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 9: Epilogue

Richard Pomfret

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


Sports economics has become a popular and extensive branch of the economics literature in recent decades. The origins of the sub-discipline can be traced to the articles by Simon Rottenberg (1956) on the US baseball market, Walter Neale (1964) on the peculiar economics of professional sports, and Sherwin Rosen (1981) on the economics of superstars, and the interest in public policy to a book edited by Roger Noll (1974). Issues such as the prevalence of monopoly power and mix of collusion and competition in sports leagues, highly unequal salaries and regulated labour markets, and non-application of areas of public policy such as antitrust legislation, health and safety rules, and so forth continue to dominate the literature. Sports economists also point to the more general applicability of hypotheses about motivation, teamwork and reward of individuals that can be tested against ubiquitous detailed data from professional sports. A surprising feature of the sports economics literature is the relatively low profile of history. This is surprising because in many areas characterized by monopoly it is recognized that historical factors explain why a particular firm or country came to enjoy monopoly power that once established was difficult to change. In sports it is self-evident that some features can only be explained by examining their history, e.g. the different industrial organization of team sports in North America and Europe (Chapter 2 of this book). Discrepancies in pay or other employment conditions can be identified from the ubiquitous data and sometimes shed light on discriminatory practices, although sometimes apparent anomalies have to be understood in a wider historical context, e.g. the treatment of francophone ice hockey players in North America (Chapter 8 of this book) or of foreign baseball players in Japan (Chapter 3 of this book). Other features of the sports industry may depend on a mixture of historical evolution and characteristics of the sports involved; for example, why are stadiums, which are for most sports leagues the biggest cost together with wages, shared in some cities and for some sports, but not others (Chapter 6 of this book)? How can a race on open roads raise revenue and become a profitable event (Chapter 4 of this book)?

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