Why Oz Soccer Fans Should Cheer for the Chinese Economy

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My latest Australian Financial Review piece: “Sleepless in Skipton: Long Slog for Local Soccer Fans” appeared in today’s edition (Friday 27 June). The link is gated; though it’s on p.43 of the hard copy if you can get your hands on one.

If you’re an Australian World Cup tragic who has been horrendously sleep-deprived over the previous fortnight, you get a lot of sympathy from me in it.

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.

Recent Appearance on ABC Brisbane News

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I recently appeared on the ABC nightly Brisbane News (6 September), talking about bidding for NRL State of Origin hosting rights.

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ABC1 (Brisbane) Nightly News Bulletin: Liam Lenten offers opinion on reports of ARL decision to sell hosting rights of one State of Origin game every two years to highest bidder (even if not Sydney or Brisbane).

My Research Project Description: Short Video

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As part of the La Trobe Research series, on 17 May, I recorded a short video (description below) discussing a current research project of mine: “Unbalanced Scheduling Systems and Demand for Professional Sport” (with Jordi McKenzie, University of Sydney).

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Researchers of La Trobe University are asked three questions, giving a glimpse into the wide range of research conducted at La Trobe. Researchers are asked: In the simplest terms, please explain your research hypothesis? What is the key outcome you hope you achieve? How will this outcome impact society or the community?

Schadenfreude in Duoplolistic Pro-Sports Team Cities

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[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?

Tension between Winning and Costs: Brazil Edition

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[Archived from: The Sports Economist, 8 June 2012]

The UEFA European Football (Soccer) Championship kicks-offs tonight…but those who claim that this tournament is tougher to win than the World Cup should be reminded of two obvious absentees from the festivities in Poland and Ukraine, who, as it happens (related to an earlier post of mine in 2010), face each other in a friendly tomorrow at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford (home of the two New York NFL teams) – Argentina and Brazil. The two South American giants have played each other 92 times and the head-to-head could not be closer, as each has won on 34 occasions.

The seemingly odd location of this match is not so unusual in the modern context of the global business model of the sport. Brazil especially were the pioneers of playing internationals in odd locations – since 1994, they have played more ‘A’ international friendlies in neutral venues (36) than they have on home soil (35), though far less than away fixtures (62). Brazil is a very powerful brand, and that the Brazilian Federation, Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), has been perfectly willing in the past to forgo home advantage, and use this brand power to drive very lucrative deals with opposition federations, is well accepted. While fans in Brazil might prefer to see the Seleção play locally more often, I’ve never heard about many protestations about this status quo.

However, this may increasingly become an issue in the next 1-2 years as Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup. For any host team, preparation on home soil is essential. As an example from the past, USA played an amazing 88 ‘A’ internationals from 1991 to the start of the 1994 World Cup – 73 of these were friendlies, 54 of which were at home. By contrast, since their final 2010 World Cup Qualifier in October 2009, Brazil have played a total of 25 friendlies of which only three were at home (one of these was with a merely domestic-based line-up). Furthermore, automatic qualification negates the nine competitive matches at home they would have under normal circumstances, and with Copa América completed a year ago, Brazil now only has a collection of friendlies to look forward to until the 2013 Confederations Cup. Perhaps this is an acute illustration of the tension between optimal preparation and the CBF’s financial incentives?

UPDATE: Argentina defeated Brazil in a 4-3 thriller, thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick, in front of an all-time New-Jersey record attendance (81,994) for soccer – probably more than if the game were even held in Brazil.

‘ABC News Breakfast’ Newspaper Segment

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Another ABC News Breakfast newspaper segment (filmed Monday last week, 6 February) discussing the typical range of stories in the news that day, with Michael Rowland and Karina Carvalho.

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Liam Lenten – on ABC1 News Breakfast again, sharing thoughts on mining barons in the media, Gillard leadership speculation, Super Bowl advertising and Thierry Henry back on the EPL scorers’ list.

Another ‘ABC News Breakfast’ Newspaper Segment

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I appeared again on (today’s edition of) ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli discussing a handful of notable newspaper stories (details below).

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Liam Lenten – third time on ABC1 News Breakfast, discussing the Mining Tax, Surpluses in the University Sector and two Cricket-Related Stories.