Technological Reluctance? Or Profit? Replay Review

When is an increased technological ability not a technological improvement? Apparently in sports. Case in point: the Eddings call in the Angels-White Sox game. A really nice graphic and commentary are in today’s NYT (Jack Curry article).

I think we’re all aware of the “purist” v. “revisionist” arguments. And I certainly don’t mean to downplay the importance of that discussion (or the cocktail party fun it engenders). And I know there will be posts that yet again just beat up on owners (and those of us who examine their behavior from the rational perspective): economists and other business-oriented analysts are chock full of wild blueberry muffins even looking for rational explanations for owner behavior.

But there are huge amounts of money riding on playoff outcomes (especially advancement). And these monies go disproportionately to owners and are not shared among owners. So why does MLB, actually just an organization of owners, continue to reject “review from the booth” when it has been demonstrated so useful in both the NFL and now college football? That is, why would owners prefer mistakes that can be clearly demonstrated by replay review but cannot actually be officially reviewed? I think most would agree that balls and strikes can’t be reviewed in any way that wouldn’t destroy the continuity of the game, so I’m restricting my thoughts to close plays on base.

Economic and business intuition suggests that it must pay. Perhaps fans get an added thrill from mistakes that adds to their willingness to pay. Maybe it’s just that fans like to argue over calls, so give them somethinig to argue about.

Looking for testable implications, two things occur to me. First, the value of random thrill and argument for fans would have to increase the expected value of playoff pay to owners enough to offset the now higher chance that any given owner loses in the playoffs due to a bad call. This could be tested if there are playoff revenue data and data on bad calls so that the probabilities can be assessed.

Second, unless the NFL and college football have simply erred in chosing replay review, then MLB fans would have to be different in this regard than football fans. MLB fans would have to place a high enough value on random thrill and argument, relative to NFL fans, for there to be review in football but not baseball.

I wonder. Alternative testable explanations welcome.

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