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Schadenfreude in Duoplolistic Pro-Sports Team Cities

2012 September 2
tags: ,
by Liam Lenten

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?

6 Responses
  1. Matt permalink
    September 3, 2012

    There are no American cities with this sports configuration (-NFL, -MLB, +NBA, +NHL).

    MLB expanded earliest out of the Northeast and the NFL was always big in the Rust Belt (from Pittsburgh to Chicago). California, Texas and Atlanta teams join in the mid-century. In 2012, MLB now has 30 teams and the NFL has 32. Major cities (excluding Las Vegas) generally have a franchise in the one of these two leagues, if not both.

    Cities not large enough to support a single MLB or NFL team are likely not large enough to support both an NBA and NHL team with overlapping seasons.

    Additionally, the NBA’s popularity is far more recent, so most markets already have a team in one of the above two leagues. The NHL expanded rather late, remains popular mainly in the North and includes a number Canadian teams, limiting the available franchise slots. The under represented major markets (e.g., San Antonio) make unlikely NHL markets.

  2. September 3, 2012

    This is a very interesting post.

    I am currently studying variable that affect attendance at AFL matches (in Melbourne, 2010) and when I began, I initially asserted that rugby competes against AFL for viewers. While my American professor agreed with the statement, my Australian professors, both of whom are AFL experts, said this wasn’t the case. Of course, most of the literature agrees that Australians don’t see any other sport as a substitute for AFL.

    I wonder if this is the case because Brisbane/Queensland does not have a strong attachment to either game, unlike Victoria with AFL and New South Wales with rugby…

  3. Liam Lenten permalink
    September 3, 2012

    Kayla, the only way to really find the answer is to drill down and look at match-by-match analysis…I’m on the case, and have the AFL data but now need to build the NRL sample. I don’t believe the two sports are highly substitutable in Sydney or Melbourne (nor Adelaide or Perth for that matter), but Brisbane may be a case apart – I disagree that they don’t have a ‘strong attachment’ to either sport, but there are other considerations why ‘Bris-Vegas’ is different.

  4. September 5, 2012

    Vancouver had the Canucks (NHL) and Grizzlies (NBA) but no NFL or MLB teams.

  5. Steve permalink
    September 14, 2012

    I wonder if TV viewership numbers bear this out (substitution across codes), or it is only relevent for capturing game day attendance budgets. Intuition says that “sports fans” are able to follow multiple codes and they are not strictly competing.

  6. Liam Lenten permalink
    September 16, 2012

    Steve, this would be an empirical issue. Unfortunately, I only have TV ratings going back to 2008 (not 2002), so there’s limited scope for a match-by-match analysis, at least for a few more years (worth of data). Also, the telecasts are not national, but rather local, although this is not so much a problem.

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