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2445Re: [APBR_analysis] Re: Player Movement

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  • Jim Armstrong
    Sep 4, 2003
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      On Mon, Sep 01, 2003 at 04:52:33AM -0400, igor eduardo küpfer wrote:
      > It just occurred to me that the topic of "competitive balance" is more subjective than I originally thought. For me, I think of a balanced league as one in which the outcome of any given game is close to 50-50, where picking winners unpredictable. I've always thought about it that way: if the result is a foregone conclusion, where's the competitiveness? My focus has always been on the game in front of me, at least as far as this topic goes.

      But the question is: who does this type of balance benefit? I might argue
      that if every game was so evenly matched that the outcome could just as well
      be determined by a coin flip, the interest of the average fan wouldn't be
      held very long. As the outcomes of games become more random, the win/loss
      standings become less relevant. Perhaps this type of balance would only
      appeal to the purist who enjoys the game itself, but has little interest in
      the outcome.

      > Other people like to see the absence of truly dominant teams (or truly putrid) during the course of the season as evidence for balance. JohnH seems to favour this view in his column. There is nothing inherently mistaken with this view. From this perspective it makes perfect sense to look at measures of the variability of winning percentages like standard deviations.
      > Still other people focus not on individual games, nor individual seasons, but eras: frequent "dynasties" to them indicate an imbalanced league, as do horrendous sad sack franchises like the Clippers. A dominant team is one that manages to win across many seasons, not just one or two. Someone who favours this view of competitiveness would deny the standard deviation argument as irrelevant; they would claim that if the Celtics or the Lakers win every single season, it doesn't matter the variation in the league winning percentages. It's hard to deny the validity of this argument.

      Another common argument heard especially in baseball circles is the "hope and
      faith" type of competitive balance. Here fans of specific teams want to have
      some assurances at the beginning of the season that their team has reasonable
      hope and faith of qualifying for the post-season. To these fans, individual
      games don't seem to matter as much, nor do dominant teams. Even falling out
      of playoff contention isn't so bad as long as they have reason to believe
      their team is likely to contend within the next few years. I've suggested
      elsewhere that this might be measured by looking at standard deviations of
      preseason gambling odds.

      Other fashionable methods in recent years bring payrolls into the equation.
      High correlations between payroll and wins are deemed evidence of an
      unbalanced league, but often little effort is put into determining which way
      the causality runs or researching the complex factors that determine payroll.

      > Which brings up another thing: presumably the economists studying balance are doing so from their perspective as economists, and not necessarily as fans. Their definitions of "balance" may not be the same as the average fan's definition -- or yours and mine, for that matter. Maybe DeanO can add some thoughts here, but I'm guessing that econs study the topic by looking at its economic effects, such as attendance. This, however, is not my primary interest -- I am interested in the health of the league as I define it, not as it applies to those studying its economic health. For this reason I am interested in finding a measure for competitive balance that assumes my definition. CBR looks like it does more to capture what I think of as balance.

      I believe this is a fundamental problem of most measures of competitive
      balance. You start with someone's subjective view and work towards a
      formula that measures it. Too often the subjective view is rooted in
      the emotions of a sports fan who is unhappy with how his team is doing,
      or believes the league as a whole isn't as fun as in the "good old days".
      You come up with a measure that confirms that things are gloom and doom.
      Then someone else with an opposing subjective viewpoint will find a different
      measure that shows that the league is in fact balanced and that all is well
      with the world. This seems to happen in cycles over periods of years. At
      some point in the future the pessimistic fan's measure will show great
      balance, but if the fan is still dissatisfied with how his team or the
      league is doing, he'll simply come up with another measure to confirm his
      displeasure. And the cycle repeats.

      I believe looking at competitive balance from an economist's point of view
      is the more objective, and useful, approach. One can state your objectives
      up front, for example, to maximize overall league revenue or franchise values
      or to maximize fan interest as measured by attendance or TV ratings. Fans
      may not think this is important to them, but from a consumer's point of
      view it is, because fans don't want to see a league or team fold or the
      games not be televised. As with other products, in an efficient market, a
      financially healthy producer is good for consumers of the product, and it
      allows the producer the resources to give more of what the consumers want.
      Of course, you do have to be a bit careful with sports leagues that have
      monopoly power, which can be abused to the detriment of the consumers.

      > He also suggests in there that imbalance is good for the league - a
      > question I have to imagine has been answered in some form by some
      > economist at some point, but doesn't seem that difficult to do if it
      > hasn't.
      > An argument could be made that the health of the league is increased by having the same recognizable stars achieving success on a regular basis. I can see some validity to this argument: the continuity of familiar names would be appealing to very casual fans, I think.

      IMHO, the real key is to determine optimal levels of competitive (im)balance
      that would generate the most interest among fans worldwide, and ultimately
      generate the most revenue for the league. Then of course, figuring out
      the factors that lead to such levels is a whole different story.

      A brief but informative economic discussion of this topic is included in
      a paper published online by John Sigfried of Vanderbilt University.
      The section titled "The Welfare Effects of Balanced Competition"
      (about halfway down the page) is most relevant.

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