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.

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.

More on Penalty Shoot-out Alternative

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Following on from my post on 2 July, I had another newspaper piece in the Australian Financial Review (today, Tuesday 15 July), called: “GOAL! A Better Alternative to Penalty Shootouts“. The link is gated as usual (see p.43 of the hard copy if you have it, or e-mail me a request). It further delineates the economic case for shifting the penalty shoot-out to before extra-time.

Solution to World Cup Penalty Shoot-out Problem: ABC Interview with Waleed Aly

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I returned to ABC Radio National’s Drive program with Waleed Aly, yesterday evening (Tuesday 1 July, go to link for audio).

The 2014 World Cup now in its knock-out phase (which brings with it the inevitable problem of extra-time and penalty shoot-outs, as well as perverse incentive effects to both teams to over-defend). Shining a light on this, Waleed and I discussed a simple rule-change proposal, based on economic principles, which we believe would produce better scoring outcomes in extra-time and diminish reliance on the game’s cruel version of Russian roulette to decide the winner (among numerous other improvements).

If you’re interested in the economics behind the proposal, you can see the abstract of the article from Journal of Sports Economics (December 2013 issue), on which it’s based, here.

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.

Last-Place Aversion: Call for Interest

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I recently came across the paper: ‘“Last-Place Aversion”: Evidence and Redistributive Implications‘, published recently in Quarterly Journal of Economics. The headline result poses a nice analogous hypothesis for sports leagues: do teams close to the bottom of the standings increase their effort so as not to finish last (presuming no perverse incentive to finish bottom, such as top draft pick)? Correspondence I had with the lead author, Ilyana Kuziemko, confirmed that this could be an interesting field experiment to follow their lab-setting results – she said that her and her collaborators had thought of using sports data, but noted that of the leagues that they look at, draft and/or promotion/relegation pose obvious problems.

I can think of leagues where neither of these policies act as a fly in the ointment. Is there anyone out there in the sports economics community interested in teaming up with me on this one?

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!

Football Penalties BEFORE Extra-Time? Dr Jan Libich and I Assess the Proposal

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I recently recorded a video (description below) that follows from a previous post on 16 July 2010.

WATCH ON YouTube.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter called penalty shootouts in football (soccer) a “tragedy”. Dr Jan Libich interviews me about our study (also co-authored by Dr Petr Stehlik) assessing an alternative rule: to stage the penalty shootout BEFORE (rather than after) extra-time. The study can be downloaded at www.janlibich.com/penalties.pdf. This video was recorded on 31 August 2012.