[Archived from: The Sports Economist, 2 September 2012]
While ‘playing around with’ (for want of a better way of putting it) some Australian AFL (Aussie Rules) and NRL (Rugby League) data, something interesting emerged. Below are win-attendance correlations for the Brisbane-based NRL (Broncos) and AFL (Lions) teams over the last decade excluding this year (2003-2011), as well as the cross-correlations. Notice that the Lions get substantially more bums on seats when they’re doing well, whereas for the Broncos attendance seems to be invariant to wins. That the former conforms to the standard story, while the latter does not, can arguably be explained by the combination of Rugby League being the more traditional winter football code in Queensland and Australian Rules being the relative newcomer to that market, and the related differences in the market ‘maturity’ of both sports (despite that both teams were founded almost at the same time in the 1980s). The obvious caveat to this analysis is the small sample size.
- Broncos Win/Broncos Att.: -1.2%
- Lions Win/Lions Att. : +73.4%
- Broncos Win/Lions Att. : -35.8%
- Lions Win/Broncos Att. : -55.4%
However, the more striking result is that the Lions (Broncos) doing well is associated with Broncos (Lions) attendances being lower! Could it be that AFL and NRL demand are far more substitutable than we thought previously? My intuition makes me doubt that pricing could be responsible here, as pricing in both leagues is highly uniform between matches. Anyway, Brisbane is a natural candidate for this type of exercise as they are have both been local (notwithstanding Gold Coast) monopolies in their respective leagues over that entire sample (though a second NRL team, the Bombers, are likely to be added by 2015) and the seasons overlap almost identically. This reinforces any schadenfreudian behavior of these teams (in a business sense), that is often speculated, despite what spokespeople from those teams and leagues say. The data provides a similar picture if we go back further years, but other sporadic factors prior to 2003 interfere with the figures (Lang Park redevelopment, Super League War, Bears/Fitzroy merger, use of Carrara Oval, etc.).
Can any North American pro-sports experts out there provide any anecdotes to help support or refute this casual empirical story? As best as I can ascertain, the NBA and NHL are the best bilateral candidates to tease out such possible behaviour (though ice hockey and basketball are admittedly less substitutable appeal-wise than the two winter codes in Australia), but I cannot identify any US/Canadian city in 2012 with two (or even more) pro-sports teams from only each of these leagues. Was there any city that at any time in history did have only each of an NBA and NHL team (without having an NFL or MLB team)? If so, why was that status quo ultimately unsustainable? Any other thoughts on this?