Monday, April 22, 2002

More feedback on socialist sports meme

Reader Tom Maguire writes:

As to the rest of your pro sports bit regarding "the standard argument in favor of the draft system", I am unimpressed. I would have thought that the free-market libertarian approach was to credit the participants in a market with rational self-interest. So whence your question "Does parity really make sports more popular?" I read a Sports Illustrated article about this back in the '80's, where the writer interviewed the baseball executives with, among others, the San Fran Giants. Their conclusion? How would I remember? But I do remember that there were people with these clubs whose full time job was to study this. My point is that the professional league executives, the owners, the agents, the union members, and the union reps are all deeply interested in separating the sports fan from his entertainment dollar and optimizing league revenue.

I would argue that the pro sports owners are rationally optimizing their profits, not league revenue. If they can use the idea of "parity" to increase their profits at the expense of players (who have reduced bargaining power due to the entry draft system), they would do so even at the expense of the total revenue. A bigger piece of a smaller pie might be the rational choice for the owners (after all, economic theory would suggest that economic profits would be zero to firms in a perfectly competitive market. If there were true and fair competition in sports, players would get paid their full marginal value and local governments would have less reason to "bribe" teams to locate/stay in their cities.)

It seems to me that the owners are playing a masterful PR game at the expense of players and taxpayers. The fact that a system such as the entry draft goes largely unquestioned (even seemingly among most libertarians!) is a testament to their skill in shaping this issue.

Tom Maguire writes further:

Pro sports is an interesting tussle between millionaires and multi-millionaires. College sports is an almost pure exploitation of football and basketball players, many of whom are poor and ethnic. There's your sound bite.

On this, I wholeheartedly agree. The NCAA is, in fact, a worse and more cynical exploiter of athletes. Perhaps if I had been watching the Final Four the day before posting instead of hearing about the NFL draft, I would have started with this point. In any case, Tom makes an excellent point. But please note that supporting free markets in sports solves this issue as well.