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!!!

Hawthorn’s Case for All-time AFL Premiership Supremacy

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I thought I’d blog a brief post about Hawthorn’s 2014 AFL Grand Final triumph because…well, I can.

In an orgy of brown and gold hubris, I chose to celebrate the occasion by gloating shamelessly in today’s Australian Financial Review (Tuesday 30 September), in the article: “Adjusting the Count Makes the Hawks AFL Winners” (gated, on p.55 of print copy).

The thrust suggests that all things considered for ‘opportunity’ (both seasons in AFL and number of teams in each season), Hawthorn now goes statistically to the top of the AFL all-time premiership tree, despite being equal-fourth on raw numbers.

I also had a short interview on Mornings with Geoff Hutchison on ABC Radio (Perth), discussing other findings arising from this adjustment (with an emphasis on the two WA teams).

E-mail me a request if you are interested in either of these files.

Perhaps the final word on AFL season 2014 should belong to Titus O’Riely: “The good news is that finally, the drought is over for those long suffering Hawks supporters. How they have waited. It’s not every year Hawthorn wins a Premiership, but it really feels like it.”

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.

Anti-Tanking Policy in Media

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It’s been a monumental week for me in the media – the anti-tanking policy story is beginning to get some real traction in the newspapers, specifically: (i) Beverley O’Connor in the Herald-Sun (p.23); and (ii) Greg Baum in The Age (pp. 58-59), both on Wednesday 19 February.

In addition to this, I had two Melbourne radio interviews: (i) 3AW (Drive with Tom Elliott on Monday 17 February); and (ii) SEN (Hungry for Football with Kevin ‘KB’ Bartlett, Thursday 20 February). I have the audio file for the latter – e-mail me if interested.

I have been pleasantly surprised with the positive feedback I have received on my Anti-tanking policy for the AFL Draft, rather than the pugilistic resistance that hard-core sports fans are notorious for sometimes.

More generally, it’s nice to see economic research (and its contribution to policy) getting airtime and a good reception from media.

I will be presenting the findings soon at some seminars: internally at La Trobe (6 March); Economics Society, Victorian Branch (12 March; and University of South Australia (19 March). Anyone is welcome, but please tell me if you would like to attend, so that I can notify the conveners.

Meeting with AFLPA

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I was privileged to meet today with some representatives of the AFL Players’ Association (AFLPA). It follows a meeting I had last year with their CEO Matt Finnis, and today I had the opportunity to provide them with an economist’s view of issues that are crucial to them right now – equalisation, labour market restrictions, revenue sharing, anti-doping and tanking. I believe that my input will help inform their views about these matters.

Not only was this a clear opportunity to foster links for industry engagement personally, but it was also a positive development for the industry itself. We know that Australia lags behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to industry-university collaboration. In Australia, the sports industry lags behind many other industries in this respect. Hopefully, this is a baby-step in the right direction for better co-operation in future.

Malthouse Gives Sports Economics Guest Lecture

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Coach of Carlton (AFL) Football Club, Michael Malthouse, gave a guest lecture in my Sports Economics (ECO3EOS) class this morning. The overarching theme of his talk was how the business model of the game has changed in his 40+ years in the competition. Having played in or coached over 800 VFL/AFL games (not to mention one premiership as player and three as coach); he ought to know a thing or two about this. My students found it most enlightening, and (needless to say), so did I.

I followed his talk by presenting some of my results on my recent (and preliminary) work on anti-tanking policy in the AFL. I was a bit lucky to snag him for this. Malthouse has had a position as Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe since last year, so I was able to leverage off this. Total respect…and not just for the footballing accolades, either.

This followed a similar guest talk last year by John Didulica (Operations Manager, Melbourne Heart). Next year, I hope to get someone from Rugby, just mix the sports up a bit.

In Seattle for the WEAI Conference

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I’m in Seattle for the WEAI Conference (known informally as the ‘Westerns’). It’s only my second time to this shindig, following last year’s Conference in San Francisco. The Westerns is one of the 5 biggest annual economics conferences in North America, but more importantly for me, it is the biggest annual gathering of sports economists in the World, as this is the regional conference where many of them agree come and arrange their own sessions, since they don’t run their own stand-alone conference (whether lack of critical mass or something else).

I am presenting a paper, co-authored with Niven Winchester (MIT) on estimating the effectiveness of the try-bonus point rule in rugby as a means of incentivising attacking play. I am also discussing a paper on the AFL’s unique Father-Son Rule, which has been interesting for me to read and write a critique of.

Having had a look at the programme, I am truly salivating at the prospect of some of the sessions (not merely the sports economics ones). Conferences in North America tend to be quite intensive compared with other parts of the World, and the Westerns is no exception – they often run over weekends, session often run from 8AM to 6PM with no designated gap for lunch (it’s just assumed you’ll miss a session at sometime during the day to eat something); and the sports economists tend to go for an evening meal and a beer each night afterwards – doesn’t leave a lot of time in the day for normal activities.

Yet I find it quite enjoyable. The only problem? As usual, I got right-royally screwed by the scheduling – first presenter in the first (8:15am) session on the last morning of the conference. Thanks a lot!

“Premiership Portfolio” by Sam Fimis

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I went to an excellent book launch last night. The author is a former undergraduate student of mine from La Trobe, one Sam Fimis (below). I taught him in a finance subject, and it’s wonderful to see him combining that love of his (it’s also his day job: he’s in stockbroking!) with sports.

Fimis

The book is called Premiership Portfolio, and is pitched at sports fans who want to learn a bit more about the markets to help them manage their personal finances, via analogies from the AFL. Genius, Sam!

The launch itself was well-attended, with speakers including Andrew Swallow, Anthony Koutoufidis, and Raydon Tallis. The book has also been identified by the AFL Player’s Association as a possible vehicle for future player education programmes to help safeguard against their savings being frittered away post-retirement.

One More Time…

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[Archived from: The Sports Economist, 28 September 2010]

Last Saturday saw the Grand Final of the Australian Football League between St.Kilda and Collingwood finish in a 68-68 draw in front of 100,016 people at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – only the third time in the 114-year competition history that the league’s title decider has finished level.  The Saints were looking for only their second title in history (their only to date was equally dramatic in 1966 over Collingwood by a late solitary point), while the Magpies (the largest-market team in the league), were seeking their fifteenth in total, but only their second since 1958.

The thrilling finale means that the teams do it all again this coming Saturday to create their own slice of history.  Despite being in Ontario presenting seminars this week at some excellent Departments, by reading popular media and other various forums, is it obvious that fan opinion is clearly divided (even bipartisan) on the merits of having a full replay.

Historically, full replays have been part of the game’s culture.  However, the last time the showpiece fixture was drawn was in the still clearly semi-professional era in 1977 (the first year it was televised live).  Indeed, until 1990, all finals (playoff) matches were replayed, until a first-week finals draw in that year resulted in all remaining finals being pushed back a week, forcing a league re-think.  Since then, only the Grand Final was to be replayed, but with draws uncommon in Australian Rules football (approximately 1% of all games), various stakeholder groups do not tend to think much about such rules until the moment they become binding.

On the apparent upside, the league and the two teams are set for an unexpected financial windfall, some estimates saying in the order of $20 million (US$19.2 million) for this supposedly one-off event.  Needless to say, the Players’ Association has called for the players to receive their fair share of the unanticipated revenue.  Also, just yesterday the league increased the Grand Final prize money (hat-tip: Rob Macdonald).  Another unexpected beneficiary of the replay are the members (season-ticket holders) of the two clubs, less of which will miss out on tickets this time, as there is set to be a lower allocation to corporate clients and sponsors of the league.

One of the downsides is being felt by soon-to-be newlyweds, with some guests who have other priorities dropping out, see this news.com.au link.  This is not to mention other sports (who purposely schedule events for when the AFL finishes), having to re-schedule games or face losses of revenue.

The AFL has, by their own admission, now broken their own guidelines by hastily changing the rules to allow extra-time (as many periods as necessary) to produce a winner in the unlikely event that the replay itself results in a stalemate at full-time (unlimited replays were specified previously).

In the modern professional and streamlined era with crowded match calendars, some argue that full replays should be consigned to the past.  Analogously, unlimited replays existed in the English FA Cup until the early 1990s (with some extreme cases going to an almost farcical fifth replay), but since then only a single replay (with penalties if necessary) still applies up to the quarter-finals stage.  Fortunately, given the rarity of draws in the indigenous Australian game, a penalty-shootout before extra-time style solution, like the one advocated on this blog on July 16 for Association football (soccer), is probably unnecessary.