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Sports through the Lens of Economic History

Editor(s):Pomfret, Richard
Wilson, John K.
Reviewer(s):Depken, Craig A.

Published by EH.Net (July 2017)

Richard Pomfret and John K. Wilson, editors, Sports through the Lens of Economic History. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2016.  ix + 151 pp. $100 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-78471-994-4.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Craig A. Depken II, Department of Economics, University of North Carolina — Charlotte.

Ever wonder who founded the Tour de France and why? How about the average tenure of foreign-born players in Japanese baseball? What about the cross-subsidization of two teams in different sports sharing a stadium? These questions, among others, are addressed in the collection of papers included in Sports through the Lens of Economic History, edited by Richard Pomfret and John K. Wilson. The book is a nice addition to the sports economics literature for two reasons. First, the papers are written from the perspective of economic historians, and therefore there is an increased focus on the narrative behind the economic question rather than simply a smash-cut to econometric modeling. Second, the papers generally focus on sports that are somewhat out of the comfort zone of most North American sports economics, including Japanese baseball, the South Australian National Football League, cricket, and cycling (although there is one chapter on the labor market of the National Hockey League).

The book is comprised of seven chapters, all of which are well written, easy to read, and are appropriate to be included on the reading lists of undergraduate sports economics courses. The background information included in the papers, for instance the evolution of professional team sports in the nineteenth century and the founding and evolution of the Tour de France, is a welcomed addition to any sports economics library because such discussion is often not included in the published literature because of space limitations.

The first full paper focuses on professional sport in a wide-ranging discussion that includes the evolution of various sports rules and leagues during the nineteenth century, changes in technology during the twentieth and twenty-first century such as radio, television, and transportation, that have facilitated increased audiences and revenues, the professionalization of management, and data analytics.

The remaining papers are more specific in their focus; here I briefly outline four of them. The chapter focusing on the founding of the Tour de France provides a fascinating insight into this very popular annual event and introduces many interesting economic issues for future research. Similarly, the chapter focusing on “ground sharing,” which occurs when two or more teams share a stadium and which was once prominent in the United States, puts the practice into the historical context of cross-subsidization between cricket and Australian Rules Football. Another chapter focuses on the connection between competitive balance and attendance to South Australian National Football League during the twentieth century, thereby adding another investigation into the uncertainty of outcome hypothesis. Finally, one chapter focuses on the role of work-related sporting activities such as association football and cricket in Northern England from the nineteenth and twentieth century; this topic has received very little focus in North America where firm-based sports teams were often the precursor to the professional teams and leagues of today.

The collected volume has a long tradition in sports economics and this particular collection is a solid contribution in that tradition.

Craig A. Depken II is the author of numerous studies in the area of sports economics including, most recently, “Consistency and Momentum in NASCAR,” “The Conversion of Money Lines into Win Probabilities: Reconciliations and Simplifications,” and “Exploiting the ‘Win but Does Not Cover’ Phenomenon in College Basketball.”

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Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII