Comment on the Call for Sports Union Militancy

Posted on May 31, 2006 by


Matthew Yglesias at the American Prospect posted the following at TAPPED (a blog at the American Prospect website):

NEEDED: MORE SPORTS UNION MILITANCY. If you just read Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker review of the new book The Wages of Wins, about the economic analysis of sports, you'll miss the important American Prospect-y angle. The book clearly indicates that professional sports unions ought to be more militant. It argues that, contrary to what team owners tell you, imposing salary caps has very little impact on competitive balance. It also argues that, contrary to what sportswriters tell you, labor stoppages have very little impact on fan enthusiasm for the league (whichever league we're talking about) once the stoppage is resolved. The upshot is that unions are correct on the merits to demand more salary flexibility and have less to lose than they imagine from going on strike. Interestingly, the book also indicates that NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL players are approximately twenty-five times more likely to go on strike than are typical union members despite actually being less militant than they ought to be.

In the second half of The Wages of Wins we focus on professional basketball, with a bit of football thrown in the mix.  For those who pick up the book and take the traditional reading approach – i.e. start at the beginning — you will find our story starts with the impact labor disputes have on attendance in sports.  And you will see that Yglesias is correct, our analysis indicates that these events have little impact on attendance.

I am not sure I endorse, though, the conclusion that sports unions should be more militant.  Although the evidence suggests strikes and lockouts have little impact on attendance, I personally would prefer less strikes and lockouts.  In other words, just because we find there is little impact does not mean I prefer to have games cancelled because of labor disputes.

There is still another worry I have, which I noted in April.  Once our book is read by millions and millions (thousands and thousands?), there will be more strikes and somehow we are going to be blamed. 

And at the point I will say:“We are just messengers, telling the world what the data says.  We are not the ones creating the message.”

Or I will come up with a better statement of poetic nonsense along these basic lines.

– DJ  

Posted in: Sports Econ