A Nobel Prize in (Sports?) Economics

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The Nobel Prize in Economics—well, technically, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (it’s a long story…)—is generally awarded to scholars way above the paygrade of those of us studying the economics of sports. But one of this year’s winners is among the very few Nobel Laureates who can be counted as at least a part-time sports economist.

University of California, Berkeley’s David Card (above), probably best known for his pioneering work with Alan Krueger showing that modest increases in the minimum wage seem to have a negligible impact on unemployment, has also published research on the effect of NFL games on domestic violence during his illustrious career.

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His 2011 paper with co-author Gordon Dahl examined family violence data for more than 750 city and county police agencies in six NFL cities over a 12-year period. They find that upset losses by local NFL teams, defined as a team losing a game in which the pre-game point spread was at least four points in its favor, resulted in a roughly 10% increase in the reported number of cases of in-home, male-on-female family violence in the team’s home region.

Losses by teams that were already expected to lose and unexpected wins by teams were not associated with any significant changes in criminal behavior, suggesting that the disappointment of an unexpected loss can trigger violence by male football fans against their wives and girlfriends. Subsequent studies of Scottish soccer matches, college football games and the FIFA World Cup show similar connections between spectator sports and criminal behavior, highlighting part of the dark underbelly of sports fandom.

Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross, is associate editor of the Journal of Sports Economics.

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