Bring Your Questions for the Sports Economists

“I must say, with all due respect, I find it very hard to see the logic behind some of the moves you have made with this fine organization. In the past 20 years, you have caused myself, and the city of New York, a good deal of distress, as we have watched you take our beloved Yankees and reduce them to a laughing stock.”

— George Costanza upon meeting Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Seinfeld, “The Opposite” (season 5, 1994). Quoted in Stumbling on Wins: Two Economists Expose the Pitfalls on the Road to Victory in Professional Sports.


A lot of sports fans are just like George Costanza, watching their favorite teams make the same mistakes over and over again, while the perfect solution seems obvious all along. (If it’s that bad for the Yankees, the winningest pro franchise in U.S. sport history, just imagine how bad it is in Milwaukee.) In their new book Stumbling on Wins, the economists David J. Berri (Southern Utah University) and Martin B. Schmidt (William & Mary — the alma mater of a certain NFL head coach) explain this phenomenon while revealing sports decision-makers’ big mistakes. They also identify the sports stats that are truly useful, explore the role of great coaches, and determine whether black quarterbacks are underpaid.

Berri and Schmidt are also the authors, along with Stacey Brook, of The Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of the Many Myths in Modern Sport. They blog?here.

They have agreed to take your sporting questions, so fire away in the comments section below. As always, we’ll post their answers in short course. It is an exciting moment in the annual sports calendar — basketball and hockey beginning their playoffs, the baseball season still fresh enough to inspire enthusiasm in nearly every quadrant, and (sadly) a very active police blotter for Pittsburgh Steelers fans to follow.

Addendum: Berri and Schmidt answer your questions here.


Have you analyzed specific situations under the new NFL overtime rules?

Should NFL teams go for it on 4th down more often? Should they go for a 2 point conversion more often?

Andre Veilleux

Do you think it's a good idea for the financial health of a league to have a salary cap similar to that of the National Hockey League (which limits the amount a single player can be paid, a rookie can be paid, and a team can pay out in salaries)? Or do you think leagues without a salary cap (such as the English Premier League - soccer) are a better idea for the financial health of a league?

Jeff Nehajowich

Would a salary cap in baseball work? And would bringing teams like the KC Royals to par (in spending and seemingly wins) with the Yankees actually be good for baseball?

Edward Shelswell-White

Could you summarize your 2-3 key pionts as they apply to: (1) amateur athletics; (2) business.? oOunds like an intriguing book, but want to know how to apply it. Thanks. Edward...

Tom G

Can the sports gambling markets be beaten?

Trevor L

Can baseball teams such as the Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays ever turn a profit? Or is the only good business model the one of the Red Sox and the Yankees (live in a great sports city and have a huge payroll)?


"Old-school" decision makers in sports are often reluctant to change, despite overwhelming evidence that their current strategy is flawed. Which often-repeated mistake is most frustrating to continue to observe?


What do you think the value of momentum going into the playoffs is? The Lakers have been awful recently; will this impact their performance in the playoffs


What are your thoughts on the study related at in which subconscious bias was found in selection of teams in the NCAA basketball tournament?


Why isn't (or is there?) cheating by hockey teams to create ties? Because ties create an extra point during the regular season (normally winner gets two points for a win, but in a tie each team gets one point while the winner in overtime gets a third point) there seems to be a tremendous incentive for teams to aim for a tie and then fight it out in overtime for the extra point (at least in non-division games)


In hockey and basketball seems that a couple of last place seasons in a row to get top 5 draft picks really helps, because a couple of top stars make a huge difference. All the top teams have the top stars. This is obviously not the case in football and baseball. Do you think that a losing team would be doing the right thing in a five year plan by tanking the last half of a season?

Jeremy in....Milwaukee

Hey, don't bang on Milwaukee. The Bucks won championships before my lifetime, and the Brewers won a pennant when I was in kindergarden and made the playoffs a couple years ago....oh, wait-that's what you were talking about.

At least we have the tickets for 3 of the 8 home Packer games.

Neal, PHX

This is a wonderful idea and opportunity, so thank you for offering us the chance to ask questions.

My questions: How do sports teams in communities benefit the local economy? If an economic benefit is derived, doesn't it deflate the efforts of other leisure sectors (most notably, arts)?

Some context: Pro sports sucks up a lot of money: from fans, from government and its tax bases, from sponsors. There's only so much money to go around.

In Phoenix, there's also Cactus League Spring Training, which, despite government funding, brings in a lot of people for a short period of time. Many of these people are from elsewhere and, therefore, spend a lot of cash on hotels, restaurants, retail shopping, etc.

I see a similar effect from the Fiesta Bowl and the Insight Bowl: people come from out of town for a short period of time to participate.

Though I am a sports fan, I have a problem with the way pro sports comes in and 'Big Foots' everything else in the community--not only when it comes to money but also in terms of time commitment. Holding season tickets in baseball requires the $ of a part-time job as well as the time commitment of that part-time job.

Mr. Berri, no doubt, sees the economic benefits that come to Cedar City, UT as a result of the annual Utah Shakespearean Festival in the summer and fall. People invest money, yes, but also time.

Isn't the issue of pro sports, therefore, one of both money and time commitment? And doesn't pro sports create one huge vacuum for both?




As a Mets fan, I have watched my team make tons of horrible moves that even the worst guy in my fantasy league knows they shouldn't make (e.g., giving Luis Castilla $25 million over four years, trading Kazmir for the wrong Zambrano and giving away Milledge for a bag of chips).

This has me wondering if anyone has ever tried to see who is better at forecasting player value: fantasy league managers or actual GMs. More specifically, has anyone looked at the first year after a new contract to see which is a better predictor of performance: actual salary or fantasy auction salary?


How do pythag wins compare to actual wins in terms of revenue? For example, two theoretical teams (with identical markets and with all variables held even) win 100 games in the season. Team A has a much larger run differential than Team B, which results in pythag wins of 105 vs 95. How much of an influence does this difference in pythag wins have on revenue? Alternatively, you could have two teams with identical pythag wins of 100, but actual wins of 95 vs 105.

It would also be very interesting (although difficult) to compare the difference in pythag revenue to actual win revenue in multiple markets. Is Houston full of fairweather fans? Does Boston support the Sox when they are playing well (pythag) but getting unlucky and hovering around .500?

the Gooch

1. What is the single most wasteful way in which pro owners spend money?
2. What is the single most profitable venture for pro owners?

My guesses:

#1: Overpaying NBA players who score points inefficiently.
#2: Lobbying to obtain public financing for a new stadium/arena.


You did a study which showed that racism in the NFL means that white quarter backs are paid more than black quarterbacks.

This made me wonder, is the N.B.A reverse-racist?

Specifically, are white players underpaid relative to black players who produce at similar rates?


Why don't baseball stadiums lower their concession prices during rain delays?

At least for those non-domed stadiums nearby other commerce, restaurants and bars, the stadium would lose money to fans (who are no longer captive when there's no baseball being played) exiting during the rain delay and returning once the game began again.

But if they could lower food and beer prices to reflect the increased competition from nearby restaurants/bars, they could probably hold onto more fans during the delay and the game.


Why, oh why, oh why is it conventional wisdom that sports teams are important for economic development???


Why haven't the Cubs won a World Series in over 100 years? Do they keep making the same mistakes every year?