More Details from Keeping Score in The New York Times

Today I wrote my third column for The New York Times. The latest was entitled, “Star Power Can Leave Home Fans With Empty Feeling.” The basic story should be familiar to readers of The Wages of Wins and the writing offered in this forum (especially those who read “On the Road with the NBA Superstars”).

Star power in the NBA creates revenue, but it generally creates this revenue for every team other than the one that pays the star.

Malcolm Gladwell has observed that one has to leave out some details in writing for newspapers or magazines. Given that a Keeping Score column is limited to 800 words, only the essence of the story I was telling could be reported. In this forum, though, there is plenty of room to provide additional details.


The first detail I would report is the references for the article. Again, as Gladwell has observed, one does not report references when writing for a popular audience (at least, they won’t give me a place to put a reference list or end notes in the article). If I could report references, I would have noted that the today’s Keeping Score column was drawn from the following two articles.

Berri, David J. and Martin B. Schmidt. “On the Road with the National Basketball Association’s Superstar Externality.” Journal of Sports Economics, November, 2006.

Berri, David J., Martin B. Schmidt, and Stacey L. Brook. “Stars at the Gate: The Impact of Star Power on NBA Gate Revenues.” Journal of Sports Economics, February, 2004.

Updating Our Analysis

Each of these articles served as the primary source for Chapter Five of The Wages of Wins, where we reported updates of the models of gate revenue and road attendance originally reported in The Journal of Sports Economics. You can see these updates in the post entitled “Posting Technical Notes.” Or you can just look at the following table:

Table One: Chapter Five Models

On page 79 of The Wages of Wins we report how much revenue the top 10 “stars” (ranked in terms of All-Star votes received) earned for their opponents on the road. The following tables report the ability of the top stars to generate revenue in both 2006 and 2007.

Tables Two and Three: Stars on the Road in 2006 and 2007

In 2006 the star power of the top ten stars was worth, on average, about $1.5 million. The ability of these players to generate wins was only worth, again on average, $0.6 million. Similar results are seen for 2007. Basically, on the road, star power trumps the ability of a player to generate wins.

At home it’s a very different story. This point is best illustrated with the Los Angeles Lakers of 2003-04. The Lakers that season employed four major stars – Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. Combined these players received more than 4 million All-Star votes. Despite the quantity of stars on this team, the combined star power of these players was estimated to be worth only about $330,000 in additional gate revenue for the Lakers. To put that in perspective, winning just one more regular season game that season was worth an estimated $325,000 to the Lakers.

So what is the bottom line? There are four types of players in the NBA:

Star players who are both popular and productive (i.e. Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, etc…).

Star players who are popular, but not that productive (i.e. Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Richard Hamilton etc…).

Players who are not stars, but quite productive (i.e. David Lee, Andre Iguodala, Tyson Chandler, Luol Deng, etc…).

Players who are not stars, but not that productive (okay, that’s a fairly big list).

Wins are what the home fans want to see. So teams should seek out productive players. Unproductive stars are not only expensive, but also do not help a team win many games or substantially increase its revenue.

Thanking the New York Times

If you compare the writing offered in this forum to what is offered in my columns for The New York Times, one will see a substantial difference in quality. This is because I am the editor in this forum, and The New York Times employs editors like Toby Harshaw and Bob Goetz. Toby was the editor for the invited op-ed I authored last June, while Bob has edited the Keeping Score columns.

Basically the process works as follows: I write a column, which typically demonstrates the tangled prose so often seen in this forum. The editor then untangles the prose, eventually finding (after I am sure much effort) the basic point I was trying to make. I only wish I could have Toby and Bob review all my writing.

Today’s Keeping Score column was the sixth written by Marty or I. Each of these has been edited by Bob, so again, we need to thank him again for his assistance.

The other person who needs to be thanked is David Leonhardt. David interviewed Marty and I in 2005 for a New York Times article examining the impact strikes have on sports (here is a reprint from the International Herald Tribune). When our book was coming out in the spring of 2006 I contacted David about the possibility of us writing columns. David got the ball rolling when he thought Marty’s comment entitled Joga Bonito – posted in this forum last June — would make a good Keeping Score column. Consequently David put us in touch with Bob, who decided he could make something out of this comment, and the other material that Marty and I started sending in.

So thanks to Toby, Bob, and David for letting us tell an occasional story in The New York Times. We certainly look forward to the chance to do this again in the future.

– DJ

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