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.


To avoid late night hijinks (both at home and on the road), should NBA team schedule, say, 8am practices (or meetings) instead of the 11am shoot around?

The theory is that its much tougher to get in trouble during the day than at 1am ...


Given two extremes, do you think fans would rather see athletes achieve mind-boggling feats and constantly shatter records, or would they rather feel that the sports they are watching are "pure" and without "performance enhancing drugs"?

Why is it that nobody seems to make a big deal about Lasik or oxygen deprivation tanks or the myriad other ways athletes enhance their capabilities, but they get so up in arms about the use of certain chemicals?

Jim F

in small market teams with big stadiums, would it make economic sense to give away all the cheap seats for free and hope to make that money back in concession fees? or does this reduce the costs you can charge for better seats? it seems like there are a lot of empty seats in ballparks and with the money some people spend on beers and food at games, this would make sense to me, but nobody seems to be doing it. Why?


John Henry

What would be the effect on revenue if stadiums priced tickets efficiently? ie. set raised prices in competitive markets so that demand met supply at exactly the stadium capacity. Also, in less competitive markets with low attendance prices would drop until the stadium sold-out. Pricing would also be variable by game to account for higher demand for a quality opponent, superstar, etc. What is the effect on ticket revenue and also on total revenue (which could be influenced by fewer fans following a team they can no longer afford to see-person, for example).


Why are first round draft picks in the NFL given such high salaries? Do rookies receive the same amount of "guaranteed" money as veterans? Also, if NFL rookies really are overpaid, why don't teams refuse to agree to lofty contracts?

Jay Livingston

The head coach you mention, when he was at William and Mary, majored not in economics but in sociology. Hmmm.

B-ball fan

In your opinion, should college basketball players be paid a real income greater than tuition?

How does the one year rule affect those would-be high school NBA players' lifetime earnings and competitive balance in college and the NBA?

Adam McCloskey

If you were running simple regressions (winning % vs some index for player salary, what sport has the lower R^2?)


If there were one player action that you would want to be tracked and added to the NBA box score, what would it be?


Since Billy Beane's teams have never gone to the World Series and since he said that his approach does not work in postsaason, would you recommend his approach to a good or wealthy team?


Love the blog Dave.

Management make moves all the time with the implicit belief that they will be putting more fans in their seats and/or selling more tickets. These moves include player changes, coaching changes, management changes, adjusting game times, involving cheerleaders/dancers, promotions, and half-time entertainment.

Other than winning more games or (for teams that sell out) building more seats, is there any other act that has been shown to sustainably bring more fans into the building?


What's your explanation for why the American League has won 12 consecutive All-Star Games (excluding the infamous 2002 tie)? Consistently better players? More money than the NL? Just luck?


Regardless of the impact on revenues for pro sports teams, what do you think of the extended playoff structures that pro sports employs today. Baseball has included wild cards, and basketball and hockey playoffs seem to go on forever. Do these structures allow for more random outcomes for championship winners? I especially think this can be an issue in baseball.


Commenter #6:

"The Marlins turned a major-league leading $46.1 million profit" in 2009, according to Forbes, as quoted in a recent USA Today article (

Zach H.

Much has been made of the consistency in the offensive coaching staff of the Indianapolis Colts and how pivotal that was to the development of Peyton Manning. Has there been any research done into coaching consistency and long-term winning? Could a team be better off keeping a mediocre coach for a long time than constantly jumping around in search of a wunderkind?

Erik Jensen

#1: Do you agree with the contention (based on statistics) that football coaches are too timid on 4th down? If so, can you explain why they are too timid? Is it tradition, job security, or ignorance?

#2: What are the least useful statistics in sports? I nominate W/L for pitchers and time of possession in football.

#3: Are there any studies of players perceived as high risk because of criminal behavior or perceived bad attitudes? Would franchises be better served taking more risks on these guys or "playing it safe" with nice guys? You always read about guys dropping down in the draft, so I'd like to know if this is justified.


Are the Yankees and their high payroll bad for baseball?


While trailing by one goal on playoff hockey do NHL teams wait until there is 90-60 seconds left before pulling the goalie?
It appears to me that the trailing team plays very tentatively leading up to this trigger point. Then oftentimes doesn't get enough shots/scoring chances to give themselves the best chance to tie the game, especially since a tired defense gives up more goals and a team with an extra skater can keep it in the offensive zone and wear out a defense more effectively if they have more time left in the game.


Is there any hope the Detroit Lions will go to a Superbowl in the next 50 years?


My question has to do with the BCS and college football:

Is it in the best interest of colleges to stick with the BCS system financially? How much would they lose from switching to a playoff system?

I don't know if you specialize in professional sports, but I'm just curious.