Labor Markets in Professional Sports

Sherwin Rosen, Allen Sanderson

NBER Working Paper No. 7573
Issued in February 2000
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7573

Published: Rosen, Sherwin and Allen Sanderson. "Labour Markets In Professional Sports," Economic Journal, 2001, v111(469,Feb), 47-68. citation courtesy of

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