Competition design is one of the most fundamental aspects of sports economics. Given the peculiar nature of competition in this field, and the need for joint production, the manner in which competitions are designed are often essential for the success and stability of sports.
Central to competition design are the issues of uncertainty-of-outcome and competitive balance. Any student taking a course in sports economics will probably meet these issues very early in their studies (my own class just have). Organisers regularly face the trade-off between contest quality and uncertainty-of-outcome. Between maximising winning effort or overall effort.
This Saturday, a Special Congress of the Gaelic Games Association (GAA) will meet in Croke Park to discuss, yet again, competition design within inter-country hurling. A number of county boards have submitted proposed changes to the current structure. The proposal that has probably received the most attention is the changing of the current knock-out Leinster and Munster championships, and their replacement with a round-robin competition from 2018.
What might this mean? Well, one thing for sure is more games. For example, in Muster (excluding replays) there are just four games each summer. One quarter-final, two semi-finals and the Munster Final. Moving to a round-robin format, with the same 5 counties involved in the current Munster Championship, will result in a 10 games. A 250% increase. That’s before other play-off games are potentially introduced to decide the winner.
Other than giving sports economists more data to exploit, the increase in the number of games should result in an increase in broadcasting rights to the GAA. The competition design may also be beneficial from a sporting perspective sense as leagues are regarded as better than knock-out competitions in finding the “best” ranking of team abilities.
For those traditionally ‘weaker’ counties this isn’t good news as a league format should reduce uncertainty-of-outcome at the macro level. The plus side of course is that weaker teams will get to play repeatedly against stronger opposition under a round-robin format, whereas under the old knock-out system they may have played just one game before elimination.