Soccermania and Soccernomics

Manila Bulletin, June 10, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Soccermania and Soccernomics


This week, with the start of the World Cup in South Africa, more than two billion soccer fans all over the world will be glued to their TVs and other electronic gadgets for viewing sports events as they get snarled in soccer mania. Unfortunately, most Filipinos will be more interested in the NBA finals with the Lakers and the Celtics fighting it out for the championship.

The Philippines sticks out like a sore thumb, together with its mentor the United States, for not being passionate about soccer and pursuing the impossible dream of excelling in basketball. Let me be facetious by suggesting that our economic backwardness in Asia may be attributed to our not having soccer as a favorite sport, as contrasted with our more developed neighbors like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and even Indonesia. I wish a new generation of Filipinos will take the cue from Paulino Alcantara, a Filipino-Spanish mestizo, who was a legendary superstar in soccer when he played for the Barcelona team in the 1920s. This may, however, be wistful thinking.

Ironically, the ones who may have the motivation to promote soccer in the Philippines will be our politicians who double as jueteng or gambling lords. There is much money to make in betting in the results of soccer game. In fact, betting on the various teams in the World Cup has become a big business. In some countries - especially in Latin America and Africa - betting on soccer results can be legal. But it can also be the source of a lot of corruption, with game fixing being rampant.

Soccer has so many dimensions that can be subjected to economic analysis that two writers for Financial Times, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, have authored a book entitled Soccernomics.

As reported in the magazine Finance and Development (March 2010), the authors "weave academic analysis and anecdotes from individual players, managers, and teams across the world into a highly readable and entertaining book about the most popular sport in the world. It would have been more fun in undergraduate economics to learn game theory through penalty kicks or regression analysis through examples."

According to Soccernomics, a nation's income, population, and soccer experience are the main determinants of a team's survival in the first round of the World Cup. The authors immediately point out, however, that these three factors explain only 25 percent of the variation in goal differences; the remaining 75 percent is unexplained random noise or sheer luck. These conclusions were derived from the application of the tools of econometrics. Other interesting findings of their models are that hosting the World Cup or European Cup reduces suicides in European countries. Or that Norway is apparently the most enthusiastic soccer country in Europe. Or that Iraq is among the best overperformers in world soccer. Or that 50 percent of British ticket holders don't take up their seats the next season.

Another light-hearted application of soccernomics was that of JPMorgan economists.

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