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Thursday, November 09, 2006

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Winning Cricket Teams

After listening to this Econtalk podcast discussing economics and baseball, I came to some utterly obvious conclusions about Indian cricket.

First blanket assumption: there are the winning teams and there are the exciting teams, and they are different from each other. This is a useful assumption to make especially if you think an over-the-third-man-sixer gets more people cheering than a beautifully well-left outswinger that gets Brett Lee to wind it up and slightly alter the line for the next delivery. Also, more explanations later in this post.

Cricket teams and boards make money from ticket sales, broadcast rights, sponsorship deals etc. Prize money from winning tournaments probably constitutes a rather minuscule part of a cricket board's income. Therefore, rightaway, there is no direct pecuniary incentive to win.

Not to undervalue the "pride factor" as a positive incentive to win, one could argue that bad teams lose fans and pride, and therefore in the long run, a losing team will have to up its game if it needs to get its fans back. Fine, but the National cricket team is hardly under threat of losing its fans is it? We're a captive audience; also, certain peculiar circumstances have ensured that hockey, football, bull-fighting, gladiatorial combat and other potentially exciting spectator sports are not exciting enough in India to veer us away. The Indian cricket team has to be "just about exciting enough" to keep our interests and pride alive, and in the absence of any higher positive incentives to "win", you can hardly expect the world cup can you?

Let's now look at one aspect of a "winning" team—the players, or how the board picks a team. Since the board gets to make more money showcasing "potentially" exciting matches, a will-be-in-form-for-the-next-match Sehwag gets picked over a VVS Laxman. The board picks the players that potentially bring in the spectators. The inexplicable undervaluation of drawing-a-walk in baseball, as explained in the podcast, surely finds echoes in nerdy cricket commentators who talk about the match-winning benefits of "singles" and "frustrating the bowler". And remember, any single player is only one of many match-winning components in a team.

"But surely my stupid man", you would say. "Even if there exists this alleged dichotomy between excitement and winning, they surely are not mutually exclusive. I've seen so many winning teams that are exciting."

And this is where I differ. In the absence of any credible competition for attention, the excitement threshold for spectators is fairly low, and I suspect in this case, not high-enough to be equated with match-winning.

So, again, there is no positive incentive to winning matches. On the other hand, a significant amount of losses, increases the underdog status, and hence boosts excitement. Also, consistent winners are predictable and boring. Therefore, there is so much negative incentive to winning, (or positive incentive to losing, if you're half-full type).

OK OK, Surely, the BCCI is not hatching a sinister plan to keep us as losers? What about the team? They are not unpatriotic match-fixers. And I agree one hundred percent (Albeit with my tongue very firmly pressed against my cheek)! The fact is, the board does not even know that it is making us lose matches. They only go under the probably misguided assumption that exciting teams are the same as winning teams, and exciting players are the only components to a winning team. So the high price they pay for high-risk players is totally baseless. (By price I DO NOT mean the actually contracted "money" they pay, but the price in terms of the batting/bowling failures they are willing to tolerate.) And that is probably because they do not understand the basic economics of spectator sports.

So I will stop all that drivel about incentives and talk Adam Smith. The excitement that I keep talking about is the product that is to be procured for the spectator, the match-losses is the price the consumer is ready to tolerate for that product. High price for higher excitement, low price for low excitement is fairly straightforward. This is fine when there is a totally free market for spectator excitement, but that is not the case with spectator sports in India. Therefore, the market price for the product is higher than the natural price. Customers are therefore willing to tolerate a high level of match-losses to a certain level of excitement. Which means that the manufacturer is also willing to tolerate high price components of labour (including toleration of and acquiescence to Sehwag's shenanigans as long as he delivers sellable excitement), rent and profits.

So I come up with what else, but a rather predictable call to break the monopoly. If we have more choice in spectator sports, excitement will be more abundantly available, also more kinds of excitement (in orange, blue, mango, strawberry, soft, medium, wholemeal, etc.). "Quality" of excitement will go up, and consequently, the price (in losses) that the spectator is ready to bear will go down.

So, some or all the price components of labour (depending on the performance and consistency of players), the profits (of the board), and rent (selection process costs, team strategising costs, training and coaching) will have to be modified to save costs. Any good capitalist is willing to retain high profits, while paying moderate rent for manufacture and development of good quality product. So Laxman, who works for lower "wages" will replace Sehwag like cheap Chinese labour.

So we come to the fairly straightforward conclusion that in order to avoid breeding inconsistent cricketers, (also unreliable match strategies, coaching techniques etc.), we need more football in India!

11:38 pm


Comments to An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Winning Cricket Teams

There seems to be no incentive to make anything interesting in Bollywood as well.
- that interesting article claims that most bolly movies are guaranteed minimum returns these days.

Maybe Kandhu Vatti is preferable to the corporatisation of the type the article mentions to ensure some creativity.

posted by Anonymous BNB 

1:37 am, November 11, 2006

BNB: In fact I take the exact opposite view of corporatisation in the film industry. Also planning to write about that in detail soon.

posted by Blogger Anand 

9:50 pm, November 14, 2006

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