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Posts Tagged ‘Sports’

Should College Football Be Taxed? Bring Your Questions for Allen Sanderson

Allen R. Sanderson is an economist at the University of Chicago who enjoys, among other things, writing about sports. Some of his past work includes pieces on the puzzling economics of sports, why ties should be allowed in baseball, and how football highlights America’s least flattering features.
Sanderson’s most recent piece comes from the November 2011 issue of Chicago Life magazine, entitled “Taxes and Touchdowns.” In it, Sanderson argues in favor of imposing “steep” taxes on college football (and perhaps basketball) and that a college sports tax should be seen as the fifth sin tax, next to taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, gasoline and fat/sugar. And he’s not just talking about taxing certain aspects of college football; he’s talking about taxing the whole shebang: advertising, television broadcasts, logo merchandise sales, gate receipts. And then using that money to help support those “student-athletes” who don’t make it pro in their effort to finish up their education.

Freakonomics Poll: When It Comes to Predictions, Whom Do You Trust?

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Folly of Prediction,” is built around the premise that humans love to predict the future, but are generally terrible at it. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)
There are a host of professions built around predicting some future outcome: from predicting the score of a sports match, to forecasting the weather for the weekend, to being able to tell what the stock market is going to do tomorrow. But is anyone actually good at it?

The Day My Golf Dream Died

It sounded like a small explosion. That was the first hint that my dream was dying. I was standing on a driving range in Florida. Because I am completely and utterly obsessed with golf, there is no place I would rather be. It makes no sense, but I’ve stopped trying to rationalize it.
As much effort as I invest in golf, I’ve never really had any expectation that I would be an outstanding golfer. So when I’ve had the chance to play with some of the world’s very best golfers, like Luke Donald and Jason Day, it was not the slightest bit discouraging to see, up close, just how much better they are than me. I fully expected them to be as amazing as they are.
All my life I have been far more obsessed with how far I could hit a golf ball than with making low scores. I was an extremely short hitter as a kid, and much of my adult life has been devoted to making amends for that weakness. I’m still not an exceptionally long hitter, but I have probably added 40 yards to my average drive in the last four years. Those gains have fueled the (surely irrational) dream that perhaps I could add another 40 yards over the next four years, in which case I would be a long driver.

Are We Actually Getting Better at Chess?

How do you tell if we’re getting better at a sport or a game, when you can never pit players from different eras against each other? For example, could Tom Brady carve up Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s? Who would win one-on-one, Michael Jordan (in his prime) or LeBron James? Could Justin Verlander strike out Babe Ruth? Outside of video games, we’ll never know.
The obvious exceptions are track and field events, where accomplishments are measured in time and distance. And in those cases, we actually have been consistently chipping away at records, running faster, jumping higher etc. Though the recent use of performance-enhancing drugs has certainly tainted that “progress.”
But what about chess? Players are judged by a sophisticated rating system, though there’s a thought that scores have been inflated recently. A pair of academics have set out to address this by comparing the quality of play over the years. In their recent paper, Kenneth W. Regan, a computer science professor at the University of Buffalo, and Guy Haworth, an engineering professor at the University of Reading, examine the quality of players’ moves, rather than win-or-lose outcomes. Their conclusion is that yes, we are getting better at chess.

With the NFL Lockout Just About Over, a Sports Economist Weighs In

If there was any doubt as to how valuable the NFL is, all you had to do was flip to ESPN on Thursday night. The cable network ran an hours-long, special lockout edition of SportsCenter following news that the owners approved a proposed collective-bargaining agreement. From a ratings standpoint, it probably wasn’t that hard a call: the prime-time program the network broke into was a softball game between the U.S. and Czech Republic, which got bumped to ESPN2.
The NFL players still have to ratify the deal, and have until next Tuesday to do so. If they sign, free agency and training camp would begin on July 27, not soon enough to salvage the Hall of Fame game. One clear loser in this whole lockout situation is the city of Canton, Ohio, which according to Fox Sports Midwest, will lose out on millions of dollars of economic impact. As I thought about the broader implications that the four-month lockout has had on the country’s most lucrative professional sports league (the NFL brings in $9 billion of annual revenue), I fired off some questions to sports economist Dave Berri, who was kind enough to offer some quick responses.

Today in Sports-Induced Violence

So, yesterday I wrote about the handful of studies that have been done showing that large sporting events do not lead to higher rates of hospital visits, or for that matter, deaths or public violence. The latest study comes from Canada, and showed that during the 2010 Olympic gold medal ice hockey match between the U.S. and Canada, that emergency room visits declined by 17 percent in Canada. I thought it was a pretty good indication of how much Canadians love ice hockey, and also of the tranquility with which they seem to consume it. I imagined an entire country transfixed by the game on their TV sets, peacefully watching their countrymen beat the world in their most-beloved sport.
But then I saw this: “Vancouver Fans Riot After Stanley Cup Loss” And read this:

Rioting hockey fans clashed with police officers, set vehicles ablaze, smashed windows and looted stores and set several fires in downtown areas here on Wednesday night moments after the Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to the Boston Bruins.
Local hospitals reported eight people treated for stab wounds, according to Alyssa Polinsky, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health, the regional hospital authority.

Need to Go to the ER? Not Until the Game's Over!

Sports fans are nuts, right? Prone to erratic, irrational behavior when their team is playing. You’d think that during the Big Game, violent behavior would spike, and maybe lead to higher rates of emergency room visits and even deaths? Not true. A number of studies show that big sporting events do not increase the number of patients admitted to emergency rooms, and in some cases, hospital visits and even heart attack rates have been shown to decrease during a major sporting event. Unless, of course, your team is losing.
The latest study in this vein, published this week in the Journal of Open Medicine, comes from Canada, where researchers examined emergency room visits during the 2010 Olympic gold medal ice hockey game between the U.S. and Canada. The game ended in a 3-2 overtime win by Canada and was seen by roughly half the country, some 16.6 million people, making it the most popular TV broadcast in Canadian history. The study found that the rate of total emergency room visits during the game decreased by 17 percent, compared with corresponding hours for 6 control days.

This effect extended throughout Canada’s largest province, amounted to a decrease of about 136 fewer patients per hour, appeared accentuated for adult men living in rural locations, and was most evident for those with milder triage severity scores presenting with abdominal pain, musculoskeletal disorders, or traumatic injuries.

Will the NFL Lockout Lead to Increase in Crime?

In an interview with ESPN that aired over the weekend, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said that if the NFL lockout results in a lost season, crime rates will increase. “Watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game,” Lewis told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.
Are Americans really so addicted to professional football that its absence will lead people to go on some kind of crime rampage? Or, is Lewis saying that it’s more of a distraction that keeps us occupied, and our violent tendencies sated? Better to watch Troy Polamalu knock a guy unconscious than doing it yourself. And if so, then why don’t crime rates increase once the season’s over?

Answer to Same-City NCAA Sweet 16 Questions

Last week, we posed two questions regarding the NCAA basketball tournament: what are the odds that two teams from the same city would make the Sweet 16? And when was the last time that happened? To the first person to answer correctly, we offered some Freakonomics swag. And you responded, 147 of you to be exact.

How Is a Colonoscopy Like a Boring Soccer Match?

A reader named Florian Kern writes from Germany: “I was listening the other day to your very interesting podcast on memory and pain. Yesterday, then, I watched the incredibly boring soccer game between Germany and Kazakhstan.”

Tiger Woods Kicked Out of Principles of Economics

The newest version of the widely used Principles of Economics textbook will run without a Tiger Woods reference: “Previous editions of the textbook used an example entitled, ‘Should Tiger Woods Mow His Own Lawn?’ The sixth edition of the book replaced the previous example with one featuring quarterback Tom Brady…”

This Is What I Call Being Risk-Averse

Two economists walk into a Las Vegas casino. They ask to place a $2,500 bet on the Chicago White Sox to win more than half their games this year. The reply from the casino? That’s too risky.

Let Teams Choose Their NCAA Bracket Position

Nate Silver has (another) truly insightful post demonstrating the possible perverse advantage of receiving an 11th seed instead of an 8th seed in the NCAA tournament.
He explains: “[An average] team like Arizona would have a considerably better chance — about two-and-a-half times better, in fact — of winning its second round game and advancing to the Round of 16 as a No. 12 seed than as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed. This, of course, is because it has not yet had to face the No. 1 seed.”

The Latest in NBA Data Analytics

If you’re the kind of sports stat-head who loves that the Bill James movement has become mainstream in baseball, and you wonder why basketball doesn’t pay more attention to analytics, you may be pleased to read this article and this one about the annual Sports Analytics Conference at MIT Sloan.

Gary Player in His Own Words

I idolized a lot of golfers growing up, but for some reason Gary Player was not one of them. That is kind of strange, because we have some similarities. We are both diminutive. We both fall all over the place on our golf follow-throughs. And the same thing that was said about him and golf has often been said about me and economics: he did more with less talent than just about anyone else.

The Answer to My Golf-Swing Quiz

Last week, I recounted the story of my golf pro Pat Goss, upon first meeting me, comparing my swing to another player. I invited blog readers to guess the answer.

A Freakonomics Quiz: Which Golfer Do I Look Like When I Swing?

I recently began taking golf lessons for the first time since I was 13 years old. I got to the range early, and my new teacher, Pat Goss, was finishing up a lesson with another student over on the putting green. He eventually made his way over towards me and introduced himself.

So How Much Is an NFL Jersey Worth?

A while back, we did a Freakonomics Radio program asking why the NFL hasn’t (yet) put advertising on its players’ jerseys. One person we spoke with was Michael Neuman, then of Amplify Sports and Entertainment and now of Horizon Media. Neuman and Horizon have just released a report that tries to put a firm dollar figure on jersey sponsorship.

When Should a Soccer Manager Insert His Subs?

Nifty article in today’s Journal about a nifty study by Bret Myers of Villanova: “The pace and flow of soccer generally make it difficult for managers to affect the outcome of a match once it begins. Since soccer has almost no stoppages for coaches to draw on clipboards or strategize with their players, a manager’s most critical in-game decision may be choosing when to utilize their three substitutions.”

The Downside of Playing Sports, and Watching Too

Two good questions from a reader named Harold Laski, who is the medical director of Southside Medical Center in Jacksonville, Fla.: “As a physician treating injured sportsmen, I understand (or at least I think that I do), the reasons that people get into sports. But two things have bothered me…”

The Authors of Scorecasting Answer Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, the authors of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won.
You shot them a lot of good questions — heavy on the NFL, to be sure.

Here's the Steelers-Packers Contest Answer

We ran a contest yesterday with a simple question: what do the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers have in common? There are many correct answers, but there was one in particular I was looking for. I was worried it might be hard, and I was ready to step in and give a clue. But I was wrong to be worried. The post went up at 10:30 a.m.; the first correct answer came in at 10:31 a.m., in the very first comment.

Contest: What Do the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers Have in Common?

I mean beside the fact they’re both playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday, or that they’ve both won a bunch of NFL championships, or that they’ve both reached the Super Bowl in recent years as a No. 6 seed. There may be lots of other commonalities I’m not thinking of, but whoever is first to give the answer I am thinking of will get his/her choice of Freakonomics swag, which now includes the just-released Freakonomics movie DVD and a movie poster.

Did the Rooney Rule Really Work?

Last week, Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim wrote a guest post about black coaches in the NFL and the introduction of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority applicant when filling head-coaching spots. Moskowitz and Wertheim concluded that the policy change was successful: “The league achieved its aim. By 2005, there were six African-American coaches in the NFL…”

Bring Your Hidden-Side-of-Sports Questions to the Scorecasting Authors

Earlier this week, Tobias J. Moskowitz (a University of Chicago finance professor) and L. Jon Wertheim (a Sports Illustrated writer) contributed a guest post on black NFL coaches, which was an adaptation of their new book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won. You may recall this as the book Levitt described as “[t]he closest thing to Freakonomics I’ve seen since the original,” much to his wife’s chagrin.

Scorecasting: A Guest Post

When my wife saw the cover of the new book Scorecasting by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, which was sitting on my bedside table, all she could do was shake her head.

Who You Calling a Bimbo?

A while back, we did a podcast about whether the NFL might someday sell corporate sponsorship on its jerseys, the way soccer clubs around the world do, and even Major League Soccer clubs in the U.S.