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Monday, July 09, 2007

The value of revealed preference

Polls are sometimes interesting, although more often than not they do not reveal anything all that exciting. Consider this Harris Interactive poll concerning the popularity of baseball teams. Asking people their favorite team is only somewhat interesting, economists would rather see how many people attend a team's games to gauge popularity (although it is obvious that an Atlanta Braves fan living in Arlington Texas has a hard time attending Braves games in Atlanta).

Nevertheless, I took the data the Harris Poll provided and scattered it against annual attendance (2003 through midpoint of 2007):

The correlation between a team's popularity rank (lower is better) is positively correlated with a team's attendance rank (lower is better):

1999 0.673
2003 0.568
2004 0.487
2005 0.550
2006 0.528
2007 0.543

Overall 0.556

The Harris Poll does pick up some ex-patriots that are stranded in another city, but for the most part the survey simply replicates the rank-ordering of team attendance. I calculated the difference between the popularity rank of the team with the attendance rank of the team. Here's the distribution of the variable:

In the distribution above, a negative number indicates that the team's popularity rank is better than it's attendance rank, whereas a positive number indicates that the team's attendance rank is better than it's popularity rank.

I listed the teams with a popularity-less-attendance rank less than -10 and greater than +10:

. tab franchise if poplessatt<-10

franchise | Freq. Percent Cum.
Atlanta Braves | 4 21.05 21.05
Baltimore Orioles | 2 10.53 31.58
Cincinnati Reds | 1 5.26 36.84
Cleveland Indians | 4 21.05 57.89
Detroit Tigers | 2 10.53 68.42
Minnesota Twins | 2 10.53 78.95
New York Mets | 1 5.26 84.21
Pittsburgh Pirates | 3 15.79 100.00
Total | 19 100.00

. tab franchise if poplessatt>10&!missing(poplessatt)

franchise | Freq. Percent Cum.
Anaheim Angels | 5 33.33 33.33
Colorado Rockies | 1 6.67 40.00
Los Angeles Dodgers | 1 6.67 46.67
San Diego Padres | 4 26.67 73.33
Texas Rangers | 1 6.67 80.00
Toronto Blue Jays** | 2 13.33 93.33
Washington Nationals | 1 6.67 100.00
Total | 15 100.00

What do these lists tell us? The Atlanta Braves are consistently more popular in the Harris Poll than their relative attendance would suggest. This is perhaps not surprising given the TBS coverage the Braves enjoyed for so long. The other team that is consistently much more popular than its attendance would suggest is the Cleveland Indians.

On the other hand, the Anaheim Angels have an attendance much greater than their popularity index would suggest - perhaps this has a lot to do with Orange County? The other two teams that consistently put more people in the stands than the popularity index would suggest are the San Diego Padres with the Toronto Blue Jays doing so twice given the sample data.

Thus revealed preference, i.e., going to games, seems to be a strong predictor of the Harris Poll's popularity index. I suppose a charitable view of the Poll is that it provides (albeit not intentionally) a test of our economic assumption that revealed preference is a valid way to measure interest in a particular product or issue. A less charitable view would be to question whether this particular Harris Poll provides any more insight into baseball team popularity than we would already glean from the attendance rank?

If the less charitable view is appropriate, then did the Harris Poll do anything other than generate "news"?

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