Sports economics is fun. That is the main lesson of The Wages of Wins, which focuses on the research of three economists who have made numerous contributions to the sports economics literature in recent years. However, the material is most certainly not frivolous, as the authors make a substantial contribution to the field of sports economics. Berri, Schmidt, and Brook demonstrate that sports economics is enjoyable not only because of its entertaining subject matter, but because sports games yield so many unanswered questions about human behavior that social scientists have failed to investigate thoroughly.
Until recently, sports economists tended to focus on issues that were excessively practical: public financing of stadiums, labor squabbles resulting from bilateral monopolies, racial discrimination, etc. These issues are important and should be studied by sports economists. Other issues that economists ought to study have been largely neglected, and this is where the authors focus their attention. Economists occasionally do employ the economic method to study many seemingly trivial aspects of human life, but rarely have economists made substantial careers doing so. When the American Economic Association awarded Steven Levitt the John Bates Clark Medal in 2003, it acknowledged the important role of the discipline in studying every aspect of human behavior. Levitt is particularly known for finding unique testing grounds for interesting economic theories, including a television game show, sumo wrestling, and sporting contests. It is in this vein that the authors promote the scientific study of sports, without apology. Furthermore, the author’s approach mirrors Levitt’s Freakonomics (coauthored with Stephen Dubner) and William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth, in writing a book that targets a general audience using studies published in the academic literature. At the same time, the authors also challenge economists working within theses spheres of research.
There is nothing subtle about the approach. The authors challenge many aspects of the conventional wisdom directly: labor disputes drive away fans, rich teams can buy championships, sports leagues are losing competitive balance, and competitive balance is crucial to the success of sports leagues. Furthermore, the authors tackle the difficult job of disentangling individual contributions from jointly-produced outcomes in team games. Their findings are often counter-intuitive, yet convincing. The book will provoke everyone from seasoned sports economists to the average fan. The prose is clear and written to entertain as well as inform the reader. The subject matter and tone remind me of the casual conversations economists have at professional meetings. It includes many of the same thought provoking ideas that the participants vow to investigate further, but feel the need to concentrate on other more traditional topics instead.
I enjoyed the first edition quite a bit, and I am using it in my sports economics class this semester. It’s cheaper and contains more information than the first edition…what are you waiting for?