Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Witnessing A Win

Over at FanGraphs, Rays fan R.J. Anderson asks an interesting question (or rather, a couple of them):
I’ve looked over the Yankees’ gamelogs for attendance numbers as well as the Rays’. The one thing that always stands out is that people go to the games against the Red Sox while nobody goes to the games against the Orioles. The Red Sox were the second best team in the division last year with the Yankees and Rays flanking them. Without doubt, they are and have been a superior team to the Orioles for a while now. Ultimately, we go to games to be entertained and experience joy, so why don’t more people go to Orioles games?

It would seem that a win is more enjoyable to experience than a defeat. I’d rather go to a Rays game where they win than one where they lose. And, I’m not sure if I went to those games against the Washington Nationals last season because subconsciously I wanted to see victories, but I suppose I could’ve been on a losing strike without really knowing it. If I asked a thousand Yankee fans which team they’d rather pay to see live, 95% would say the Red Sox and the other 5% would make vulgar comments about the folks from Boston. But is this rational?
I'm not sure what sort of a Yankee fan would make vulgar comments about the fine population of Boston, but I would personally find that both distasteful and offensive.

Anyhow, If you grant that attending any win is more enjoyable than attending any loss then, no, it's not rational in an economic decision making sense. The tickets to Red Sox games are much more expensive on the secondary market and the probability of witnessing a win is decidedly lower than if you go to a game against the Orioles.

Anderson supposes it might come down to the "hedonic value" of a win over the Red Sox. A win feels much better against the Sawx but I think we must also assume that a loss feels worse. And people are largely loss averse - meaning they would prefer to avoid losses even if the alternative involves the possibility of reaping gains. Prospect theory, which the concept of loss aversion comes from, contends that this is because losing something hurts more than winning the equivalent.

So why are people not loss averse when it comes to attending sporting events? Certainly a loss in playoff game is going to hurt more to witness than a regular season defeat, but the demand for the postseason is still sky-high.

I think the perceived importance of the game is a major influence on the desirability of attending and during the regular season, the opponent has the most direct impact on that importance. At any point in the season, games against the Red Sox feel like they have playoff implications for the Rays or Yanks. They might not matter at the time, but there is the notion that they may be significant in the future. The history behind any rivalry adds to the feeling of significance as well. These factors generally culminate with an energized crowd and a charged atmosphere and that's ultimately what attracts people to games against good teams.

I personally don't think it's worth the extra money to see the Red Sox when they are in town. I'm content to go to a game regardless of who it's against - I just like sitting outside, drinking a few beers and watching the game unfold. I don't worry too much about individual wins and losses - not much more than when I'm watching at home on the couch. It's always better to see your team win, but the outcome of the came usually isn't enough to taint the experience. But not everyone is like that.

The costs of going to baseball games extend beyond the money for the tickets, concessions, tolls, parking or public transportation. Fans give up precious hours of their life as well and in exchange for those, many would like to see a game that seems significant.

At the end of the post, Anderson asks, "Would you pay more money to guarantee that you are attending a victory?". I don't think so, I can't sit through a game I recorded on the DVR if I know who won. I'd rather just pay the regular price and see what happens.


  1. Interesting. This exact question popped up in a b-school economics class that I took a few years ago.

    Most of what you mention was discussed, but the greatest emphasis we came up with as a class lay with the 'potential for memory'. In short, I'm more likely to pay more for an event that has a chance to provide a longer, more satisfying memory (regardless of the potential downside - a loss) than one that doesn't.

    A win against the Orioles is far less likely to be something you tell your grandchildren about as opposed to that walk-off win against the Sox. Obviously the same is true for playoffs.

    One of the best things about baseball is, in my opinion, the idea that history can be made on any given day. A game against the old Expos can become a perfect game. Chances are that early season Giants vs Redskins game has a far lesser chance for that kind of history to happen.

    Some of this can even be quantified by looking at secondary market prices for potential milestone games (500 saves, 500th HR, etc).

  2. The game experiences are so wildly different that one can barely consider a Sox game the same animal as a Royals or Oriels game. In my twenties, my friends and I wanted to see a Sox game above all else, for the rowdy crowds, the taunting of the opposing team etc. Now that I am a little older and going more with my family, I intentionally avoid Sox and Mets games. I want to watch the game, not the drunken steak-heads in the stands fight about their t-shirts.

    Instead I opt for games against quality teams that don't have quite the emotional baggage, such as the likes of the Twins, As, Mariners etc.

    Primarily, I want to see a good baseball game. While a win is preferable to a loss, a good game that is entertaining throughout the full 3 hours is more important. Having a quality team as an opponent increases the probability of a great game, even if it lowers the probability of a win.

  3. "I just like sitting outside, drinking a few beers and watching the game unfold."
    Few beers, ha.

  4. Also the opposing pitcher has value to the experience of watching the game. great pitcher possible great game!

  5. It seems a little silly to try to apply these sorts of economics with a few other factors in play: More Red Sox Games on Weekends (One THurs-Sun series, one Fri-Sun Series, one M/T Series vs. Sox, a Tues-Thurs, Mon-Weds, and Fri-Sun vs. the Os), Better players on the Red Sox, easier commute for visiting fanbase (more Sox fans in CT than Orioles fans in NJ. They can barely sell tickets for their own games), larger visiting team fanbase, disparities between playoff implications.

  6. I'm with you on the paying extra to see the Sox in town (in that I'm not crazy about the idea), but I always watch the DVRed games if I have to work late, even if I already know the outcome.

    In terms of the Sox vs O's question, I guess it's that whole risk-reward ratio. You go further out on the proverbial limb and when you're at the point when the branch is about to snap, A-Rod hits a walkoff in 15 innings, and NOTHING trumps that feeling. No way that game would have meant a fraction as much were it against the O's. If I wanted to see the Yanks win, or even simply watch a game unfold as a logical means to the greater need of knowing the outcome, then I'd stay at home.

    I'm attending a game to marinate in that inimitable anxiety and thrill. To me it's the difference between buying a 1$ scratch off ticket or 10$ worth of mega million powerball tickets.

    But I guess all of this may be moot anyways. I'd rather go to 5 "non-premium" games than 1 Red Sox game, but I should be so lucky that I could afford even that option.. I may or may not have just swiped a roll of TP from my office.