Capital Improvements in Sports

There’s a couple of articles that I ran across this morning about capital improvements in sports. The first, from the Kansas City Star, is a column by Jeffrey Flanagan which begins by desicribing Tom Watson’s distaste for today’s technology in golf.

Watson, who finished 1 under overall at the British Open, told the London Times that while he admires the way Tiger Woods is dominating the game today, the time is approaching when the brakes must be applied to ball and club technology.

“These days I hit the ball about 10 yards further through the air than I did when I was in my prime,” he said. “(Back) then I hit the ball about 250 yards through the air with my driver, and I was considered one of the game’s longest hitters. If they put a bunker at 250 yards, I really had to work to fly the ball over it. Now 250 yards is nothing. These days, guys can hit that far with a 3-wood into the wind.”

The second is an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune that details the improved cycling technology(and training) and the various barriers that were punctured when Americans began taking the sport of cycling seriously.

Cycling is a deeply European sport, and it is governed by a multitude of traditions and customs that don’t necessarily have any connection to performance. For instance, until very recently, team directors and even some team doctors believed that air conditioning in cars and hotel rooms was bad for riders. I never really understood their rationale, but it had something to do with the idea that cool air led to respiratory infections. As a result, exhausted riders were told to sleep in hot and stuffy hotel rooms, and since they didn’t get a good night’s sleep, they rode poorly due to lack of rest.

The relatively short history of American cyclists in the European peloton has worked to our advantage. When we arrived on the continent in the 80s, we immediately started questioning the customs and traditions we found. We weren’t trying to be disrespectful, but it seemed odd to work so hard trying to win races only to be hindered by practices that existed because “that’s how it’s always been done.” American riders were more open to new technologies for training and competition, and that has played a large role in their successes over the past 20 years.

Skip had this post on technology in softball bats. In some instances, the new technologies employed by players generates externalities on the providers of the fields on which the players play. The golf club technology and the softball bat technology effectively diminishes the size of the course/diamond, not in an absolute sense but in the sense that they play smaller. But if all teams/players use the new technology, there will likely be very little impact, if any, on who wins (since winning depends on relative performance).

On a personal note, I like the new technology. If I can ride faster or hit the ball farther, that’s a good thing.

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Author: Phil Miller

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