9-3 Louisiana Tech not going to a bowl game

December 4, 2012

A quick repost of a blog post I wrote up for my students today on the blog project they are working on.

Yesterday was bowl selection day for the NCAA College Football teams across the United States.  Teams who won half their games (or others who receive special exemptions despite losing records) are all eligible to play in bowl games.  While much of America was screaming at the Orange Bowl for having Northern Illinois University (NIU) playing in a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game, a few individuals were very unhappy that Louisiana Tech was not going to a bowl game.  It was not a matter of record (the team went 9-3) or that they didn’t get an invite to a game (the Independence Bowl offered), but that the athletic department was indecisive when trying to figure out whether to accept the invite.

The bowl business is tricky stuff, and La Tech was thinking they were going to some specific bowl games coming into the weekend.  Then Northern Illinois finished 16th in the BCS rankings and won an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl, kicking Oklahoma out of the BCS.  This shift cause other bowls to shift who they were inviting, and soon La Tech found themselves with only an invite from the Independence Bowl.  It is not that the Independence Bowl is a bad game to play in, but that the payout the athletic department would receive would be around $1,100,000.  While that seems to be a good chunk of change, the bowls that La Tech thought they were in the running for had payouts around $100,000 to $200,000 higher.  While this seems like a small amount in the age of athletic departments spending tens of millions of dollars on football, I think La Tech had good reason to hesitate.

The bowl game system is one which invites teams from across the country to travel long distances and stay many days (teams travel, practice, have some fun events, play the game, then go home).  Most schools also bring donors, alumni, students, the marching band, athletic department staff, and university staff and administrators to the game.  Think about the bill for hundreds of people having to travel, stay in hotels, food, drinks, banquets, tailgates, events, and all of the sudden you are running a pretty high bill.  Couple this with the fact that some bowl games require schools to make a revenue guarantee in regards to the amount of revenue generated by fans purchasing tickets, and bowl games can quickly become a losing situation for many athletic departments.  In other words, bowl games are a “winners curse” for some.

So did La Tech do the right thing?  I think so.  It is better, in my opinion, for an athletic department to take their time and make the right decision, than make a poor one which would put them in the red.  La Tech’s most famous alumni Karl Malone, a former NBA superstar, was not happy.  Mr. Malone took to twitter and lambasted the school and its athletic department for not landing in a bowl game.  I can understand Malone’s anger as those who are punished by this are the student-athletes who earned the chance to a bowl game, but are now not going anywhere.  Malone suggested that not going to a bowl game is “exactly what is wrong with our university”.

I disagree Mr. Malone.  The athletic department was weighing their options carefully.  Is it a disappointment? Yes it is, but it does not hint at a bigger systematic issue with the university and the athletic department.


Los Angeles will get a football stadium, but will they get a team?

September 29, 2012

Los Angeles City Council has given approval for Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to build a $1.2 billion football stadium in downtown LA, next to the Staples Center which is also owned by AEG.  What is interesting in this whole process is that I just discussed about a week or two ago that AEG was selling off all of its Los Angeles based business, and this would surely include the football stadium which will be called “Farmer’s Field”.  This may mean that the price for AEG’s Los Angeles operations just went up by several hundred million (or maybe even more than a billion).  As noted in the article listed above, there were many interested parties at the City Council vote, including individuals from Staples Center with “Farmer’s Field” t-shirts, some fans wearing the colors of the old Los Angeles Rams, and other potential interested parties.

Deadspin notes that the San Diego Chargers could have been the ones to move to LA, if the deal had been done sooner, but that is no longer a possibility.  Likewise, the Oakland Raiders are said to not be favored, as the state would not want to fund such a big project just to move a team from one part of the state to another.  That would indicate that the new stadium will be looking for an NFL team from outside of the state.  The Vikings and Jaguars look to be stuck in their current cities for quite a while, so the next choice falls down to the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills.  Both teams have had troubles drawing fans to games in recent years, and Stanley Kronke (owner of the Rams and Arsenal) would certainly have to consider the possibility of moving the Rams to one of the major markets in the U.S. if St. Louis doesn’t start to helps the Rams out some more.  I’d say Kronke is in a good position to hold St. Louis hostage for some tax money, as he’ll simply just say he will pack the bags and move off to LA if they don’t.

He would not be the first owner to make this threat, and he certainly will not be the last.

I’ve started to get the questions about the economic impact the new stadium will have on Los Angeles.  The answer is a complicated one.  Research shows that facilities don’t necessarily bring big gains to the economies of local regions.  That said, stadiums do bring fans and business to local restaurants, bars, and hotels that are located near a sport facility.  A good discussion of this can be found in the San Jose Mercury News, were professors Roger Noll and Dan Rascher (both very prominent sports economists) discuss the economic impact of the NHL lockout.  Dr. Noll notes that this local business will probably suffer, but not the economy as a whole.  Dr. Rascher adds on that there is some impact for the San Jose with the Sharks not playing, because only 28 percent of those who come to Sharks games live in San Jose.  Considering the size and scope of the Los Angeles area, it is quite possible that you would see similar percentages of out-of-town visitors for Los Angeles NFL games.

So for now, the answer is: we shall see.


Olympic hypocracy? Who should be punished for not trying to win?

August 1, 2012

The big news of the day in the Olympics is the removal of 8 badminton athletes from the games, including 4 South Koreans, 2 Chinese, and 2 Indonesians.  This year, Badminton was reformatted from a knockout tournament to group play, with teams then qualifying for knockout rounds based on their group play.  Those in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) said that this would be to improve the quality of play, and are already noting that it led to some incredible match-ups that one would not normally see this early into the tournament.  That may be true, but it also led to several teams realizing that the best strategy for them to advance in the knockout stages was to actually lose on purpose in the group stages.  Thus, the 4 pairs mentioned above were kicked out of the Olympics after not giving their all in matches.  The BWF, London Olympic Games Organizing Committee (LOGOC), and even fans pronounced this a great move as they said it went against the laws and spirit of the game.  Specifically, the BWF says that all players must give full effort in matches they play in.  One begs to ask: what exactly is “full effort”?  They also said that this may be a match-fixing mess waiting to happen, as teams found that the best way to avoid tough opponents in the knock-out rounds was indeed to lose.  One game in particular stands out with a Chinese team and South Korean team both trying to lose.  There is clearly a lack of effort, and the Chinese team celebrates with a high-five after losing the match.  The crowd realizing wait they have just seen, responds with very loud booing, and badminton became the headline of the Olympics today, but for all the wrong reasons.

At the same time, the Japanese women’s soccer national team employed very similar strategies in their final group stage match against South Africa.  Japan’s coach Norio Sasaki had already hinted in the Japanese media that 2nd place would be the goal to move through qualification for two reasons: the team would not have to travel for the knock-out round, and they would also be to avoid Brazil most likely.  Japan fielded a squad with 7 new members on the field, and despite enjoying a great deal of opportunities, couldn’t put one in the back of the net.  It was even said that Sasaki gave instructions to just run the match out to a 0-0 draw in the 2nd half when they knew that they were in the clear for 2nd place in their group.  So Japan’s master plan seemed to be working… until the Great Britain women managed a famous 1-0 victory against Brazil.  All of the sudden Japan’s plan has backfired and while they don’t have to travel, they are facing Brazil in the quarterfinals.

In the end, the LOCOG, IOC and FIFA said that Japan will not face any potential charges for not trying to score, as they did not violate any rules of conduct.  So for football (soccer) you don’t need to try, but for Badminton you do.  Someone explain this to me.

The lesson of the day seems to be to put full-effort into your matches as you never know what may happen.  However, it may also indicate a need for better scheduling systems, and further analysis of whether pool play or group stages really are better than knock-out tournaments.  If a federation designs a competition where there is incentive to lose on purpose, is it really the fault of the athletes who understand the system and do their best to try and get as far as they can in the tournament?  Purists would say that the athletes must give their all, but wouldn’t it also make sense to have competition designed to illicit such response from athletes?


Man Utd to IPO… in the U.S.

July 4, 2012

Manchester United, one of the worlds biggest brands and highest valued sport franchises has decided that they will pursue an Initial Public Offering to raise $100 million  in the U.S.  This isn’t probably that strange of a thought, as the team is owned by Americans, the Glazer family to be specific, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  However, I can see that many individuals will be quite unhappy in England, as there has already been a lot of backlash against Premier League teams being bought up by foreign investors.  Now with stock being sold on the U.S. stock exchange, I believe that there will be another wave of criticism.

Another question arises in, whether it would be worth the money to buy stock in Manchester United.  Certainly the franchise has a high value, but many football clubs in Europe have been running large debts, and it doesn’t seem like a sure thing that this stock will make quick money for anyone.  As a long-term investment it may make sense.  That said, I already know several people who live in the U.S. who are rather excited, as they love the prospect of being able to own a piece of their favorite club.

The Glazer’s were also hoping to sell of a good chunk of stocks on the Singapore markets as well, however the volatile nature of the Asian markets has caused the $1 billion Singapore IPO to be put on hold for another day.  CNN notes that this comes after Formula One also put a halt to their IPO in Asian markets because of too much uncertainty.


The Role of Supporters

December 23, 2011

A good number of academic papers have considered the role played by supporters in the economic model of sports. I personally have a paper in the IJSF considering a particular theory surrounding home advantage in football (soccer), where we propose a monitoring theory: Once television became prevalent, players could no longer slack in away games and get away with it. The implication was that the supporters are what matters, rather than any of the other factors usually posited (familiarity with surroundings, etc).

Others have looked into whether supporters have a role influencing referees to add more minutes of injury time at the end of matches, and whether they influence referee decisions moreover. The literature is rich, it’s fair to say and I won’t do justice to it in this post.

I’m reminded of this by recent events at Premiership team Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn have had heady days in recent decades: They are, aside from the usual suspects (Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea), the only other team to have actually won the Premiership, hard to believe as that may be. In recent days, they were yet another top English team taken over by foreign owners as the closet xenophobic British press (and bloggers) have had some fun pointing out in recent years: They were taken over in 2010 by the Venky’s of India, to great fanfare.

However, all has not gone swimmingly for English football’s first Indian owners. They sacked exceedingly competent manager Sam Allardyce in December 2010 for no obvious reason, and replaced him with an complete unknown, Steve Kean.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fans weren’t overly excited by that appointment, and things have not gone particularly well since, and as of Tuesday this week, they sit at the bottom of the Premiership with just two wins all season. Tuesday however was notable in that it marked the latest high (or low) point of the campaign of Blackburn fans to have Kean sacked and replaced. As far back as their first win of the season (against Arsenal), Blackburn fans were stages regular protests against the manager.

On Tuesday, against Bolton, local rivals, farcical defending put Blackburn 2-0 down early in the game and it’s said the atmosphere in the stadium was “poisonous” – the Twittersphere was rife with Tweets from folk who left at half time in protest – including notably the Everton coach David Moyes. Blackburn put in a vastly improved second half performance but fell to a 2-1 defeat to sink to bottom (Bolton had previously been bottom of the table).

What this whole sorry episode suggests perhaps more than anything is the role fans play. Of course, we don’t know how Blackburn might have performed on Tuesday had supporters instead turned up to support their team instead of to protest against the coach (and also the owners now – typing Venkys and Blackburn into Google reveals a lot of vile against the Indian owners). Anecdotal evidence is pretty conclusive though; when a set of supporters decides against a coach, even if the owners try to persist with the coach, supports usually get their way. Abusive chants, poisonous atmosphere at games, abuse in the streets, abuse of friends, relatives, etc., all take their toll usually. It seems hard to believe that Kean can take much more of what he’s currently enduring in deepest, darkest Lancashire (it’s hard also to believe that Northern folk are generally perceived to be more friendly!).

Personally I can only think of one example where supporters have been proved wrong, and that was when Martin O’Neill took over at Leicester many years ago. After a few initial defeats supporters were protesting. A few years later and a few League Cups and European nights, I think they forgave him for those early defeats.

Fans would appear to be pretty powerful stakeholders in the model of the football club, casting their judgement on a particular manager or player, and usually getting their way even if those with the actual power (chairmen, managers, players) don’t agree.


This Week’s Football Corruption News

December 20, 2011

Police in Italy have made arrests relating to a match-fixing scandal in Serie B, the second division of Italian Football (soccer).  Included in the arrests are Cristiano Doni who has played for the Italian National Team and was even on the squad for the 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea.  While the arrests have targeted mostly Serie B players, the police are said to be investigating at least three Serie A matches.  This is not the first time that such issues have surfaced in Italy, but one of the suspects arrested is claimed to have stated that match-fixing has been prevalent in the league for the last ten years.  Doni’s arrest was no surprise, as he was banned for three and a half years from professional football by the Italian Federation earlier this year.

In other news, Sevilla (of Spain’s La Liga) President Jose Maria del Nido has received a seven and a half year prison sentence for his role in embezzling money from the Spanish town of Marbella.  In a curious set of circumstances, the club’s vice president has said that the sentence is unfair, and that del Nido should be allowed to continue as President of the club.  I wonder if anyone has ever run a football club from prison.


Fox wins rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup

October 22, 2011

As I flipped between ESPN and FX (a Fox channel) tonight, I saw them broadcasting news that Fox had won the bid for the broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup in the United States.  The big news was made more so by the large numbers in relation to the bid.  Fox, Telemundo (an NBC held Spanish language channel) and Spanish language radio paid a combined $1.2 billion for the rights to the two tournaments.  Fox by themselves are going to pay around $425 million.  To put that into perspective the current right holders of ESPN and Univision paid a combined $425 million for the U.S. rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup.  They are saying that FIFA has really cashed in with this new mega bid, with the new rights holders (as of 2015) paying close to double the price than their previous competitors.  While the World Cup has become more popular in the U.S. in recent years, I am not sure that this deal is really worth it for Fox.

As I write this, I am having a bar scroll on the bottom of my TV saying that DirectTV (my television provider in the U.S.) is about to drop FX, Fox Sports, Fox Soccer Channel, and Fox Soccer Plus.  These would be all of the main channels through which the games would be broadcast in the U.S.  Naturally, I am not pleased, as Fox Soccer Channel is one of my main gateways to European soccer while living in the U.S.  While there is a lot of time till Fox wins the deals, I think the availability of the ESPN channels is much better, and makes me worry about whether I’ll be able to watch the games I want in the United States, once Fox takes over the rights.


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