Playbooks and Checkbooks

Posted on June 22, 2009 by


When I first started working in the field of sports economics there were no academic journals devoted to the subject, no textbooks, and national meetings for people in the field had just started.  About 15 years later, we now have two journals devoted to the subject (Journal of Sports Economics and the International Journal of Sport Finance), at least two textbooks, and in about a week people from around the world will gather at the Western Economic Association meeting to present and discuss nearly 60 new papers (there are also yearly meetings at the Southern Economic Association and of the International Association of Sports Economists).

Although growth in the field has been phenomenal, there is still something missing. For non-economists who wish to understand what sports economics is all about, there doesn’t exists a single comprehensive resource that is easily accessible.  Yes, we have textbooks.  Textbooks, though, are designed to facilitate communication between a professor and her/his class. These are not really designed for casual reading by the non-academic.

Fortunately, Stefan Szymanski has decided to fill in this gap.  Playbooks and Checkbooks: An Introduction to the Economics of Modern Sports was recently published.  And in this book Szymanski takes the non-academic through many of the stories told in the sports economic literature.

Although the book is about economics, it begins with a brief history lesson.  Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist previously re-counted the history of soccer and baseball in National Pastime.  Szymanski’s latest not only summarizes this history, but also provides further details to help the reader understand the sports enjoyed today have significant historical roots.

Once the history lesson concludes, Szymanski goes into the economics.  Once again, this book is for the non-economists. So you will not find any graphs or equations.  What you will find are the many stories economists have told about sports. 

In fact, many of these stories I have told when I teach the Economics of Sports. These include such topics as…

  • competitive balance in professional sports (and how teams are not entirely honest on this subject)
  • the functioning of labor markets and the measurement of worker productivity
  • the economics and history of discrimination in sports
  • the economics and history of free agency and player drafts
  • the (supposed) economic impact of sporting events and stadiums
  • and the impact of broadcasting revenues on sports

Again, these are topics I cover in my college class.  This book, though, presents these topics to people who don’t wish to read a college textbook or sit in a classroom.

It’s important to highlight the accessibility of this book.  As noted, there are no graphs or equations.  There are also very few footnotes and no end notes.  All you will find is clear writing that spells out much of what economists have learned about sports across the past several decades. 

So if you were ever interested in learning sports economics – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – this is a book you should go get.  It really is a comprehensive introduction to the subject.   And I might have mentioned….it is really accessible.

– DJ

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