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Class offers mix of economics and sports

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Economics of Sports

Looking to capitalize on the interest in sports and how it applies to economics, Professor Ben Van Kammen has developed an interesting summer school offering.

Van Kammen’s Economics of Sports is designed to blend the theories of microeconomics with examples from the professional sports industry. The class runs July 11 until August 5 and will also be offered in the fall semester.

“It’s a big business,” Van Kammen said.

Most of the topics Van Kammen covers in his microeconomics classes have parallels to professional sports, including labor markets, collective bargaining, mobility in changing teams and employers, payroll, taxation, monopolies and market competition.

“I want students to take economics away from it but in a way that motivates them a little bit more,” Van Kammen said. “Instead of using examples of growing apples and corn, let students learn the same stuff you should learn from a couple of microeconomic theory courses but in a way you’re more motivated to apply it to something you like.”

Van Kammen’s idea of mixing economics and sports started about 10 years ago as an undergraduate student at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. The subject has gained more academic legitimacy, earning its own Journal of Economic Literature Code.

Among the questions the class plans to examine:

--Who should pay for the Los Angeles Rams’ new stadium?

--Can a Chinese soccer league spend its way to international popularity?

--Is NBA superstar Lebron James underpaid?

--Are minor league baseball players underpaid?

--Are the Philadelphia Phillies “tanking” in 2016?

--How might CTE (brain injuries) affect the popularity of, and athletes’ choices to play in the NFL?

If you’re looking for help with your fantasy leagues, Van Kammen’s class isn’t the right elective.

“It’s not going to be a sabermetrics fantasy sports class. I think I have that on the first page of syllabus,” he said.

Instead, Van Kammen said students should thrive in two subjects they find interesting.

“Economics and the applications to something I think they’re already interested in with the sports,” he said.