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I've been reading Ed Smith's "Luck" and it has some interesting bits on football that got me thinking about wages, moneyball, Istanbul, the start of the season optimism, goal-line technology, Mr Ferguson and Mr Riley, "evens itself out" etc.... It also put into words why I like watching it so much. I've always said "you never know the outcome until the very end". I've quoted bits from about half a chapter below...

 

"Every sport of course has an element of chance. The question is how much. A lucky goal in Aussie Rules(6pts) is worth on average a 15th of a teams likely total score. A lucky basket (2pts) in basketball is worth around a 40th of the team's likely total score. A lucky point in tennis is worth about a 100th of all the points won by a victorious player

 

"Football, in contrast, is obviously at the opposite end of the spectrum. A football goal has the highest value of any sporting currency. Even a run in baseball, which is very precious, is not quite as valuable as a football goal. Just one of these precious things is often enough to determine a whole match..... footballs clunky system of counting builds chance into the structure of the whole sport...: because goals are so enormously rare, the result of the match is more open to chance than it is in almost any other sport....

 

"You might think that openness to chance would count against football, that we would tire of its injustices. We don't, they enthrall us... [A] significant explanation for football's massive popularity is its structural capacity to produce upsets, surprises and underdog victories... Football is not the world's favourite game because it ensures the best team always wins. it is the most popular sport because it accidentally ensures that the best team doesn't always win.

 

"For a sport to have optimal uncertainty, the better team should win most times but it shouldn't win every time. We want to watch a game that seems to be "just" most of the time. But not so fair that it is too predictable. We seek a winning compromise between probablistic determinism (boring) and pure randomness (equally boring).

 

"It's true, over the course of a whole season, that teams settle into positions that are 89% correlated to their financial muscle. But over the short run - on any given Saturday - even the Premier League, for all it's financial disequilibrium - can't trump football's ability to produce surprises. So long as fans retain short enough memories, and the capacity for hope over experience, the Premier League will continue to benefit from the luck factor. Football doesn't require fewer errors and more justice. It just needs to stay sufficiently open to luck so that no-one gets too bored."

Edited by Tosh
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That's interesting stuff. Particularly given the freak season we had, I've often wondered if it's possible to quantify how much of a roll play luck plays in any single game, as well as across the whole season.

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I'm not sure the uncertainty of result is the big draw, there are hugely popular sporting events where big favourites are in action and the result is assumed. Maybe it's more about watching high levels of skill, elites, or maybe the uncertainty of process?

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I'm not sure the uncertainty of result is the big draw, there are hugely popular sporting events where big favourites are in action and the result is assumed. Maybe it's more about watching high levels of skill, elites, or maybe the uncertainty of process?

He does mention the relative crowds, betting and publicity of the National vs the Gold Cup - Favourites "don't" win the National, but the odds are a better indicator of success in the Gold Cup. Purists love the Gold Cup, but the public seemingly want the "chance" - your uncertainty of process on top of the skill/abilities

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He does mention the relative crowds, betting and publicity of the National vs the Gold Cup - Favourites "don't" win the National, but the odds are a better indicator of success in the Gold Cup. Purists love the Gold Cup, but the public seemingly want the "chance" - your uncertainty of process on top of the skill/abilities

 

True, I'm just throwing things off the top of my head, such as Woods doubling and more any audience for the tournaments he plays, or Tyson at his pomp, times when they were most likely going to wipe the floor, my initial thoughts are that people wanted to watch greatness.

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He does mention the relative crowds, betting and publicity of the National vs the Gold Cup - Favourites "don't" win the National, but the odds are a better indicator of success in the Gold Cup. Purists love the Gold Cup, but the public seemingly want the "chance" - your uncertainty of process on top of the skill/abilities

 

There's also the number of runners in the National, and it's on a Saturday. The whole family can get involved and bets are placed whilst people are shopping.

For offices throughout the country, the number of runners means sweepstakes can be run and this increases that feeling of everyone being involved.

 

The Gold Cup is during the week and there are far fewer runners.

Edited by Earl Hafler
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His argument is that great as Federer is to watch, his game, and Tennis, benefitted from the rise of Nadal (and now Djokovic) so yes they want the greatness but also some competition/unpredictability of outcome. And in the case of football, the currency of the goal is such that chance - a deflection, hitting the post, goalie playing the game of his life, a marginal offside, a Riley penalty or whatever - is such that the unpredictability magnifies the outcome of the match

Edited by Tosh
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His argument is that great as Federer is to watch, his game, and Tennis, benefitted from the rise of Nadal (and now Djokovic) so yes they want the greatness but also some competition/unpredictability of outcome. And in the case of football, the currency of the goal is such that chance - a deflection, hitting the post, goalie playing the game of his life, a marginal offside, a Riley penalty or whatever - is such that the unpredictability magnifies the outcome of the match

 

Cool, lots to logically agree with, and I'd have to read it, but I would lean toward watching the best being a bigger draw than the uncertainty. maybe football has a great mix of simplicity, visible skills, uncertainty an other stuff?

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Cool, lots to logically agree with, and I'd have to read it, but I would lean toward watching the best being a bigger draw than the uncertainty. maybe football has a great mix of simplicity, visible skills, uncertainty an other stuff?

It's why I watch Barcelona and won't watch Blackpool play Forest. The latter may have all the uncertainty and luck but 90% of the time Barcelona will win and do so in a way that demonstrates skill, ability etc

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  • 3 weeks later...

Cool, lots to logically agree with, and I'd have to read it, but I would lean toward watching the best being a bigger draw than the uncertainty. maybe football has a great mix of simplicity, visible skills, uncertainty an other stuff?

 

People also gravitate toward watching the better teams also as way of associating themselves, albeit tenuously, with success, but as was mentioned in the original piece there has to be the magic ingredient of uncertainty to keep the contest vital and without the banality of determinism.

 

Compare real sport to WWE, where the theatrical side of sport is magnified, naturally, to counter the lack of randomness. WWE becomes banal very rapidly because it's neither real theater nor real sport, there is no greater human lesson learned from watching it, no heroism on display or mastery of craft.

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People also gravitate toward watching the better teams also as way of associating themselves, albeit tenuously, with success, but as was mentioned in the original piece there has to be the magic ingredient of uncertainty to keep the contest vital and without the banality of determinism.

 

Compare real sport to WWE, where the theatrical side of sport is magnified, naturally, to counter the lack of randomness. WWE becomes banal very rapidly because it's neither real theater nor real sport, there is no greater human lesson learned from watching it, no heroism on display or mastery of craft.

 

 

Good shout about association. At a basic level maybe uncertainty is part of what keeps everyone getting up in the morning, but a level of predictability keeps us sane, or at least going to WWE

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Good shout about association. At a basic level maybe uncertainty is part of what keeps everyone getting up in the morning, but a level of predictability keeps us sane, or at least going to WWE

 

Luck is a bit of a crutch in that sense, something to help you along your way.

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