Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Sport of Kings

And I don't mean Queen's! Queen's! Queen's! as the cheer at my alma mater goes.

Much of the blame for horse racing's slide into obscurity is correctly attributed to massive increases in both entertainment options and legal gambling options. But Andrew Beyer writes today in the Washington Post (free registration required, I think) about the sport's other frustratingly unique problem - essentially, that potential is more valuable than performance.

Imagine that if any time your favorite NBA team had a player break through with a great season (even a rookie), he was immediately traded for draft picks. And if any of those draft picks turn out to be any good, they're immediately traded for more draft picks. And to top it off, when the breakthrough player is traded, he is actually retired out of the league, meaning that all NBA competition was between players who have not actually performed to a high level.

The two consequences of this would certainly be:
A) The NBA would hemorrhage popularity as a league, because the level of competition is poorer than it could or should be; and
B) There would be far reduced interest in "teams" because their great players are promptly retired, so the league also forsakes the fans it could have gained via its teams.
Basically, the only NBA fans would be people who really love the game of basketball - and this is exactly what has happened to horse racing.

I'm not interested in waxing romantic about horse racing, although I highly recommend a sunny afternoon at the track as a great use of your leisure time. I do find it fascinating, though, that it appears the internal market economics of horse racing function to reduce the total size of its market. Are there other free internal markets that act this way?


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