From June 29th to July 3rd I was in Seattle attending the Western Economic Association meetings. Now that I am back in Bakersfield, I thought I would try and post a few thoughts on the WEA, which has become the primary annual gathering place for sports economists from around that world.
The person who is responsible for the WEA becoming the place to be for sports economists is Larry Hadley. As noted, we lost Larry just a few weeks ago. Once again this needs to be said… sports economics owes much to Larry, not the least of which is these meetings.
Larry organized the first collection of sessions on the topic of sports economics at the WEA meetings in 1995. My involvement with the WEA began in 1997. It was that year that Stacey Brook attended these sessions and presented a paper that became our first publication [“Trading Players in the National Basketball Association: For Better or Worse?” in Sports Economics: Current Research; ed. John Fizel, Elizabeth Gustafson, and Larry Hadley; Praeger Publishers (1999): 135-151].
As you can see, our first publication was in a collection edited by Larry. This was in the days before the Journal of Sports Economics and the International Journal of Sport Finance. In the latter 1990s these edited volumes were one of the best ways we had to publish our work. Again, Larry was one of the people responsible for putting these together.
In 1998 I attended the WEA meetings for the first time. The paper I presented was an early version of what became the tenth chapter of The Wages of Wins. The next year I did not attend, but since 2000 I have been present each and every year.
Beginning in 2004 I became a co-organizer with both Larry and Elizabeth Gustafson. Larry, Elizabeth, and I served as co-organizers again in 2005 and then last year the baton was passed to Brad Humphreys, Tony Krautmann, and myself.
This year marked the second year of the Berri-Humphreys-Krautmann trio, and although the meeting seemed to suffer at times from a lack of organization (which was mostly my fault), overall the meeting seemed to go quite well.
This year marked the first time that the North American Association of Sports Economics (NAASE) sponsored sessions at the Western Economic Association. In all, nine sessions – or all the sessions organized by Berri-Humphreys-Krautmann – were sponsored by NAASE. At least three other sessions on sports and economics were also organized for the meetings.
In all there were 45 papers presented on the topic of sports and economics (or about 6% of all papers presented at the meetings). The papers on sports were authored by a veritable who’s-who is the field. A list of prominent names would include Rod Fort (author of Sports Economics, one of the leading textbooks in sports economics and also author of the Sports Business Data Pages), Mike Leeds and Peter Von Allmen (authors of Economics of Sports, the other leading sports economics textbook), Stefan Szymanski (perhaps the most prolific writer in the world on sports economics), Tony Krautmann (perhaps the most prolific writer in North America on sports economics), Joseph Price (co-author of the famous Price-Wolfers study which made headlines a few weeks ago), Dennis Coates (President of NAASE), Victor Matheson (a leading writer on the subject of the economic impact of sports), Brad Humphreys (another leading writer on the subject of the economic impact of sports, and other subjects as well), Elizabeth Gustafson (who presented a paper she co-authored with Larry Hadley – which ended up being Larry’s last paper), and Leo Kahane (editor of the Journal of Sports Economics).
Additionally we had representation from a few economists who are leading the charge to infiltrate the field of sport management. Joel Maxcy (University of Georgia) and Jason Winfree (University of Michigan) are both sports economists working in departments of sport management. We also learned that Winfree will be joined at Michigan by Rod Fort in the fall, furthering the imperialism of sports economics.
Last but not least, I need to acknowledge the international flavor of our meetings. Although our nine sessions were sponsored by the NAASE, eleven of the 34 papers in our sessions were authored or co-authored by economists based outside the United States. What is truly amazing is the many sports economists who make the long trip to the United States for these meetings each summer. The list that joined us this year includes the aforementioned Szymanski (Tanaka Business School, Imperial College), Bernd Frick (University of Witten/Herdecke), Joachim Prinz (University of Witten/Herdecke), Rob Simmons (Lancaster University), Takeo Hirata (Waseda University), Leif Brandes (University of Zurich), Egon Franck (University of Zurich), Philipp Theiler (University of Zurich), Ross Booth (Monash University), and Young Hoon Lee (Hansung University).
The Topics Covered
What subjects did people cover? Of the 45 sports economics papers presented at the WEA, ten were on the subject of baseball and nine examined some aspect of soccer (or what my international friends call football). Other sports examined included American football (4 papers), basketball (2 papers), golf (2 papers), the Olympics (2 papers), and Australian Rules football (2 papers). Additionally there were papers on NASCAR, hockey, and horse racing. Other papers examined various aspects of the business of sports and/or the theoretical nature of the structure of sports leagues and competitive balance.
My hope is to offer a few more comments on specific papers presented in the near future. In closing today I want to note that next year the WEA heads to Hawaii. This will be my first trip to Honolulu, so I am already counting the days.