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Labor Markets in Professional Sports

  • Sherwin Rosen
  • Allen Sanderson

Many interesting elements of supply and demand are starkly observable in professional athletics. Understanding institutional arrangements, competitive balance and labor-management relations requires a basic understanding of sports labor markets and the struggle for control of those markets between interest groups. In this paper we treat historical and contemporary labor issues in North America and Europe, from reserve rules and free agency, high levels of player pay and work stoppages, to the distribution of playing talents across teams. We discuss the relationship between personal productivity and pay; relative versus absolute demand; competitive and cooperative interactions across firms (teams); factor substitutions; player mobility and the Coase theorem. We briefly consider how property rights affect supply, athletic talent, arms races and restrictions on competition. The problem of (excess) incentives to compete leading to externalities and inefficiencies are noted throughout the paper. Restrictive agreements such as reverse-order drafts, payroll caps and revenue sharing may constrain these forces, but they also redistribute rents from players to owners. All of these schemes, in one way or another, punish success. The European approach -- promotion of better-performing teams and relegation of those with the poorest records -- punishes failure. It remains an interesting economic question as to which system is better.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7573.

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Date of creation: Feb 2000
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Publication status: published as Rosen, Sherwin and Allen Sanderson. "Labour Markets In Professional Sports," Economic Journal, 2001, v111(469,Feb), 47-68.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7573
Note: LS
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  1. Gabriel, Paul E & Johnson, Curtis & Stanton, Timothy J, 1995. "An Examination of Customer Racial Discrimination in the Market for Baseball Memorabilia," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 68(2), pages 215-30, April.
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  3. Stefan Szymanski, 2000. "A Market Test for Discrimination in the English Professional Soccer Leagues," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(3), pages 590-603, June.
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  9. Becker, Gary S., 1971. "The Economics of Discrimination," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 2, number 9780226041162, November.
  10. Sherwin Rosen, 1985. "Prizes and Incentives in Elimination Tournaments," NBER Working Papers 1668, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Scully, Gerald W, 1974. "Pay and Performance in Major League Baseball," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(6), pages 915-30, December.
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  13. Rodney Fort & James Quirk, 1995. "Cross-subsidization, Incentives, and Outcomes in Professional Team Sports Leagues," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(3), pages 1265-1299, September.
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  15. Simon Rottenberg, 1956. "The Baseball Players' Labor Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 64, pages 242.
  16. Hausman, Jerry A & Leonard, Gregory K, 1997. "Superstars in the National Basketball Association: Economic Value and Policy," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(4), pages 586-624, October.
  17. Örn B. Bodvarsson & Raymond T. Brastow, 1999. "A Test Of Employer Discrimination In The Nba," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 17(2), pages 243-255, 04.
  18. Akerlof, George A, 1976. "The Economics of Caste and of the Rat Race and Other Woeful Tales," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 599-617, November.
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