Tuesday 10 December 2019

Reader mailbag - competition for the sporting market edition

A learned reader writes in response to the post on competition among sporting leagues:
You are generally right about the lack of competition for the market in sport but I suggest you have a look at FINA, the world body and Olympic entity for most aquatic sports: swimming; diving; water polo; artistic swimming (formerly synchronised swimming); high diving; and open water swimming, along with masters for all these events. It faces competition for the sport in high diving, open water swimming, swimming and provision of competitions for masters (ie the geriatric). In swimming there are three competitors to FINA: international life saving that has a lot of swimming events, including many held in pools with international competitions; NCAA, about which you will know more than me; and now the International Swimming League (ISL). The latter runs a series of international teams events with some different formats for competition e.g. skins.

After some argie bargie and arm wrestling FINA and ISL have worked out how to co-exist in competition. You can now set FINA world records at an ISL event i.e. they have decided it is pointless to have two sets of world records.

Guess what? Among the world bodies controlling sport I think you will find that FINA is right up there in terms of innovation and trying to satisfy participants and the audience. Way ahead of IAAF, FIFA and most of the other Olympic bodies. The only organisation that comes close, that I am aware of, is UCI, the controlling body of road cycling, track cycling, bmx, cyclocross and mountain biking. UCI effectively contracts out its major road cycling events around the world to commercial entities. The events these companies run largely fund UCI and the companies have a big say in driving it. Swimming at the Olympics draws the largest female/male audience. Gymnastics the largest female audience and Athletics the largest male audience. You don’t see much swimming in NZ on TV as they are very much into rugby, soccer and other team sports and tennis i.e. New Zealanders like watching on TV sports where they can get very annoyed by the referees interfering in the outcome.

... Two of the [FINA] innovations were the introduction of mixed relays (2 men and 2 women) and use of wet suits in cold water temperatures in Open Water swimming. Why NZ would favour these innovations is pretty obvious. Both these have been adopted and have been great successes among participants and audiences.

Why has FINA “tolerated” competition but many other international sporting organisations do not or have not faced it? Am I right about the results of competition for the sport in swimming?
I'm also reminded of an excellent student essay in my graduate public choice class from... over a dozen years ago now... looking at the political economy of Formula One racing and how the threat of teams exiting to form their own league forced some innovation and changes in revenue sharing. In car racing, there's innovation within codes, and competition across codes (F1, Indy, NASCAR, probably more that I don't know about). 

We're heavily into territory where I haven't enough grasp about the stylised facts to be able to do much. It feels like the lack of credible threat of exit will matter in the North American leagues. 

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