By Robbie Butler
Last November I wrote about a special issue in the Journal of Sports Economics that mapped that first twenty years of the journal. During the course of this summer I was again researching the history of the subject and some of the most prominent papers in the field. It got me thinking more about the most widely cited and best known papers to date, and is the inspiration for what is below. (A warning - there may be omissions that I did not consider).
From my searching, there are a very limited number of papers in the field that have now broken the magical 1,000 citation count on Google Scholar, as of August 2022. The names of the authors will be familiar to all those working in the area.
The (top) five that I found are:
In ascending order, both Scully (1974) and Fort and Quirk (1995) have been cited just under 1,100 to date. The second paper ever in sports economics - Neale (1964) - is then third on the list with a total of 1,353. In second place, quite an achievement for a paper written as late as 2003 is "The Economic Design of Sporting Contests" by Stefan Szymanski. First, as one would probably expect, is Simon Rottenberg's "The Economic Design of Sporting Contests". As the original paper in the field, it is often cited across the literature and is just shy of 2,000 citations to date - presently on 1,984.
It should be noted a number of very recent papers on Covid-19 are rapidly gaining citations across economics, other social science and health fields, and might in the not too distant future, join this elite group.
By John Considine
What’s wrong with soccer? That was the provocative question posed and answered by Mitchell Berman in a 2011 paper published in the Georgetown Law Journal. In the context of a law journal, Berman did not need to add the words “laws of” before “soccer” in his question. What's wrong with the laws of soccer?
Anyone watching a broadcast of an English Premier League game over the last few days might think that the answer to Berman’s question is not the laws of soccer but the referees’ implementation of those same laws. TV commentators were repeatedly told viewers that referees were issued with new guidelines on how to implement the laws of the game when it came to contact. The new guidelines encouraged the referees to let the game flow or, to use the title of Berman’s paper, “let ‘em play”.
One game commentator noted that goalkeepers were the main culprits in slowing down the game by flouting the six-second law for holding the ball in their hands. A 2019 Frontiers in Psychology paper examined the issue. Otto Kolbinger and Michael Stockl found that goalkeepers violated the six-second rule 38% of the time and that none of these violations were published. None.
Kolbinger and Stockl label the violations “trivial”. Should referees turn a blind-eye to trivial violations of the rules? What are “trivial” violations? Should “trivial” violations be treated differently by referees depending on the stage of the game? It was the latter question that prompted Berman’s paper. In the introduction of the paper, Berman considered the outburst directed at an umpire in the 2009 US Open by Serena Williams. Many commentators and supporters argued that the umpire should not have called a foot-fault as the match drew to a close. The popular cry is “let ‘em play”.
Now back to Berman’s question about soccer. Berman argues that the problem with soccer is not with the penalisation of trivial violations that occur late in the game but the penalisation of serious violations that occur early in the game. According to Berman, the problem with soccer is the red card that reduces the number of players on the offending team for the remainder of the game. The same foul has a bigger impact if it is committed and sanctioned in the first minute compared to the last minute of a game. Berman suggests that referees/umpires might vary the way they approach to some of their “duties” depending on the time of the game.
Instead of using the 2009 US Open example, Berman could have used an example from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Early in the game, the referee decided to issue a yellow card, instead of a red card, for a foul tackle (see accompanying picture above). Like in the 2009 US Open the official was loudly criticised. Since then, there has been a change to allow technology assist referees to review such decisions. If a similar event occurs in this year’s FIFA World Cup there will be less discretion for the referee. The recent direction to Premier League referees is another move in this direction. Even in 2011, Berman's answer to his question was "Not a whole lot."
By Ed Valentine
Across the coming week the top 5 leagues in Europe will kick off for another season of action. While some clubs’ balance sheets are only just about emerging from Covid, there have been big money transfers across Europe. The standout deals have been taking place at the Camp Nou where Lewandowski and Raphina among others have moved despite Barcelona apparently having a liquidity problem.
There hasn’t been problem with this blog’s liquidity however as we attempt to, for the first time across a full season, make a profit on bets placed on match outcomes across the top 5 European football leagues.
The previous attempt at this saw some excellent early profits before some shock results at Stamford Bridge caused a downward spiral of losses. Surely things will be different this time?
It’s quite simple - a fantasy €50 each match day to be placed on match outcomes and in game scenarios. Where as before only bets were placed upon the result, this iteration of the experiment will see more granular betting on specific in game events. This should widen the scope of profitability. There is no intended strategy at play however there will be biases towards the big clubs.
Not all leagues kick off this weekend so appearing on the 1st bet slip of the project will be the Premier League and Ligue 1. This week’s selections are below.
Up this week are relegation candidates and the teams aiming for the title. A fiery encounter at Goodison Park is expected with both clubs having a player booked being priced at 1.45 which represents excellent value.
By Robbie Butler
The return of this blog coincides with an early return of the English Premier League. That also means a return of the Fantasy Premier League on Friday night, when Crystal Place host Arsenal. I have addressed this issue a number of times in the past, most recently here in 2017.
The game is a great lesson in opportunity cost. A budget constraint of £100 million pounds is applied to all players as they seek to maximize the impact of their spending. The graphics below present the most and least expensive teams available at the start of the 2022/23 season. The latter costs just £64 million, while the former is unobtainable, costing £129 million.
These selections as based on price and points scored. The team on the left are the most expensive players, based on points accumulated during the 2021/22 season. Ederson does not make the team, even though he also costs £5.5 million because he accumulated fewer points than Allison or Lloris during 2021/22.
The team on the right is the least expensive team, with the highest points during the 2021/22 season. For example, Brandon Williams is just £4 million but score the most points for a £4 million pound defender during 2021/22. All 15 players scored at least 1 point during 2021/22. Of course, the trick of the game is to try and get as close to the team on the left, with a budget constraint of £100 million.
Every season highly productive players emerge that are great value for money. Selecting these early in the season is often the difference between a good and poor league campaign. It will be interesting to compare these teams in May 2023. No doubt some of those on the left will prove to be inefficient while some of those on the right could prove to be valuable assets.
As is customary at this time of year, we will take our summer break. We hope all our readers have a very enjoyable summer
We will return on Friday 29th of July 2022 for what will be our 10th year!
By John Considine
It is results season in many universities. If you listen carefully then you will hear lecturers taking umbrage with any effort by a student to shift the blame for a poor grade to the lecturer. “I graded the work that was presented”, is a standard line. I have also heard lecturers use the same line in staff meetings when explaining their grades. They may go further and say “they did not engage with the material”, “they did not turn up to class”, or “there was a poor dynamic in the class”. The message is clear. The primary responsibility for the grade lies with the student.
It is hard to imagine a lecturer bias. The grades of individual lecturers may exhibit a bias based on attendance, attractiveness, or identity, but it is hard to imagine a bias that is present in lecturers as a group. Yet, some of those same lecturers, when conducting research, will claim that other groups are biased in their assessments. Sports economists like to claim that sports referees are biased in favour of the home team. Those of the rational choice persuasion will claim that the referees consciously make these biased decisions; those of the behavioural economics persuasion will claim that the decisions are unconscious. Regardless of the decision making mode, it would be like researchers claiming that lecturers display a bias towards attendance, attractiveness, or identity.
A recent paper in Economic Inquiry by James Reade, Dominik Schreyer, and Carl Singleton uses data to show differences in outcomes in soccer games played with and without spectators. They then go on to claim that this shows that the referee is the primary channel through which social psychology works. A recent article in Frontier in Psychology is not convinced (and the authors do cite an earlier version of Reade et al). Let me borrow three sentences from Yannick Hill and Nico Van Yperen to illustrate their argument.
“Additionally, it should be noted that studies on the home field advantage typically lack actual behavioral indicators that are needed to test whether refereeing decisions are actually biased or not. Hence, in future studies, these behavioral indicators should be collected to test whether the “referee bias” actually represents biased decisions by referees ... An imbalance in the proportion of fouls or yellow and red cards does not necessarily represent biased decisions toward either the home or the away team, but accurate decisions to different behaviors displayed by the teams.”
A recent paper in the Journal of Economic Psychology threads a more nuanced line. The title of the paper uses the word “agents” – “Social pressure in the stadiums: Do agents change behavior without crowd support?” The author is Vincenzo Scoppa. Scoppa’s agents are players/team and referees. His measures include indicators of team performance and referee decisions. The paper shows that the measures, of both sets of agents, changed during the pandemic years.
One of my favourite papers on home bias is co-written by Scoppa. It is published in the Journal of Sports Economics and formed the basis of a previous post on this blog (here). This week I decided to investigate the author via Google Scholar. I discovered that Scoppa also conducts research on the Economics of Education. In fact, he has a 2022 paper titled “Online teaching, procrastination, and students’ achievements: evidence from COVID-19 induced remote learning”. The emphasis is clearly on the students (players). That is not to say that Scoppa et al do not consider the possibility of a lecturer (referee) bias. In the literature review they note of a previous paper “They also show that instructor-specific factors, such as leniency in grading due to a more compassionate approach towards students in response to the difficulties caused by the pandemic, play an important role and might lead to erroneously conclude that online teaching is better than face-to-face teaching.” But Scoppa’s paper clearly puts the emphasis on the students’ actions. Maybe sports economists should place more emphasis on the players.
By Robbie Butler
When I started to learn about economics for the first time - back in the late 1990s – I found many of the key concepts difficult to grasp. There was one exception – the monopoly. Maybe it was from a childhood of playing a board game of the same name or the frequent use of the term in everyday discourse, but the market structure was easy for me to comprehend. It quickly became one of my favourite parts of the school curriculum and my interest in the subject grew.
I recall our school teacher telling us that monopolies were inherently damaging to economic activity as they forced customers to pay higher prices for goods and services. It was in the interest of policymakers, and society as a whole, to reduce or remove monopolies where they existed.
The timing of my introduction to economics on this front could not have been more appropriate. Ireland had quite a few State monopolies at the time, and one – telecommunications – had just been removed and a second entrant allowed to compete for customers. This we were told would revolutionise the telecommunications sector. Other state monopolies in areas such as energy and air travel would later go the same way as the telecommunications sector. The monopoly was dying off.
Yet when it comes to sport, monopolies are yet to go out of fashion. In fact, supporters largely seek to maintain them in the public interest. Last year, competition posed to UEFA by the European Super League was seen as a bad thing by almost every football supporter and club outside of the 12 defectors. UEFA’s monopoly was sacrosanct and won the argument.
More recently, golf has experienced a similar event. However, where UEFA succeeded in crushing the revolt, the PGA Tour has been far less successful and the new LIV Golf Tour is up and running. Some of the players have resigned from the PGA and will seek pastures new with LIV. Generally, the reaction by golf players, commentators and fans has been negative towards the breakaway players. Economic concepts have been used to describe much of what is going on, with “business decision” “contractor” and “free riding” examples used in recent days. Again, most don’t like the breaking up of the PGA monopoly.
Sport it seems is different.
And possibly the worse ‘monopoly’ to breakup, is that in sports broadcasting. In the recent past, one sports channel dominated sports broadcasting on these islands. It showed pretty much everything. Today the market has been sliced up so that various subscriptions are often required to watch the content that was once available with the monopoly.
The evolution of this breakup continued this week. Apple have signed an agreement with Major League Soccer (MLS) to broadcast all games on Apple TV from 2023. Football (or soccer) is going online.
While I suspect there will hardly be a clammer in this part of the world to sign up for Apple TV, this is a glimpse of the future. Boxing has largely migrated to DAZN. It is only a matter of time before UEFA, the EPL, etc. migrate to a platform like this.
Maybe monopolies weren’t that bad after all.
By John Considine
“My arse” were the words added to a sentence by a character in The Royle Family in his effort to convey questionable credibility to what preceded. Today’s English newspapers convey the alleged views of a member of the Royal Family. It seems that the Prince of Wales is appalled at the policy of his democratically elected government to outsource the processing of asylum seekers to Rwanda. This would be in-person processing and the asylum seekers would be flown to Rwanda for the process.
Imagine the asylum seekers being flown to Rwanda on Emirates Airlines. Maybe the relevant minister is an Arsenal fan and has been influenced by the sponsorship of the Arsenal shirt. On the sleeve they saw “Visit Rwanda” and on the front they saw “Fly Emirates”.
At the start of this month, another post on this site drew attention to the questionable benefits of having football tourists. Specifically, Robbie Butler’s post examined the way authorities in Seville asked Rangers fans without tickets to stay away. A couple of days earlier, Liverpool football fans must have felt that the French authorities did not want them in Paris for the Champions League Final – tickets or not.
It seems strange that Rwanda would want football fans – even ones with the limited aggression and passion of Arsenal fans!
Surely Rwanda does not want those shadowy forces that seek to give English football fans a bad name. Tonight, England footballers play Italy behind closed doors. Fans are excluded because of trouble in the UEFA Nations League final between the same two teams at Wembley. At his press conferences the England manager claimed that those who caused the trouble were not football fans. It would seem that the football game was not upper most on their minds but why do they go to English football games rather than England rugby or cricket games.
Also taking place today, at Trent Bridge, is a cricket test match between England and New Zealand. It is possible that in the New Zealand ranks are descendants of previous generations deported by the British government in the days before air travel. I wonder how many of the Liverpool football fans who sing a version of The Fields of Athenry understand the lyrics “a prison ship lies waiting in the bay”. Other ships ferried the Irish, those with a little more choice, off the island. A famine in Ireland while it was under British rule.
The Irish were fortunate that economic migration to Britain was possible. One would like to think that they, and their descendants, added to life in their new home. They were probably also sensitive to the relationship between migration and economic circumstances. One of those descendants was Caroline Aherne. Aherne co-wrote The Royle Family. She also was the host of The Mrs Merton Show. In one episode, Aherne asked the comedian Bernard Manning, “Who do you vote for now Hitler’s dead?” - Manning drew attention to Aherne's Irish background with a comment about leaving bags (bombs) under tables. Manning explained that he told racist jokes because it paid. Economic incentives. In another episode Aherne asked Debbie McGee, “What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”
Before this week I often wondered how many tourists went to Rwanda because of the "Visit Rwanda" words on the Arsenal shirt. In his blog post earlier this month, Robbie Butler drew attention to the questionable statements made by economic consultants about the link between tourism and major sporting events. Jim Royle's "my arse” seems to apply to many of these claims. Whatever help Rwanda got from being on the Arsenal shirt, it is hard to imagine that its image has been aided by the link with current British policy. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Jim Royle, it is likely to be "Visit Rwanda? My arse."
By Ed Valentine
I feel sorry for the Irish youth of today. From a footballing perspective it’s a bad time. Older readers will have enjoyed seeing the best Irish soccer stars playing week in week out in not only the English Premiership but also the Champions League. Roy Keane and Dennis Irwin, the latter who signed for Manchester United 32 years ago today, lifted much silverware between them with a host of talent, and appeared weekly for the top English club teams.
From 1988 to 2002 the Rep. of Ireland played in 4 major tournaments with memorable qualification victories over Spain in 1989 and the Dutch in 2001, not to mention wins against England and Italy in the finals of Euro88 and World Cup94. Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy guided the boys in green to some big scalps. It was a great 15 years or so to be a fan.
Contrast this to the latest era in Irish international competition. The days of punching above our weight have come to an end. Under Stephen Kenny’s reign Ireland has not beaten a team ranked in the top 100 of the ELO football rankings in a competitive match.
The data in the table below shows just how poor the results have been with Kenny unable to guide the team to victory against opponents ranked 48 places below with “failed to score” being a regular phrase in the media post-match reports.
Even during the major tournament “barren” period, between 1995 and 2001, the Rep. of Ireland were always in the ballpark of the playoffs. Now on the park the team are just played off. And against minnow opposition too.
I find it difficult to the FAI’s decision to renew Kenny’s contract. There is no way to know, but it’s worth a thought experiment to assume that a more high-profile manager would get a tune out the current squad. Whilst the number of minutes played in the Premier League by Irish players is significantly below previous eras, it is entirely possible that a manager in the Chris Hughton or Alan Curbishley backet would do better.
It has been reported that Kenny’s FAI contract is worth in the region of €500,000 a year plus performance bonuses. It’s likely that a group of better able managers could be attracted for 30-40% more salary. Even if the initial outlay would approach €1 million a year the lost revenue from missing tournaments due to harder qualification draws brought about by defeats to Luxembourg and Armenia will cost more in the long run.
In an era when Premier League managers often don’t last 2 seasons it’s surprising that Stephen Kenny has been rewarded with a new deal based on the results to date.
This website was founded in July 2013.