This is a review of the professional sports league competitiveness research conducted by Craig E. Wills.
Competition is why we have sports teams and what draws fans to the games. Games that are not competitive result in fans leaving the stadium early or changing channels on their televisions. Non-competitive games also change the tactics used by the teams. Losing teams will use riskier tactics in order to try to get back in the game, while the winning team will often play more conservatively, and may put in younger, less experienced players to give them experience and rest their star players.
However, what does it mean for a game to be competitive? What factors determine if a game is competitive? Do those factors differ across different sports? Is competitiveness a universal idea across sports?
This study examines competitiveness of games across six different professional sports leagues, five North American sports leagues in baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer plus the English professional soccer league. This selection of leagues offer a wide variety in the sports played, and also allows a same sport comparison between the two soccer leagues.
In order to analyze each sport, scoring events in each game played in one or more seasons for each league were documented, including which team scored, how many points they scored, and at what point in the game they scored.
Competitiveness is explored through several different measures including if a team is leading, if a team is leading by more than a certain number of points, if a team is in the lead and wins the game, if a team is in the lead and never relinquishes that lead, if the team already leading goes on to win, and the probability that a team leading at any given point in the game will remain ahead until the end of the game.
Using these metrics, games in each league were analyzed regarding competitiveness. The results indicate that the MLB league has more games considered to be less competitive. The two soccer leagues tend to be the most competitive, mainly due to the fact that large portions of the game are played with the teams tied. When a team does score, the game becomes much less competitive with a low likelihood that the lead will be relinquished. The NBA is least competitive in four of the metrics. The NFL and NHL fall somewhere in the middle.
The theory of the home team having the advantage is also examined. NFL teams spend the greatest amount of time ahead while playing at home while NHL teams spend the least time. Home team advantage does not apply to MLS or MLB teams.
Television executives could use this information on measuring competition when scheduling sporting events, especially when those events overlap.
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