The Sports Economists are Coming

Posted on May 2, 2010 by


Although residents of Portland may not know this yet, something is going to happen this summer which may change the city forever.  Okay, that’s more than a bit of an exaggeration.  But this summer, Portland will be host to the 85th Annual Conference of the Western Economic Association.  And that means that Portland will see hundreds of economists descending upon the city from June 29th to July 3rd

In this group will be a collection of truly special economists.  The North American Association of Sports Economists (NAASE) has organized sixteen separate sessions at these meetings.  Each session consists of four research papers, so 64 papers within the field of sports economics will be presented.  And that means, dozens of sports economists are coming to Portland.

These sessions were organized by Brad Humphreys (President of the NAASE), Anthony Krautmann (vice-President of the NAASE) and myself (President-elect of the NAASE).  It was our job to ask for the papers and then organize these into somewhat coherent groups.  The results can be seen in the preliminary program posted at the Western Economic Association website.  Our sessions are as follows:

  • Session #14: Measuring Performance in Sports
  • #34: Consumer Demand in Sports
  • #51: The Economics of the NFL
  • #69: Sports and Economic Theory
  • #88: Sports Economics and Social Issues
  • #113: Home Field Advantage
  • #136: The Economics of the Olympics
  • #156: The Economics of Baseball
  • #176: The Economics of College Sports
  • #192: The Economics of Soccer
  • #193: Topics in Sports Economics I
  • #211: The Economics of the NBA
  • #229: The Economics of Basketball
  • #247: Sports Economics and Crime
  • #261: Topics in Sports Economics II
  • #278: Topics in Sports Economics III

One should note that the 64 papers are submitted to us separately.  We then have to organize these into semi-coherent groups.  Further complicating matters is that papers have to be moved around to accommodate travel plans and other issues.  So the actual papers in each grouping do not always conform to the session title.  And obviously, we were unable to come up with a unique title for three sessions. 

To see which papers are in each grouping, please review the preliminary program.   As one can see, each session doesn’t just include four papers.  It also includes four discussants.  These discussants are crucial to each session.  The author(s) of each paper will have 15 minutes to present their paper. The discussant then has five minutes to comments.  Typically these comments focus on this question “what needs to be done to this paper to make it better?”  In other words, the discussants tend to be critical of the research that is presented.

Discussants have a clear motivation to do this work well.  If a paper is not particularly good – and no one says anything – the author(s) will then leave the meeting and submit this “not so good” paper to a refereed journal.  Consequently, referees will have to take their time to do the job the discussant neglected.

The discussants also have another incentive to be somewhat critical.  As noted, discussants are given five minutes to offer their thoughts.  If all you have to say is “this is a great study”; well, you are going to have a hard time filling in your five minutes. 

It’s important to note that although discussants are somewhat adversarial, in our sessions people tend to be politely critical. That is because sports economists tend to be fairly nice people (at least, that is my experience).  Despite the desire to be polite, everyone’s paper does tend to get criticized.  And that process mirrors what happens later on when papers are submitted to refereed journals (where the referees in the blind review process have no incentive to be polite).  Contrary to what I often see on-line — where I often see “studies” being presented with very few critical comments offered — academics tend to be very critical of each other’s work.  Again, this criticism reflects the incentives academics face.  As an aside, my sense is that on-line people face different incentives.  The end result of on-line research is what you see on-line (in other words, there is no journal publication at the end of the rainbow).  Since people are going to interact again and again on-line, there is a strong incentive to be nice and encouraging to the other people in the group (it is a different story when discussing work from people outside the group).

The discussants employed in each of our sessions make the process at our meetings different from what I think happens at MIT Sports Analytics Conference. From what I can tell, the sessions at these meetings don’t appear to have discussants.  So alternative perspectives on the research presented may not be heard (again, that is my sense so please someone correct me if I am incorrect).

Our meetings also differ from the MIT conference with respect to the star power involved.  The MIT conference had panels with representatives from the sports industry and the sports media. Unfortunately, we have far less star power at our meetings. Still, we do have some of the biggest names in sports economics presenting papers.  Here is a partial list of the people presenting original research at the meetings this summer:

Okay, this is not the star power seen at MIT.  But some of these people are a little bit famous.

I should note that both the IASE and NAASE will be well represented at these meetings.  So this will be truly a gathering of the very best sports economists from around the world.

Let me close by noting session 109. This session is a panel discussion of Blogging and Sports and Economics.  The panelists include Brad Humphreys (writes at the Sports Economist), JC Bradbury (writes at Sabernomics), Justin Wolfers (writes at, and myself.  A few academics (few relative to the number of working academics) have ventured into the world of blogging.  This is a different world for academics, since the medium requires that one communicate research reflecting academic specialization to an audience of non-specialists.  The purpose of our panel is to discuss the many rewards –and few challenges – associated with blogging.  We hope this discussion will prove interesting.

Of course, we also hope all the sessions prove to be very interesting. So if you have a chance to be in the Portland area this summer, please stop by the 85th Annual Conference of the Western Economic Association.

– DJ

P.S. For information on registration and hotel reservations, please click on the above link.