Sunday, June 14, 2015

The "Upshot" of Portraying Sports Success Incorrectly

TheUpshot is at it again (David Leonhardt, NYT, 6/4/15), tweeted numerous times since).

The object this time is "city success" at pro sports.  The definition:

Success = Championships won, as a percent of possible chances across all of a city's teams, over the last 50 years.

Seems straightforward enough--higher percentage, successful sports city; lowest percentage, unsuccessful sports city.  Only two problems.  First, the measure, itself, gives ambiguous results.  Second, the definition of success, championships only, doesn't look like it coincides with a fan definition of success reflected by their observed behavior.

First, the measure.  Suppose one city has teams that won recently in the 50-year span, while another city has teams with the same percentage, but enjoyed 50 years ago.  Yet another city has teams with the same percentage spread over the entire 50 years.  All of these are equally successful cities by the definition.  But fans do not think so; dated success is just that.  If a city has only one team and another city has two teams, but both cities have the same percentage, both cities are equally successful again.  So two teams, say, half as successful are equivalent to a a possible dynasty.  Finally, and this is just the way the ball bounces, completely equal success in a given league would have 20 teams winning twice and 10 teams once over 50 years.  10 cities are then losers even as the distribution is trying to reveal itself as completely equal over time.  Finally, lumping leagues together in a given city means that a championship is a championship is a championship... say, NHL fans view an NBA championship the same as they would a hockey championship.  But does a championship by any other name really smell as sweet?  Ambiguity abounds.

Moving on to the definition:  Why just championships? [Appearances in semi-finals are charted but not labeled by team and the rest of the article clearly only focuses on winning championships.]  Again, there isn't much room for many to be successful at the championship level.  Instead, let's ask fans for their definition of success since it is their definition that matters.  If Bob Costas is correct, it's a legitimate belief that the post-season is possible.  But there are other indicators of fan preferences as well--the tens of thousands of fans driving hundreds of thousands (NFL) or millions (MLB) in total attendance, even without a championship.   Let alone the TV audience.  I guess this "success" is just irrelevant.  After all, no championships, right?  The alternative, of course, is that the assessment of "success" based on championships alone simply misses the mark.

Really, Mr. Leonhardt just points out championship concentration in major league pro sports that is news only to newcomers.  And they would be better served if Mr. Leonhardt pointed them to all the work already out there on that topic.  But that just doesn't "sell papers".

No comments:

Post a Comment