Maximise Attendances with Economically-Designed Fixture

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I ‘dropped’ (as they say these days) my latest op ed in the Australian Financial Review (today, Thursday 7 April), called: “Clash of Rivals will Boost Flagging Football Crowds” on p.47 of the hard copy. The link is here, but if you find it gated for you, then e-mail me to request a copy.

It builds on a paper that is forthcoming to be published soon, with Dr Jordi McKenzie (Macquarie University) and Stephan Lenor (University of Heidelberg, Germany).

In a good day all-round media-wise, I was also interviewed on ABC Radio Melbourne (774 AM) with Jon Faine regarding this research. Audio of the interview is available here for one week (go  straight to 57:15).

We believe that using our mathematical optimisation technique, we could increase AFL attendance by 100,000 spectators a year via a simple reform of how the fixture is determined (It could also do a similar thing for the NRL). This change would not even compromise the fixture with respect to any of its existing constraints. Over to you, League officials!!!

Economics Decodes ‘Hottest 100’ Musical Tastes

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Rock’n’roll dreams do come true in the annual Triple J ‘Hottest 100’; and there is actually quite a bit of potential for economic analysis from it.

This potential was covered in my opinion piece, which ran in the Australian Financial Review (today, Thursday 21 January), titled: “Rock’n’roll the Winner in Triple-J Hottest 100 Count” on p.35. The results of the 2015 poll will be revealed on Tuesday (Australia Day).

For the record, here is the list of 2015 songs I voted for, which shows just how out-of-touch I am with the alt/indie scene nowadays. Here’s hoping that you enjoy the countdown (if, like me, that’s what you’re into).

Art vs Science – Tired of Pretending
Birds of Tokyo – Anchor
Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian at Best
Courtney Barnett – Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party
Meg Mac – Never Be
The Rubens – Hoops
Rudimental – Never Let You Go
Tame Impala – ‘Cause I’m a Man
The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face
Zafareli – Withdrawals

Brownlow Medal Data Uncovers Biases in Voting Decisions

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I had another opinion piece run in the Australian Financial Review (today, Thursday 24 September), titled: “Brownlow Voting Biased Against the Ineligible” on p.51.

The key thrust is that AFL players already suspended earlier in the season (thus ineligible to win the Brownlow Medal – the best and fairest player award) poll significantly less votes than their still-eligible counterparts.

It is a timely piece in advance of this year’s vote count next Monday night.

I hope the ‘footy-heads’ among you enjoy this one!

Call for Papers: Rassegna di Diritto ed Economia dello Sport

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Italian journal Rassegna di Diritto ed Economia dello Sport is producing a special issue on ‘Development in Sports Economics’. The details can be found here. For those in the academic sports economics community who might have an appropriate paper to submit, you can send your submission to Dimitri Paolini (Università di Sassary & Université Catholique de Louvain) at: dpaolini@uniss.it before Saturday 28 February.

Aussie Tennis Stars Statistically Fail to Fire at Home

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My first newspaper piece for 2015 appeared in the Australian Financial Review (today, Friday 9 January), called: “Home-court advantage fading away in Australia”. It did not appear on-line, so e-mail me a request for a copy if you’re a tennis fan (even if you’re not) who wishes to read it. Alternatively, it’s on p.35 of the hard copy for those with access.

It builds on work I’ve been doing with Dr James Reade (University of Reading). The basic thrust is that home advantage on the ATP Tour was insignificant for Australian (male) tennis players over our 2003-2013 sample period, unlike most other major tennis-playing nations. These blokes had better start pulling their collective finger out!

UPDATE: They did…a bit!

Lead Article of Volume in ‘Journal of Sports Economics’

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There was a nice surprise yesterday, when I discovered that my latest published article – in the Journal of Sports Economics – has been assigned as the lead article of this year’s volume (16). Signals seem to be mixed on whether this actually means anything in terms of esteem or quality judgements, but a well-known empirical regularity is that lead articles do tend to get more citations other things being equal (see, for example, Coupé, Ginsburgh and Noury, 2010, in Oxford Economic Papers), so here’s hoping.

The article itself adjusts win percentages of NFL teams to account for strength of schedule, prior to calculating standard measures of competitive balance. I find that the adjustment makes the NFL (already considered the epitome of competitive balance) look even more balanced. For the record, the details are as follows:

Lenten, L. J. A. (2015), “Measurement of Competitive Balance in Conference and Divisional Tournament Design”, Journal of Sports Economics, 16(1), 3-25.

You can view the abstract here, and e-mail me if you would like a copy.

Rugby’s ‘Bonus Points’ Work – Policymakers Should Take Note (AFR Piece)

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I had yet another opinion piece that appeared in this morning’s edition of the Australian Financial Review (Friday 22 August), titled: “Use Bonus Points to Encourage Crowd-Pleasing Play” (link gated), on p.35. Alternatively, if you don’t have the hard copy, e-mail me a request.

It discusses research I have undertaken with Niven Winchester (MIT) on estimating the effect of the try bonus in Rugby to alter behaviour of players and coaches to produce more attacking rugby to score more tries, which after all is what the punters want.

It develops ideas discussed in this blog a few years ago. The paper title itself is the somewhat more esoteric: “Secondary Behavioural Incentives: ‘Field’ Evidence on Professionals”…hopefully coming soon to a good peer-refereed economics journal near you!

More on Optimal Sequencing: Soccer Edition

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[Cross-posted at: Wages of Wins Journal, 7 August 2014]

This earlier Wages of Wins piece by Shane Sanders (July 29, 2014) generated plenty of discussion. It highlighted the problem of Triathlon deaths in the swim leg. One crucial point to make with many economic policy analogies on which to draw is that sequencing of the legs (or phases) matters – all other considerations aside, the ‘best’ sequence of phases can be optimized according to some objective (in this case, minimizing fatalities).

One such possible economic policy analogy is with respect to unemployment benefits. Imagine a two-phase policy, where in the first six months the recipient is eligible to a relatively unrestricted entitlement of an amount according to some predefined percentage (say 40%) of some benchmark (average weekly earnings or minimum full-time wage). If the recipient is still unemployed after the 6 months have elapsed, a second phase kicks in at which the benefit is now highly restricted thereafter (having to satisfy minimum job search requirements, etc.) and/or reduced in value. Now, many people will disagree as to whether this two-phase policy is too generous or too miserly (or even on the basis of something else entirely). However, one aspect most of us would agree on is that swapping the sequence of these two phases would make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It got me thinking about other such analogies about sequencing from sport that could be useful in policy circles. Recently, I published an article in the December 2013 issue of Journal of Sports Economics [gated], along with Jan Libich (my colleague at La Trobe) and Petr Stehlίk (University of Western Bohemia, Czech Republic). We took on soccer’s penalty shoot-out problem.  In knock-out matches that are tied after 90 minutes, the following 30 minutes of overtime is often beset with overly-defensive play due to insufficient incentive to attack.   This means that overtimes often finishes goalless, and that nearly 50% of the time, the match is decided via penalty kicks anyway (put differently: in nearly one of every two ties, overtime fails to achieve the one and only thing it is fundamentally there to do).

We show that an alternative sequence – regulation time followed by a penalty shoot-out followed by overtime – improves attacking outcomes. The qualification is that, while the shootout produces a winner – you still play overtime, with the winner of that winning the contest as currently. It is only when overtime fails to resolve the deadlock that the winner becomes the team that had won the shootout already (think of winning the shootout as worth half-a-goal lead at the start of overtime).

Specifically, we show that the probability of at least one goal being scored in overtime rises by approximately 50% (depending on the underlying characteristics of the match). Exactly how we estimate the effect of a policy that’s never existed is outlined in the paper for those of you who are interested to read further.

Coming back to sequencing, why the simple economic intuition (as well as the data) says this rule change will likely work is the following: there will always be one team chasing the next goal, because they will be eliminated unless they do – they have little else to lose. While the other team may correspondingly become more defensive, we show the net effect to be overwhelmingly positive. Furthermore, what you will no longer get are those overtimes where both teams sit back having jointly overestimated the probability that they will win if it goes to a shootout.

Had Mario Götze spurned that chance just minutes from time in the recent World Cup final, and it had have instead gone to spot kicks, the penalty shootout problem would now be far higher on the soccer agenda. Nonetheless, better public policy (optimal sequencing included) should never be far from the agenda, so I hope to see more studies like this make some impact in the broader public policy debate.

H-Index Boost!

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According to Scopus, my h-index has just hit the heady heights of…wait for it…4. Curiously, my hInorm-index (explanation of numerous common impact metrics here) also becomes 4 simultaneously. According to Harzing’s Publish or Perish, the analogous numbers come in at 9 and 6, respectively. If I was a UK astronomer, I’d surely still be kicking around in Sunday League. However, I’d like to think that these numbers are quite respectable within my own cohort (incomparable across disciplines for numerous reasons). Unrequited thanks to Egon Franck and Marcus Lang for the citation that pushed me over the line.

Anti-Tanking Policy in the AFR

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My newspaper op ed piece appeared this morning in the Australian Financial Review (Thursday 31 July), regarding my suggestion to circumvent tanking in pro-sports leagues with reverse-order drafts (see also this earlier post) called: “Stop Tanking: Rank Draft Picks by Finals Exit, Not Ladder“. See p.51 of the hard copy if you have it, or e-mail me a request (the link is gated). The timing is excellent – these things are often talked about long after the incident itself, typically round about when rumours surface of an impending investigation (or even later). Far better to spotlight the issue before the damage might actually occur.