Sports Through the Lens of Economic History

Sports Through the Lens of Economic History

New Horizons in the Economics of Sport series

Edited by Richard Pomfret and John K. Wilson

From professional team sports to international events such as the Olympics and Tour de France, the modern sports industry continues to attract a large number of spectators and participants. This book, edited by Richard Pomfret and John K. Wilson analyzes the economic evolution of sports over the last 150 years, from a pastime activity to a big business enterprise. It begins at a time when entrepreneurs and players first started making money from professional sports leagues, through to the impact of radio and TV in the twentieth century, and onto the present day.

Chapter 1: Sports economics and the sports industry: perspectives in economic history

John K. Wilson

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought, sports


Sport is a multi-billion dollar industry. Television rights are keenly competed over by rival broadcasters. Textile manufacturers capitalize on the popularity and at times tribal following of sporting teams. Players who were once amateurs often command salaries which dwarf some of those paid to the most highly-paid professionals in the labour market. Governments are heavily involved in the sector – they provide subsidies and allow regulatory exemptions from rules that would be binding for many non-sports sectors. How did this come about? As the prominence and importance of sport as an industry has risen, so too has public and academic interest. Media and fans pore over statistics and relish the chance to try and predict often unpredictable results. In economics, a significant literature has emerged. Topics range from analysis of major public policy issues such as corruption of governing bodies and subsidies to the sector by governments through to game theoretic predictions over player behaviour. This literature is large and rich with different questions and applications.