A Bright Day for Sports Economics

There are two stories about sports economics in the national media today.

Sue Kirchhoff writes of the recent rise of the field of sports economics in USA Today. This is the most thorough review of the field that I’ve seen.

Economists have long been intrigued by the numbers-rich world of sports. The interest is no longer a sideline, but an expanding field of study that offers insights on such broad topics as labor-management relations and racial disparities in pay and hiring.

It also examines questions such as whether football teams punt too often in fourth-down situations (yes, with implications for business risk taking) and the lack of left-handed catchers in baseball (it’s complex, but one reason is that most people who would be left-handed catchers become left-handed pitchers).

About 100 to 120 professors teach courses on sports economics, according to MKTG Services, a marketing firm. Textbooks on the subject sell well here and overseas. Dozens of sports-related papers were prepared for the recent Western Economic Association meeting in San Diego analyzing the impact of stadium announcements on property values, the winner’s curse in baseball’s free-agent market and other issues.

Here is my contribution.

John-Charles Bradbury of Kennesaw State University near Atlanta felt compelled to defend himself and fellow economists after Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch implied that some of those delving into sports statistics were frustrated geeks or grown-up versions of the “kid who always was forced to play right field, standing there pushing the glasses back up off his nose.”

“First, I don’t wear glasses,” Bradbury good-naturedly retorted on his blog. “Second, I was a power-hitting first baseman who once hit two home runs — the kind that go over the fence — in one game. I batted third and made my league’s All-Star team.”

Bradbury has a book coming out next year. “When I wrote about public finance and designed fiscal policy that would work, no one really called,” Bradbury says. “I get calls from reporters all the time now. … The market is giving me a signal.”

If you’d like some proof of by little league prowess, here’s a picture of me in my Dilworth Little League All-Star uniform.

JC All-Star Pic

The other article is by Bill Syken at SI.com. It’s for subscribers only, so I can’t tell you what’s in it beyond a nice picture of Skip Sauer of The Sports Economist. If you can read the whole thing, feel free to give a brief summary in the comments (no quotes, please).

One of the beauties of sport is that it can be enjoyed by so many kinds of people, from little girls to grandfathers, from face-painted yahoos to deep thinkers like Skip Sauer and his cohorts. Sauer, 50, is chair of the economics department at Clemson and the brains behind The Sports Economist, a two-year-old blog. On the site Sauer and nine other professors put their decades in academe to use dissecting the sports news of the day. Think of www.thesportseconomist.com as a highbrow version of Around the Horn.

Definitely a good day for sports economics. If you’re considering a career in the field, here’s my advice.

Addendum: Sabernomics gets a brief mention in the Sports Illustrated article. I don’t think anyone will mind if I quote it.

Economic thinking applied to baseball. You’ll get statistical analysis on such subjects as why, since pitching coach Leo Mazzone left the Braves for the Orioles, both teams’ staffs have stunk.

The article is quite flattering to The Sports Economist crew, and it’s hard not to be. I read it every day. I think the blog as been instrumental as a focal point for economists interested in sports.

3 Responses “A Bright Day for Sports Economics”

  1. Charlie Hallman says:

    Isn’t JC so cute! There only one problem you are not wearing a Braves jersey!

  2. Dave Berri says:

    Is that an English D I see? Does this mean you were a Tigers fan growing up?

  3. JC says:

    Nah, the D is for Dilworth, the neighborhood in Charlotte where I grew up. If the picture was a little better you could see the D was lop-sided and strangely fat. Little league uniforms have come a long way.

    (If you know Dilworth, when I lived there it wasn’t the millionaires row that it is today. But, it was much cooler when I lived there.)