJets coaching staff never did know how best to utilize Pennington.
So the Jets did improve as PsiCop points out and Pennington under new coaching staff had one of his best years.


stephen, perhaps you might consider favre was a moneymaker for the jets, and that's what they wanted; he moved more merchandise for them in a day and likely more seats in a season than any player in their history. and perhaps you might consider that the individual who most held the responsibility for the team's failure was indeed the one they let go this morning; a QB can only be as successful as those on the sidelines are capable - and the successes brett did achieve were woefully undersupported in that regard, from season's beginning to end - there was deadweight on this team and it assuredly was not #4. and finally, perhaps instead of nastily suggesting the fans who picked up his jersey regret the $80 they spent, you might consider that to have had the opportunity to root for one of the most iconic individuals in the history of the league as one of your own is a worthwhile endeavor, even if the end result isn't quite what one would have hoped. if you had a less pedantic mindset, that conclusion might not have been lost on you.

and dear victoria, i don't know where you've been, but brett has a superbowl ring, 3 MVPs, and every major record that can be held by someone in his position - good and bad alike. i wouldn't be feeling too bad for him; he's had a pretty good run.



and god bless Bears fan Joe, for an honest and affectionate nod to #4; thank you for being a voice of reason amidst the madness. and sorry about what happened to da bears yesterday (really).....


Dear Ted Thompson,

I owe you one.


Chad Pennington


what the ****? You can get a Favre Jersey with a side of Fava beans for $20 on Roosevelt in Queens!

Gringos be crazy man!

Frank from Chicago

Are Green Bay in the play-offs? It takes a full team to win! It is plain stupid to blame the demise of the Jets on the quarter back. A great performance by a quarter back requires a great offensive line; good receivers; he must have a great running game in place. All these were deficient with respect to the Jets this year.

Dr. Bob

Football is a team sport. A quarterback is only as good as the rest of the offense - his receivers, the running game and the offensive line. And it helps the offense for the defense to get the ball with good field position.

I suspect there's a lot more to the second half of the season performance problems of the Jets than can be attributed to Favre.

I also suspect that Favre has been playing the last half-dozen games hurt.

Brett Favre is not as good as he was in his prime - but he's still better than 80% of the quarterbacks in the league when he's healthy.

I was listening to a sportswriter in the TwinCities recently - he made the observation that the Packers had lost numerous games by three points or less this season. He figured that had Favre been with Green Bay, in at least two, maybe three of those games he could have engineered come-from-behind victories which could have won the division for GB. Interesting comment from a sportswriter who covers the Minnesota Vikings.

My last comment is to wonder how many Super Bowl rings would Favre won had he played with a consistently good team rather than lousy or mediocre teams.



i'm not an economist so i don't know what the significance of this is in economic terms; but, look at the records of the packers with favre in his last year with them (11-5? + nfc championship game) and the packers this year without him (5-11). and vice versa with the jets (4-12 without him last year and 9-7 this year with him).

with 40+ players on a team, not any one player can control the outcome of a game by himself. Throughout his career favre has won a lot more games than he has lost which shows to me that he is a big part of the reason. being the quarterback, favre has a huge impact and obviously he is a winner. Plus, he's exciting as hell to watch (even when he fails b/c you know if he couldn't complete that pass no one else could).

for you favre haters, can you name the starting receivers on the jets?


Sorry jk(#81): Favre was *not* exciting to watch this Sunday, especially if you were fortunate enough to have paid a small fortune for tickets to see the game in person. He played downright awful, and his attitude and antics were on display far more prominently than his arm; thus, down by just a touchdown, the final play unfolded as it did, without his even being on the field, instead of the typical "Hail Mary" we've all grown to expect from Favre.

However, Pennington *was* exciting to watch: long throws and TDs with his back to the wind, controlling the clock going into the wind, scrambling away from a sack and completing a pass on 3rd-and-long, QB-sneaking for a 1st down on 4th-and-1, etc., etc.

I'm not a Favre hater, but I can name most of the receivers on the Jets (down to the 3rd string): Coles and Cotchery are both top talents, as are a few of their TEs. However, I can't do so for the Dolphins, and I doubt anyone but a hard-core 'Fins fan could. I think that means something as well.

If you're going to play the "record with/without Favre" game, why not do it for the Dolphins too? or at least for the Jets with Pennington as full-season starter? I think you'll see something of a juxtaposition there.

Finally, I'm confused by the argument that "not any one player can control the outcome of a game by himself", and then, in the same paragraph: "he is a big part of the reason ... favre has a huge impact and obviously he is a winner". This sounds like you're arguing with yourself. Make up your mind: is 9-7 Favre's doing, or the team's doing?

Sorry to pick this apart, but I've been hearing it for months now. Why can't people just agree that *both* QBs have had an impact, including a financial one (try finding a #10 'Fins jersey in Miami these days; I'm told they've been sold out for months). The real difference is that one was *traded for*, and the other was tossed into the trash as a result of that trade. Speaking in those terms, who has had the biggest impact in relation to expectations?