Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Season Tickets 

There's nothing like 1. Being a solid team with a real chance to make it to the World Series and 2. Beginning the season in a new stadium to up your season ticket sales. If you wrongly guess demand, you may end up with a shortage:
Unprecedented demand has caused the Cardinals to stop selling season tickets for the 2006 season, but fans will be able to purchase single-game tickets for all games -– including the home opener -- beginning Sat. March 4.

Cardinals president Mark Lamping said Friday that the opening of new Busch Stadium, combined with the team’s success the past two seasons, has enabled the team to sell a record 27,500 season tickets. That’s about 6,500 tickets more than the previous high, slightly more than 21,000 season tickets in 2000.

“We do not have the capacity to meet the demand for season tickets that we are experiencing,” he said.

More than 3 million tickets are already committed for the 82-game home schedule through season tickets, group sales, four-game packages, club obligations and charity donations. That leaves only 500,000 that will go on sale to the public at 9 a.m. March 4. .
The Cubs, as usual, are doing well in the ticket-sales department as well:
A sub-.500 season and fourth-place NL Central finish didn't dampen interest in the Cubs, who broke their own major-league one-day ticket sales record Friday with more than 600,000 sold.

Final figures for the weekend were not immediately available, but the Cubs announced that approximately 20 of their 81 home games are sold out.
Last summer I wrote this post about the popularity of the Cubs in Chicago and surmised much of it has to do with the area around Wrigley Field. Many of the commenters at that time agreed. As is so often the case, even though the Cubs played poorly last year, fans still flock to Wrigley.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Olympic TV Ratings in the US 

ABC's Dancing with the Stars olympically outdistanced the Winter Games on Americans' telly dials last night:
“Stars” averaged 27.1 million total viewers over two hours last night, according to Nielsen overnights, setting a new series high while finishing as the night’s most-watched program. It drew 83 percent more than the 14.8 million NBC averaged in the same 8 to 10 p.m. timeslot with the Games' closing ceremonies.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Fox began the evening with the lead, posting a 4.7 among 18-49s during the 7 p.m. hour for its last hour of NASCAR racing coverage. ABC was second that hour with a 3.1 for “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” NBC third with a 2.7 for the Olympics, CBS fourth with a 2.2 for “60 Minutes,” Univision fifth with a 1.5 for soccer and WB sixth with a 1.3 for an hour of “Reba” repeats.
At least it beat the "Reba" repeats.
ABC took the lead for good during the 8 p.m. hour with a 7.5 for the first hour of the “Stars” finale. Fox dropped to second that hour with a 4.1 average for “The Simpsons” (4.6) and “The War at Home” (3.7), with CBS third with a 3.9 for “Cold Case” and NBC fourth with a 3.7 for the Olympics. Univision came in fifth with a 2.3 for “Bailando por un Sueño,” and WB sixth with a 1.9 for “Charmed.”

At 9 p.m. ABC led again with a 9.7 for the second hour of the “Stars” finale. Fox held onto second with a 4.1 average for a repeat of “Family Guy” (4.2) and a new “American Dad” (4.0), and NBC was third with a 4.0 for the Olympics. CBS dropped to fourth that hour with a 3.1 for a “CSI” repeat, with Univision fifth with a 2.8 for “Sueño” and WB sixth with a 1.3 for a repeat of “Charmed.”

At 10 p.m. ABC led again with a 10.8 rating for “Grey’s Anatomy,” the night’s highest-rated program among 18-49s. NBC was second that hour with a 3.8 for the Olympics, CBS third with a 3.4 for another “CSI” rerun and Univision fourth with a 2.6 for the last hour of “Sueño.”
NBC almost had to make amends to sponsors on account of low viewership, but according to this article, they just made their guarantee. Even so, NBC has some work to do before Beijing:

Most important, buyers say, NBC must acknowledge the promotion and presentation problems that plagued it this year and fix them before the Beijing Summer Games in 2008.

“NBC did a poor job, on a national level and local level, of promoting the games. As a buyer, I had to call in November before a first quarter buy and ask the dates of the Olympics. NBC can only blame themselves for poor ratings,” another buyer says.

“They should have anticipated the other networks coming after them during the Olympics. They can't blame the poor showing of some of the athletes, nor can they blame their announcers."

With all the choices of what to watch, sporting and otherwise, folks just don't seem to pay much attention to the Olympics here in the states - regardless of what NBC does. Still, the Olympics represent an improvement over what NBC has in prime time in the past.

There are Mulligans at the Combine 

Vince Young apparently didn't do very well on the Wonderlic test at the NFL combine:
Like his performance in the Rose Bowl, quarterback Vince Young rallied from a huge deficit to pull out a personal victory that might have earned him millions of dollars.

On Saturday, a rumor that Young had scored a 6 on the Wonderlic test sent shock waves through the combine. No coach, scout or general manager surveyed could produce an example of a starting quarterback with a single-digit Wonderlic score.

The test — 50 multiple-choice, non-football questions in 12 minutes — is a barometer that teams use to gauge a prospect's ability to learn.

On Sunday, the combine said the test score of 6 that was being reported by some media outlets was false.

"I've been told it was inaccurate by a source good enough for me to quote it," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said Sunday afternoon.

Young took the test again and scored 16. According to Young's agent, Major Adams, the Sunday test was administered by Jeff Foster, executive director of National Scouting Combine.

"The combine officials assured us that score (6) was false and that the accurate score will be known when the combine results are given to each team," Adams said.

Mulligans rule! Had it been a 6, Vince could probably have done better by guessing. Local talk show radio hosts rattled off some names that did well and did poorly on the Wonderlic test in the past and Vince's 16 ranks down near the bottom.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Don't Think Torii Likes the WBC 

Count Minnesota Twin Torii Hunter among those that don't like the World Baseball Classic.

"I don't like it," Hunter said. "I don't see anything positive coming from that."

Surrounded by reporters on his first day in spring camp, Hunter gave his reasons.

"Spring training is for getting in shape and getting to know your teammates and forming that chemistry," he said. "Now you're talking about three weeks of spring training they're going to miss.

..."What's the use of saying we're better at baseball than this country?" Hunter said. "We all play together. I'm playing with Venezuelans and Dominicans right now. We all play together, so what's up with saying our country is better than your country? It's stupid. I don't like it."

Here's the US roster and some information on what the WBC is all about.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Zimbalist talk at St. Cloud State 

I liveblogged a talk by Andrew Zimbalist on the economics of sports stadiums here. It's still in rough notes form, but I will add to it later this PM.

Guns for tickets 

Pablo Halkyard led me to this story at ESPN :
The Philadelphia 76ers and police officials Tuesday announced a program aimed at curbing gun violence by exchanging tickets for guns.

The one-week program opens Wednesday. Anyone can bring a working gun into a city police station and exchange it for a voucher good for a pair of tickets to an upcoming 76ers game, no questions asked.

...The program is similar to one the 76ers ran in 1999. "Guns for Gear" brought in close to 900 guns in just three days.
Guns for tickets makes more sense than guns for gear. Since the 76ers are playing to half empty crowds this year, the opportunity cost of the ticket is near zero.

But the program strikes me as rather odd. How did this get past the marketing department? These programs don't help the NBA shake the gangsta image.... You take your seat at courtside, chat up the fellows next to you, being sure to drop the name of your corporate pal who gave you the tickets. Standard fare, until you find out that your neighbors have a surplus of old guns that no longer shoot straight, so why not take in the game? Could they be packin' with fresh tools, you wonder? Maybe promoting the gansta image is what the marketing department wants, but I'm skeptical.

So let's look at the economics of the program. Given market prices for tickets, only cheap guns - like the surplus guns above - would be brought in for exchange. A cold-blooded assassin's favorite weapon ain't gonna turn up.

The transactions costs of trading guns in the illegal market weaken this prediction somewhat. For example, a church-going ex-gang member might steer clear of his old buddies who represent the likely buyers of a gun which is no longer valued by him. Thus, this type represents a potential participant in the guns for tickets market. But again, this exchange would not destroy active weapons which are a threat to society.

On the marketing side, it is hard to see how this program helps the 76ers sell more tickets, or endear themselves to existing season ticket holders. From the economic side, it is hard to see a direct connection between the program and people who have a reason for either self-protection or killing someone else.

I'm left with the following conjecture: perhaps the 76ers can use tickets in a down season to gain support of public officials in need of a headline. Getting a few hundred guns "off the street" might make a politically useful, albeit ultimately empty claim for a police commissioner. And one can imagine that the cops have a plan to test-fire guns that fit a profile from unsolved homicides. Although a sensible killer is unlikely to turn in his weapon, these do change hands in various ways over time. An unsuspecting downstream gun-toter might go for the program, exchange such a gun, and create a fresh, if sketchy trail.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Michelle Lissel on Agency Problems 

As economists, we see economics everwhere. It's interesting to me how often economic intuition turns up , even if expressed in different words. One of my soccer-loving associates, Reed Vesey, notes that on Monday night's Fox Sports World Report, Bobby McMahon (a great TV personality and analyst) discussed Bolton's dilemma. Because of a FA replay with Aston Villa, UEFA Cup competition, and its regular EPL schedule, the team faces 4 games in 7 days. This would put pressure on even the deepest squads, but given Bolton's limited financial resources and depth, they must make some hard decisions about which games to really try to win with their front line troops.

Taking the pursuit of EPL wins as a given, McMahon went with the obvious choice --Bolton would pursue the UEFA win because of the financial gain. Ok, easy enough. At this point, one of the anchors, Michelle Lissel, dug down to inquire about a possible wedge between the team's incentive and those for Bolton's coach, Sam Allardyce. She noted that Allardyce has received considerable attention for the England national team head coaching position -- a position determined by England's Football Association (the FA). Showing a preference for the UEFA game versus the FA Cup game by using more first line players in the former might not sit very well among the FA hierarchy.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Turin needs ticket agents 

As noted in the NY Times: "large blocks of tickets bought by corporate sponsors and national Olympic committees ... are not finding their way to people who want to see the events." But Italy's finest are busy arresting scalpers and confiscating their tickets. Tickets are going below face value, even with the efforts to inderdict supply:
"Nobody is selling above face value," said Rome Arago, 35, an American scalper. "There is no market, and they are arresting every scalper who is just trying to help people."

The problem revealed itself, on the street just outside the ice dancing competition Friday night, in a skittish Italian, who would give his name only as Andrea, 33. He and a friend asked a pack of scalpers, who included Arago and Bobby W., for tickets. The face value was 170 euros — or $202 — but he could not afford even the 80 euros that a Russian customer had paid just a few minutes earlier.

Friday, February 17, 2006

What's a Little Wager Amongst Rivals? 

(Cross-posted at Market Power)

If my team beats your team, you have to wear my team's colors!

Tom Long, chief marketing officer for Miller, sent a letter on Friday to Anheuser-Busch vice president of brand management Marlene Coulis offering a wager that Kurt Busch, driving the No. 2 Dodges sponsored by Miller, will finish ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet in this year's final standings.

The stakes?

The loser must change his paint scheme to the winning brand's colors for one Nextel Cup points race in 2007.

I love the beer wars!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Re-development in San Diego .... and the Bronx 

Mark Rosentraub had a piece in the WSJ ($) on the DC stadium, which brought some sharp comment from Frank Stephenson at the Division of Labour. Frank criticizes Rosentraub for his claim on tax incidence, but I think Rosentraub is correct in his main, larger point: DC had no legitimate competition for the team, hence they overpaid in the stadium deal.

The latest theme being played in the stadium game is that stadiums are useful tools in re-development projects. Rosentraub appears to have bought this argument:
Five years from now people will point with pride to the stadium and mention the District in the same breath as San Francisco, San Diego, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Cleveland. These are some of the cities where a sports facility anchored private-sector development and where the ballpark or arena was appropriately integrated into an urban landscape to create a sense of community and excitement, while attracting needed economic development. Each of these cities can point with pride to new housing, new retail and new commercial development in areas that previously languished or went begging for development deals.
I'm all for pride, but not at any price. So I asked my friend Ron Johnson - who lives in San Diego and enjoys watching the Padres at Petco Field - for his view of the matter. Is the result there as positive as portrayed by Rosentraub? Here is Ron's reply:
I had the same reaction when I read Rosentraub's piece last week. Where is his evidence? I don't know of a single ex-post study on the impact of Petco Field. The San Diego Union Tribune ran an article a while back and it was fairly balanced, but the type of analysis that would convince economists was absent. Essentially, Petco has added to an already booming downtown, but whether it could possibly yield a positive return on taxpayer dollars is a big stretch. The area where Petco was built was considered blighted when Petco was proposed, but by the time construction started the surrounding area was already seeing new hotels and huge expensive condos going up. In my opinion this had little or nothing to do with Petco. People like living down near the bay, close to work, shops, etc. Moreover, there is a growing group of relatively well off people whose kids are gone, dog is dead, and they like urban living and are attracted to downtown San Diego. Of course, the stadium supporters will claim that Petco generated all the growth, while a lot of restaurant owners in the Gas Lamp District next to Petco will bitch about baseball fans who are cheap and just want beers and nachos, while taking valuable parking spaces away from their regular clientele who stay away on game day because of the crowds.

But having said that Rosentraub's underlying premise is obvious and thus, correct: Put stadiums where the opportunity cost of the site is low and the potential benefits high. That tends to be in blighted neighborhoods, but these must be areas that have other intrinsic attributes with the potential to expand. Note that the area around Yankee Stadium (I grew up there) is blighted, and it's been going down hill since the early 1950s. The Yankees wining or losing or even being there had nothing to do with it.
The urban developers and consultants are advancing the claim that re-development plans anchored by stadiums somehow "work." It's time for the skeptical eye of an economist to give this issue a careful examination.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Why Good Refs Make Bad Calls 

As the number of articles and TV spots concerning the Super Bowl officiating approaches infinity, I figured, why not make it infinity plus one. Beyond the borderline calls, the personal foul flagged against Hasselbeck for taking out a blocker below the waist stands out. Both in real time and in slow motion, the call defied explanation. CNN.SI's Peter King called it "absurd," which is one of the nicer descriptions.

In my estimation, NFL officiating stands head and shoulders above other sports, given the difficulty of the job. The officials receive genuine evaluation (none of that MLB umpire nonsense such as objecting to tracking the ratio of balls and strikes or each ump having "his own strike zone"). They are promoted and demoted, both out of the league and among the field positions, based on performance. They are assigned to Super Bowls based on performance.

Why it is that a very competent official would make such a terrible error intruiges me as a student of decision making. If incentives, evaluation, and selection mechansims are relataively sound, then do such errors simply reflect a random, uncontrollable human component not really amenable to economic ideas? Possibly. Or, it may indicate an element of decision making that economists have only dabbled in -- information processing.

Economists deal, at length, with information issues, but, by and large, bypass issues regarding information processing, leaving it to psychology. That has changed some as interest in experimental methods has grown. In a seminal piece on the "Economics of Managing" in the September 1992 Journal of Economic Literature (available on JSTOR), Roy Radner devotes a section to information processing. In many ways, the ideas he discusses are relatively basic in that he is trying to organize a foundation for thinking about processing in economic ways rather than building complex and detailed models. One fundamental conclusion:
one cannot maintain constant quality indefinitely as one increases the number of items to be processed
In essence, that's my proposition of why a good NFL official would make such a terrible call -- he has been given too many items to process. Over the last couple of decades, the NFL has placed upon officials an ever increasing number of items to observe from pickier "false starts" rules to complicated holding rules to tackle box rules for QBs to interference rules and beyond. The NFL official making the call on Hasselbeck had a boat load of information to process in milliseconds as the play unfolded.

Cognitive psychologists have done some interesting work in the area also. For example, Harvard Business School's Max Bazerman has attempted to go beyond merely treating every "business ethics" case a matter of "crooks" or "greed" to ask a much more interesting question -- "Why do "Good Accountants Do Bad Audits" along with similar questions (see his website). He attributes the poor performance to various embedded biases. On one level, this may be just digging deeper into the matters that Radner addresses. In a substantive way, however, Radner takes a more "economic" approach by emphasizing tradeoffs and developing logical connections between items.

(Radner's works are a treasure of rigorous ideas on the decision making and various aspects of the economics of organizations. A listing is available at NYU Stern School).

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Twins get in the game, too 

On top of the Vikings story I told two days ago, we find out now that a judge in Minneapolis has let the Twins baseball club out of their lease at the Metrodome. Details available at SCSU Scholars.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More Play, but no pay? 

Russ Roberts is skeptical, as was I on Sunday, of the Dubner and Levitt argument in Play magazine on the Super Bowl Point Spread. As Russ points out, Seattle wasn't exactly a home underdog. And it is not clear - in fact it is doubtful - that there were enough betting opportunities on home dogs to generate the winnings claimed by Dubner and Levitt.

Health Risks to Athletes: Beyond Steroids 

Steroids have attracted a huge amount of attention in recent years including several posts here. A recent study (see article) by Scripps Howard News Service provides evidence that the size of professional athletes, especially in football, creates serious health issues. The study tracked the deaths of 3,850 pro-football players born since 1905. Medical examiners and coroners were contacted to determine the causes of death for the 130 players who died before age 50.

  • Twenty-eight percent of all pro-football players born in the last century who qualified as obese died before their 50th birthday, compared with 13 percent who were less overweight.
  • Seventy-seven percent of those who died of heart diseases qualified as obese, even during their playing days, and they were 2½ times more likely to die of coronaries than their trimmer teammates.
  • Only 10 percent of deceased players born from 1905 through 1914 were obese while active. Today, 56 percent of all players on NFL rosters are categorized as obese.
  • The average weight in the NFL has grown by 10 percent since 1985 to a current average of 248 pounds. The heaviest position, offensive tackle, went from 281 pounds two decades ago to 318 pounds.
Issues certainly can be raised regarding the evidence, as the NFL has done. For one thing, the NFL disputes the use of the body mass index to gauge obesity for individuals who are much more muscular than the general population. The reply of some health professionals is that additional size (muscle or fat) stresses the heart more. Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, notes "They [NFL players] clearly have higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease and hypertension, especially in the offensive and defensive linemen. And it clearly is higher than in the general population."

On the one hand, individuals who pursue the highest levels of success in many activities, sporting or otherwise, self-select into risky activities. Soccer players suffer foot, ankle, and knee injuries at greater rates than the general population. Boxer, downhill skiers, and NASCAR racers expose themselves to great bodily risks. Outside of sports, one might find differential rates of various illnesses or injuries among CEOs or crab fishermen (if you watch "Dangerous Jobs"). It's not clear to me that fixating on the particular risks associated with a particular sport makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, in a team sport such as football, there does seem to be a moral hazard issue lurking just as in the steroid issue (see September post). Players who might prefer not to use steroids or bulk up to mammoth sizes are placed at a competitive disadvantage by those who care less for their bodies. Interestingly, The NFL Player's Association seems more interested in such matters than the MLB Player's Association.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Your antennae have to rise... 

{Crossposted at SCSU Scholars.}

...whenever you hear about business people and government officials getting together to discuss money. So word yesterday that Zygi Wilf and Governor Pawlenty were planning to meet had me up with the tricorder right away.

The plans came out of a meeting between Wilf, Pawlenty and other staffers Thursday. Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said the sides will conduct a "financial workshop" to hash out details of Wilf's $675 million proposal to build a stadium in Blaine. That meeting could happen within the next week.

According to the framework financing plan, Wilf and the NFL would contribute $280 million to the project. Anoka County would raise $280 million through a 0.75 percent countywide sales tax; the state would be asked to speed up $115 million in infrastructure projects and also bypass a law requiring local referendums for tax increases.

"We're happy that the governor seems to want to get engaged in this," Bagley said.

I have said before that the benefits of these things are dubious, and it's doubly so when you don't let voters even decide in a referendum whether they will be taxed to pay for it. (by the way, wasn't it Pawlenty who said initiative & referendum was one of his four items he needed in the last term to pass the budget? hmmm.) The story carried a Detroit by-line, as Wilf was no doubt collecting evidence of how Detroit got Super Bowl XL as a sop for building $420 million Ford Field (of which the public paid $260 million, including about $40 in cost overruns.) Numerous sports economists, including me, are quoted in the St. Paul PioneerPress editorial today discouraging the governor from pursuing this initiative.
Regardless of who won Sunday's Super Bowl, we hope everyone will remember the economics — not the score — of the game. Especially when Vikings owner Zygi Wilf comes calling again to ask the good taxpayers of Minnesota to pony up for a new stadium. Surely the Super Bowl and the economic riches it allegedly offers will be one of the baubles he'll dangle in front of legislative committees and community forums. Don't buy it.

(h/t for news piece: Gary Gross.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Olympic Cost Over-runs:
So What Else is New? 

From the Toronto Globe and Mail:
Vancouver — Increasing venue costs — often the curse of the modern Olympics — have hit the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

The committee responsible for organizing the Vancouver Olympics announced Friday that its venue construction costs have risen by 23 per cent to $580 million from $470 million.

To cover the $110-million cost jump, the organizing committee, known as VANOC, has asked the provincial and federal governments for an extra $55 million each.
And this is with four years to go yet! VANOC CEO John Furlong said,
Our pledge is to limit taxpayer investment in these venues to $580 million. We will stop at nothing to responsibly manage the risk of cost increases.
Really? Stop at nothing? How about you and the VANOC directors pledging your personal assets, including your house(s) and car(s) and pet(s) and memorabilia collections as collateral?

The Olympics have different economic impacts than professional sports teams:
  • They draw many visitors, who inject considerable spending into the local economy.
  • But at the same time, these injections are transitory, having no lasting economic impact.
I probably shouldn't go out on the limb like this, but I hope the gubmnts turn them down. Only when gubmnts turn down such requests will planners and organizers become more realistic with their estimates. And so long as gubmnts bail out Olympic organizers, the planners have an incentive underestimate the costs and overestimate the revenues in their initial bid proposals.

What would happen if the gubmnts said "No"? Would the games be moved? Would the games be cancelled? Would the organizers scale back on their plans? Would the IOC sue VANOC for breach of contract?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, it is not at all clear that the taxpayers of Canada, especially those outside Vancouver, are (or should be regarded as) the least-cost bearers of the risk that their would be cost over-runs, for whatever reason. Planners and CEOs and Directors are supposed to assess risk and incorporate it into their proposals and decisions. It would be inappropriate and inefficient to fob this risk off, onto distant taxpayers.

Anyone care to hazard a guess about whether VANOC will get the money and then "need" more sometime over the next four years?


The New York Times has launched a quarterly Sports Magazine bundled with the Sunday paper, titled Play. The first edition came as a surprise this morning and it has been a great read, with stories galore:
Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt on the Super Bowl Point Spread.

Michael Lewis on the evolution of football since the first Super Bowl as seen through the eyes of Green Bay safety Willie Wood.

Michael Sokolove on how testing for amphetamines will change the game of baseball.

Sokolove again on the leader, and the leadership business, that is Coach K.
And that is just scratching the surface. There are articles on the Super Bowl, World Cup, and Olympics by top writers that I won't get to for a while, lest I spend all of Sunday morning in my reading chair.

Some quick takes: Dubner and Levitt argue that the Super Bowl point spread is screwy, and that the underdog Seahawks are where to place your bet. They may be right. The Steelers seem to have been the beneficiaries of the hype machine in the past few weeks. And hype in these games, where the masses bet big and the impact of the sharps may be limited, may nudge the spread a bit in the wrong direction. USC in the Rose Bowl, and now Pittsburgh opened up at lines which looked to overstate their chances, and both moved even further in that direction. So I sense hype at work in these recent spreads, but that's just a hunch.

Dubner and Levitt base their conclusion on a different piece of evidence, the "home-underdog effect." Betting home dogs has been marginally profitable over the years, which suggests that the public may not fully understand the home field advantage, and how this interacts with relative team strength. But the Super Bowl is a different proposition as there is, obviously, no home field advantage. And betting the favorite has a slight edge, 19-17-3, over the previous 39 Super Bowls. So while I agree with Dubner and Levitt's pick, their analysis seems askew, and their plea to ignore prior history based on the small sample size doesn't do much for their case. Regardless, Go Hawks!

Sokolove's story on amphetamines is worth a read and a ponder. The claim is that a large number - perhaps most - baseball players use some form of stimulant to overcome the grind of a 162 game season. Given the prospect of a 25 game ban for a second offense, player behavior is likely to change. Sokolove quotes former player Billy Sample suggesting that people betting the over/under line "should probably take the under." That is, there will be a tendency for everyday players to be worn down, relative to the starting pitcher, particularly in day games which follow a contest from the night before. Working against that notion is that the players in the field will also be napping. So errors should increase, while batting average should decrease. My bet is that Billy Sample is right though, and scoring will be down a tad in day games. The question is how much, whether the market will re-price these games accurately, and how long it will take to do the job.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Soccer signing saga 

Manchester United and Chelsea are exchanging some nasty words, after each took part in some rather nasty business, in an attempt to acquire the services of Nigerian teenager John Obi Mikel.
He was born in April 1987 and emerged with Plateau United and the Pepsi Football Academy in Nigeria. By the summer of 2003, he had been invited to work out with the Manchester United team at its training base.

But British immigration laws do not permit the recruitment of minors, from Africa or anywhere else, and international soccer rules require a player to be 18 before he signs professional terms.

Mikel remained footloose until, at 17, he joined Lyn Oslo on a youth contract. Norway is becoming a half-way house for gifted young Africans.

There are Norwegian clubs willing to take in the boys, to offer them education as the country demands, and to groom them for stardom.

Lyn, it appears, had a buyer for Mikel before he officially signed a pro contract with the club in April 2005.

One week later, the boy was photographed in the Lyn office accepting a Manchester United shirt, numbered 21 bearing his name. He had been sold to the English team that wanted him all along, though he would remain in Norway until he had acquired sufficient Nigerian national team appearances to obtain a work permit in England.

Complicated? That is just the beginning.


Shortly after the player signed for United last April, he "disappeared." He departed from the ground as Lyn played a cup game on May 10, apparently taken away in the back of a car driven by John Shittu, one of the agents who claims to be his adviser.

Three days later, Mikel popped up in London where, on British satellite television, he said he no longer wanted to play for United and that he'd been coerced into signing the contract. He spoke of death threats coming from Nigeria and London. He said he wanted to play instead for Chelsea.
That's Rob Hughes' account in the New York Times. See this piece from The Times (U.K.) for more on the wrangling between the two clubs over the youngster. It notes that Mikel left the Norwegian club in November, which makes things even messier.

This is ugly business, akin to an NCAA recruiting war on steroids. It's made worse by the British law that pushes the deals for African youngsters underground. My guess is that United will succeed in sanctioning Chelsea to some degree, but Chelsea will get what they want: the player.