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Everyone’s a winner

January 27th, 2013

I was way behind the rest of the Interworld in catching up with the Eden Hazard ballboy kicking, but coming late has its advantages. As is presumably well known to followers of this particular competition, but not to others, the “ballboy” is a minor match official whose job it is to return the ball when it goes out of play. Traditionally, this was done by actual boys, aged in their early teens, who volunteered to help out in this way – giving out this coveted job being a minor perk for the senior officials of the club. Naturally, they were supporters of the home team, but this was unimportant.

But, now, it seems, the typical “ballboy” is a young man, under instructions to make life easy for the home side and difficult for the visitors. This is a new twist on the standard practice of grimy visitors’ dressing rooms with unreliable hot water and so on. All of this helps to create a home ground advantage.

This raises some interesting points about the business of sport.

Ultimately, it’s entertainment, and, in sport as in movies, most people prefer happy endings. So, the ideal sporting event would be one at which all the spectators saw their own side win. Given that these events are normally zero-sum games, that’s a bit difficult. But, if you set things up so that there is a substantial home ground advantage, then, most of the audience will go away happy most of the time. The other way to get the desired result is to set things up so that the same teams stay on top for a long time. That way, they attract more followers, who get to see them win most of their games.

TV changes things quite a bit. For a TV audience, there’s no difference between home and away games. On the other hand, and assuming a capitalist form of organization like that of Association football[1], the revenue from TV creates a virtuous circle in which winning teams get more revenue and therefore keep on winning. This process appears to reach a natural limit when two teams achieve complete dominance, while the rest play the role of Washington Generals to the Old Firm’s Harlem Globetrotters.

fn1. As you might expect, given their egalitarian culture, most American sports adopt a more socialist form of organization in which systems such as the draft are used to penalize success. The city-based franchise system ensures followers for teams that never win – in fact, there is even some cachet for teams that haven’t won in decades.

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  1. Jim Rose
    January 27th, 2013 at 10:17 | #1

    Do most American sports adopt a more socialist form of organization of drafts??
    1. American sports teams are M-form multidivisional organisations or franchises that sell entertainment, novelty and uncertain outcomes.

    2. Lop-sided results lose the marginal fans because the game outcome is predictable.

    Many initially puzzling organisational innovations to control of dilution of quality are common in franchises.

    1. Managers paying staff too much to make themselves look good is a risk in large firms. That is why human resource policies administered from head office are common in large firms to stop rent-seeking.

    2. Recruitment is through a common process. Graduate recruitment is pooled in most large organisations with a standard starting salary and all departments of the firms having to choose from the pool.

    Drafts and salary caps and other rules imposed by the franchise master or head office protects product quality: a more even competition with close games and uncertain outcomes. player drafts boost up the lower teams by enough to keep fans interested.

  2. Ikonoclast
    January 27th, 2013 at 10:19 | #2

    Professional sport is illustrative of capitalism’s penchant for spectacle and selling substanceless “product”. Lance Armstrong was the quintessential professional sportsman of modern capitalism; successful, feted, adored, rewarded and ultimately a 100% unprincipled, corrupted and corrupting cheat.

    I might add I always strongly suspected he was a cheat. Colloquially, I would say “I knew”. It isn’t hard to pick sports people who are almost certainly “on the juice”.

    Werner Reiterer in his book ‘Positive’ admitted to five years of performance enhancing drug use. He also stated as matter of firm personal knowledge that most medal winners in power sports at that time were drug enhanced. We can now say the same about pro cycling for probably the last two decades at least.

  3. Russ
    January 27th, 2013 at 10:52 | #3

    You seem to be assuming “all else being equal” in this. I think you should also take into account what might be called the “Collingwood factor”, where a team which is fairly successful ends up with only it’s own fans, and spectators, whether at the ground or at home watching TV, all want it to lose.

  4. David Allen
    January 27th, 2013 at 11:40 | #4

    Saw that. I would have kicked the “boy” much harder than the soft little nudge he actually got. Can’t stand cheaters. Given the usually very low threshold for red cards the kicker got one, as he should have. What punishment did the “boy” (besides the kick) or home team get?

  5. Tony Lynch
    January 27th, 2013 at 16:48 | #5

    Are you “Dave Allen” the Irish comedian?

  6. David Allen
    January 28th, 2013 at 07:52 | #6

    @Tony Lynch
    No, he’s dead.

  7. hc
    January 28th, 2013 at 07:53 | #7

    Isn’t it the case that grounds and events attract maximum attendance when outcomes are uncertain rather than when the home team always wins? I think Jeff Borland and others have evidence supporting this.

    Of course we should be trying to establish (or revive?) good ethics in sport. Given Australia’s idiotic fixations this is probably the most feasible way of improving the ethical standards of the nation as a whole.

  8. Fran Barlow
    January 28th, 2013 at 08:05 | #8

    It’s only entertainment, and just as in pantomime, the fact that you can see the bad guys doing their sctick in full view doesn’t really detract from it.

    You just have to remember that “cheating” is part of the usage.

  9. Fran Barlow
    January 28th, 2013 at 08:05 | #9

    oops: schtick

  10. Liam Lenten
    January 28th, 2013 at 09:15 | #10

    A couple of caveats: (i) home-ground advantage was a well-known phenomenon before sport became professional, and that it has diminished somewhat in recent times in (association) football is due in part to better match-day practice by visiting teams; and (ii) in in Europe, where competitions are increasingly positively skewed, dominant teams are so far ahead of the rest that they can still win away more frequently – this didn’t happen so much before the EPL breakaway/Bosman, etc. TV has also changed the landscape, but not directly via the mechanism you describe.

    …and @hc , my 2009 in Economic Record puts the Uncertainty of Outcome hypothesis to the test directly. Borland’s AFL stuff estimated demand functions, with ladder positions a small part of the story.

  11. Tony Lynch
    January 28th, 2013 at 17:49 | #11

    @David Allen

    I don’t believe you!

  12. Jim Rose
    January 28th, 2013 at 18:11 | #12

    Cheating in sport is an arms race.

    Most do it just to keep up and the rewards outweigh the risks, but an elite American athlete once said if you are not cheating, you are just not trying hard enough.

    The inability of the Melbourne Storms players to understand why cheating on the rugby league salary cap is an example. They do not care how they got over the line first.

    The way to stop cheating is to keep the blood samples for 8 years, those sports passports that detect changes in biological markers, and call the police. Cheats steal the prizes. It is no different from cheating to lose: taking a dive to rig the outcome.

    Cheating to win or lose deny fans the competitive contests they are buying.

    Cheating survives because fans hate cheating to lose much more than they hate cheating to win. Even a drug-ridden contest was exciting to watch at the time.

    p.s people barrack for losing teams and long-time losers because some people barrack for the under-dog or the local hero.

  13. dz
    January 28th, 2013 at 19:32 | #13

    Eh, I’m not getting the link here between the business and sport and some young adult holding on to a ball for a fraction of a second longer than he should have. Sports like club football are so much more than business – it’s a cultural thing, that people cling to, like religion. These particular clubs happen to be successful businesses, but ultimately you’d see that kind of ballboy behaviour at every level of the game.

    Also, regardless of the ballboys loyalties, I don’t think it condones Hazard’s violence. Just like the Crystal Palace supporter abusing Cantona in the 90s didn’t deserve to be kicked in the head.

  14. Fran Barlow
    January 28th, 2013 at 21:17 | #14

    @dz

    Also, regardless of the ballboy’s loyalties, I don’t think it condones Hazard’s violence.

    AIUI, he was strking at the ball, not the ballboy, in order to get the ball back into play. The contact with the ballboy was minor and incidental. IMO, this doesn’t amount to ‘violence’ within the normal meaning of the term.

    Soccer players are normally permitted to strike at the ball with their feet. If the ‘ballboy’ is acting as a member of the other team and lying on the ball, and the clock is running down, I’d say Hazard was entitled to make an attempt to jolt the ball free in order to continue the game, providing he did so in a way in which there was minimal risk of serious injury to the cheat. This he apparently did.

  15. dz
    January 29th, 2013 at 08:40 | #15

    Fran Barlow :
    @dz

    Also, regardless of the ballboy’s loyalties, I don’t think it condones Hazard’s violence.

    AIUI, he was strking at the ball, not the ballboy, in order to get the ball back into play. The contact with the ballboy was minor and incidental. IMO, this doesn’t amount to ‘violence’ within the normal meaning of the term.
    Soccer players are normally permitted to strike at the ball with their feet. If the ‘ballboy’ is acting as a member of the other team and lying on the ball, and the clock is running down, I’d say Hazard was entitled to make an attempt to jolt the ball free in order to continue the game, providing he did so in a way in which there was minimal risk of serious injury to the cheat. This he apparently did.

    I’m sorry, I can’t buy that whatsoever. Hazard could have alerted the referee to the ball-boys actions and the ball could have been brought back into play with minimum fuss. Time is added on by the officials when the ball is out of play regardless, so it wouldn’t have mattered if the ball boy had smothered the ball for another 10 minutes.

    If you look back at the footage (which I have, many times), Hazard’s actions were reckless and unbecoming of a professional footballer. I doubt Hazard would have known that this game official may have been instructed to play like that. It reminds me of how Manchester United fans justify Eric Cantona kicking a fan in the head because the fan was later revealed to be a BNP supporter.

  16. Rob Banks
    January 30th, 2013 at 13:34 | #16

    Re the discussion about American sport, at least at the level of the pro-football and baseball, readers of this blog may be aware of Stefan Syzmanski’s books “Winners and Losers: The Business Strategy of Football” and “National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer”, which discuss some of the significant structural differences between the US in these sports and European football, and how they arose. Syzmanski is an economist who has pubished in the technical literature on measuring competitiveness of competitions/leagues, among other topics.

    The US operates very lucrative “socialist” systems including for example no relegation or promotion, whereas European football, and particularly the EPL, are almost unregulated capitalism. European and EPL football is very lucrative for a small minority of clubs.

    On a more colloquial note, one perspective on the Eden Hazard v the Swansea ball-boy incident, it could be viewed as a small and relatively ineffective kick-back against the massive injustice of Chelsea spending almost billions of the Russian peoples’ wealth which was appropriated by robber barons, in the Chelsea case Roman Abramovitch. Chelsea FC are a form of money-laundering.

  17. Jim Rose
    January 30th, 2013 at 15:13 | #17

    Rob, an old mate started support Barnsley when it was in the 4th division. Only place to go was up he thought. It was in the first division 15 years later.

    I think it was Stefan Syzmanski who analysed the role of distance in US versus English football.

    Many more suburb-based teams could survive in England because supporters and players could travel to and from home on most afternoons.

    US sport is city based with long travel times. Few supporters can afford to travel.

    Instead of relegation, US teams move to another city with a more loyal potential fan base.

  18. paul walter
    January 30th, 2013 at 22:55 | #18

    “Like”

  19. Katz
    January 31st, 2013 at 08:50 | #19

    I was surprised and a little gratified to witness something interesting occur during a soccer match.

  20. dz
    January 31st, 2013 at 14:48 | #20

    Rob Banks :
    On a more colloquial note, one perspective on the Eden Hazard v the Swansea ball-boy incident, it could be viewed as a small and relatively ineffective kick-back against the massive injustice of Chelsea spending almost billions of the Russian peoples’ wealth which was appropriated by robber barons, in the Chelsea case Roman Abramovitch. Chelsea FC are a form of money-laundering.

    *zing* :) Great perspective !

  21. Jim Rose
    January 31st, 2013 at 17:12 | #21

    @Katz “something interesting occur during a soccer match”

    that IS the excitement: something interesting might occur during a soccer match.

  22. Fran Barlow
    January 31st, 2013 at 17:50 | #22

    @dz

    I doubt Hazard would have known that this game official may have been instructed to play like that.

    Probably not, but apparently his behaviour during the match had been something of a giveaway.

  23. Jim Rose
    February 6th, 2013 at 16:02 | #23

    Watch for those TV documentaries on athletes that only just missed out on going to the Olympics etc,. Years of wasted competition in a Tullock style auction.

    The counter-factual on silver and bronze medals is instructive.
    • The silver medallist is miserable – thinking for the rest of their lives only of how they just missed out on the gold and only their mum will remember that they won a silver medal
    • The bronze medallist is happy as Larry because their counter-factual is all those losers that did not get a medal at all.

    A guy who won the silver in the 1924 Olympics was still troubled by his 2nd place 60 years later.

  24. Jim Rose
    February 8th, 2013 at 21:04 | #24

    Cheating to win has always been more popular the cheating by throwing a game.

    The international cricket council’s first investigation of matching fixing illustrated this. The report dates from the mid-1990s

    The report used public information to write an insightful history of matching fixing.

    Started in the late 1970s in English county cricket in rain affected (3 day) matches with declarations of a first innings at 0 for 0 to allow the other side to bat again immediately and then make a sporting declaration too. Bonus points encouraged this. no one objected because the game was more exciting

    Next cab of the rank was bowling a non-professional bowler to make it easy for the other side to score quickly and set a target after a sporting declaration.

    If a match was of vital importance to one team and not to the other, an accommodation is reached as to who would win. Similar arrangements were made to secure bowling and batting points. no one objected because the game was more exciting

    The resumption of international matches against Pakistan in 1978 was a key stimulant for raising interest in betting on cricket.

    See http://www.icc-cricket.com/anti_corruption/condon-report.php#sec2

  25. Chris Warren
    February 8th, 2013 at 21:57 | #25

    @Jim Rose

    Cheating to win has always been more popular the cheating by throwing a game.

    So you are a capitalist after all.

  26. Jim Rose
    February 9th, 2013 at 07:57 | #26

    @Chris Warren sporting declarations have a long history in cricket. that is different from match fixing.

    Much of the organisation of markets emerged to overcome the risks and uncertainties of dealing with strangers. Many organisational arrangements arise to facilitate self-enforcing contracts and easy retaliation by consumers in the event of disappointment.

    Adam Smith wrote on the economics of religion because of its implications for overcoming the uncertainties of dealing with strangers. Smith offered a theory explaining participation in religion based on his theory of human capital,

    Businessmen by belonging to a strict religion that watched each other closely and expelled on the slightest infraction to signal that they were reliable people.

    Smith predicted that there would be more religious sects in cities because more people wanted to belong to strict sects to signal their trustworthiness to strangers.

    The property rights theory of the firm emphasises the costs of creating and enforcing property rights as the reason for the emergence of the firm. Transaction costs are the costs establishing and maintaining property rights.

  27. Chris Warren
    February 9th, 2013 at 11:04 | #27

    @Jim Rose

    But capitalist markets increase the risks and uncertainities of dealing with strangers.

    Capitalists struggle against organisational arrangements to enforce contract and to facilitate retaliation by consumers when they are cheated.

    Smith ignored how his society originally emerged.

    Mixing business and religion corrupts the commercial environment (eg Diem and his corrupt sister-in-law ‘Dragon Lady’) and often enough leads to assassinations and terrorism.

    It is more relevant to examine what Smith did not predict.

    Capitalist property rights emphasise returns based on siezing the property produced by others. This process increases transaction costs.

  28. Jim Rose
    February 10th, 2013 at 07:07 | #28

    chris, Pete Boettke has written extensively about how The Wealth of Nations is about social order among strangers. The market is a social order much larger than our span of moral sympathy.

    “In civilized society,” Adam Smith argued, man “stands at all times in need of the co-operation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons”

    To realise this cooperation certain institutions must emerge such as private property and keeping promises through contract. The division of labour produces social cooperation among distant and different anonymous actors.

    The civilising influence of commerce is well-known as is it being the key to peace. We neither fear Russia or China because of extensive economic interdependencies makes any war pointless for all. The common market ended wars in Europe.

    This co-operation and peace is spontaneous product of Hayek’s concept of catallaxy which is “the order brought about by the mutual adjustment of many individual economies in a market”.

    See http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=R5Gppi-O3a8 for Milton Friedman’s a discussion of Ipencil and how strangers cooperated in peace and harmony in the market even though they might hate each other if they ever met?

    Capitalism is a system which enables cooperation between millions of strangers so that they may jointly pursue their diverse goals

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