What is a sport? / What is sports economics?

The last night of the Western Economic Association meetings a group of a dozen sports economists, their spouses, and their children went to dinner together where the conversation turned to the topic of what is a sport and a related issue of what sport research is sports economics. Out of the 12, only two were not trained in economics or finance. At the table that night were economists from four continents representing public and private universities and private colleges with varying degrees of emphasis on research and teaching.

Opinions varied as to what a sport is. Some at the table thought a sport was an athletic competition with an objective means of determining the winner. Consequently, speed skating is a sport, but figure skating is not, for example. But others contended that figure skating is a sport but ice dancing is not. In other words, not everyone agreed on the necessity of an objective means of determining the winner as a necessary condition for an activity being deemed a sport. Or at least they disagreed on how subjective judging is in different competitions.

There was less agreement on what sports economics is. One possibility was that sports economics was the study of those “sports” that were commercial, though I think there was unanimous agreement that such a definition was far too narrow. Another possibility was that sports economics is defined by the application of price or decision theory. For example, a study that examines sport using incentives and objective functions or tries to understand, explain, or predict choices in a sport context is sports economics.

So, readers of The Sports Economist, what say you on these issues?

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Author: Dennis Coates

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