When do statistics matter the most for the average American? The week of the opening weekend of March Madness – the period between the revealing of the 68 team field to the final games of the Round of 32 – may just be that point. All the numbers are hard to resist; win-loss records, various other metrics of team performance (strength of schedule, RPI, systems attached to particular analysts, advanced basketball statistics, etc.), comparing seed numbers and their historic performance, seeing who the rest of America has picked (see the percentages for the millions of brackets at ESPN), and betting lines and pools.
Considering the suggestions that Americans are fairly innumerate, perhaps this would be a good period for public statistics education. How does one sift through all these numbers, thinking about how they are measured and making decisions based on the figures? Sadly, I usually teach Statistics in the fall so I can’t put any of my own ideas into practice…
Relive some of the excitement of Super Bowl by comparing the McMansion of Matt Ryan in Duluth, Georgia versus Tom Brady’s homes:
I’d say Matty Ice picked himself the most conventional McMansion possible…
But what his house, or houses? I bet he has no taste…This house in Brookline, Massachussets? You’re kidding me. It’s kind of tasteful. Okay, it’s great, it’s perfect…What about the house in LA? I bet that’s hideous…You know what though, Tommy Boy? You are not McMansion material…
The winner here is Matt Ryan for keeping it real.
All those hours of coverage of the big game and you didn’t see important information like this. Both clearly have large homes but there are notable differences. This analysis suggests this comes down to personal taste but I think there are some other factors at work:
- Brady operates in different locations where expectations about large homes may be different. Compared to the Atlanta area, are there were fewer McMansions in Brookline (probably) or in the Los Angeles area (maybe not but there are also more legitimate mansions)?
- Brady operates in a different social circle than Ryan. With his model wife, Brady has to fit in with a range of famous people while Ryan is with the football crowd. Both have plenty of money but there is a difference in social class and taste a la Bourdieu.
- Both grew up in suburban areas: Ryan in Exton, Pennsylvania (outside Philadelphia) and Brady in San Mateo, California (Bay Area). This could influence both wanting to live in suburban areas now.
- Ryan is younger than Brady and perhaps he hasn’t had the time or experience to move to a more “mature” home.
Overall, I suspect many pro athletes have homes critics would call McMansions.
Among other reasons, the construction of impressive new high school football stadiums in Texas is justified by the idea that they will promote economic development:
School officials have responded to critics by pointing out that the stadium would also be used for soccer games, band competitions, and some state football games; there’s also the hope that retail and restaurant development will spring up nearby. A high school football stadium serves the community in ways other than just bringing in visitors, business, new residents and more tax dollars. One of them is clearly Texas pride in the game-day spectacle.
The evidence is pretty clear with sports stadiums that the public money spent on them tends to go back to the owners and teams, not the community. Could high school stadiums – paid for with tax money yet serving the community – be different?
One point of skepticism is to ask how many significant events these stadiums would hold each year. The biggest crowd events are football games. But, a high school team plays roughly five to eight home games each year. While these stadiums are bigger than the average high school stadium, are there enough fans to support local businesses? It seems like the stadiums need to hold a lot more events to truly bring in people. (Perhaps some of them could attract concerts or festivals?)
A second question is how to directly link the football stadium to economic development. As the article notes, a number of these communities are expected to grow. At least some of this growth would have happened without the flashy new stadium. Are the communities going to survey new residents and businesses to see if the stadium factored into their decision? Or, having built the stadiums, will they attribute positive changes to the stadium?
Finally, it sounds like these communities are locked into competition for stadiums (and other amenities as well as general growth). Is it necessarily the case that building a great stadium would give one suburb a significant leg up on another suburb? If this is a zero-sum game or an arms race, someone will lose. A different view might be that Sunbelt suburban growth will continue in a number of these communities and may not be strongly related to the construction of high school stadiums (or other public amenities).
A new documentary series looks at how sports fosters belonging and Tom Brady is one of the people behind it:
The theory, as you might guess from the title, is that sports, broadly constructed, are a kind of religion. As Chopra intones during the introduction, with images of stadiums and religious pilgrimages rolling by, sports “have believers, priests, and gods. They have rituals, miracles, and sacrifices. Sports unite us. They are a calling.”…
In parsing “the religion of sports,” Chopra and his star-powered co-producers are trying to understand a resilient form of meaning making and community formation in the United States. It seems a little silly to group Chopra and co. with social theorists like Alexis de Tocqueville and contemporary scholars who worry that America’s community structures are fraying. But, incredibly, that’s the project they’ve created: a sort of jock’s guide to civil society. While the series can, at times, come across as a rosy-eyed passion project, its central insight—that sports can be understood as a way that people find belonging—reveals a rich theme for artists who seek to grapple with the strong sense of cultural division and isolation experienced today by Americans of different ethnic, class, and political backgrounds…
Chopra takes this literally: “Sports is an actual faith. It’s not even metaphor. It’s real. You practice these things,” he said. This is debatable—Chopra is looking at religion purely as a matter of practice, while discounting the importance of belief. Sports are not about the metaphysical nature of the universe; they provide no guidebook for the self or community in navigating life.
But, to embrace Chopra’s interpretation of “religion” for a moment, it’s curious to consider the ways in which sports participation has not followed the same trend line as other communal activities. According to organizations like Pew, traditional religious affiliation is steadily declining in the United States; participation in civil-society groups like bowling clubs or parent-teacher organizations has gone down significantly as well. As Americans have pulled away from these kinds of community institutions, their love of sports has stayed relatively constant: According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who call themselves “sports fans” has hovered around 60 percent for at least the last 15 years.
This sounds like a Durkheimian exploration of a functional religion, another area of social life that has some similar characteristics to religion. Sports involve rituals, collective effervescence, totems, and beliefs. This could range from sports (earlier posts involving the World Cup and the belief of some American sports fans that supernatural forces are involved) to following Apple (earlier post here).
I hope, however, this documentary series doesn’t fall into two common traps with this comparison:
- Sports are the magic elixir that can bring everyone together. (In contrast, many argue today that religion divides people.) Being a fan alongside another fan may bring individuals together for a moment but does it really make the world a better place? Does racism really disappear? Are cities healed? My answer: no and see these earlier posts on the effect of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the ability of soccer teams to bring about urban revival, and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. .
- Putting sports fandom and religion side by side suggests that it doesn’t matter ultimately what people believe; it is simply that common beliefs bring people together. Not all beliefs at the same level. Do sports really dictate how most people make major decisions in their life? Do sports provide ultimate meaning? (They may serve this role for a small number of people but religion is still going pretty strong throughout the world.)
The documentary series will reveal how much it gets right about the sociology of sport and religion…
Even though the 5 million attendees estimate for the Cubs parade and rally was widely shared after being made by city officials, there is good reason for reconsidering the figure:
“The guesstimates are almost always vast exaggerations,” said Clark McPhail, a sociology professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Politics often play a factor in overblown crowd counts. Runaway enthusiasm also could pump up the final tally, McPhail said.
There is a science to calculating crowds. The most common method is to draw a grid and make an estimate based on the average number of people that would fit into each section.
Another way to gauge crowds, particularly in a city such as Chicago, would be to analyze the capacity of buses or trains to deliver millions of people downtown or along the parade route, according to Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University.
It doesn’t seem like it would take too much to draw a better estimate: there are plenty of aerial shots of the parade route and rally and groups like Metra and CTA could share figures.
Perhaps it isn’t a matter of examining the data: perhaps few people want to. Chicago could use some good news these days and making such a lofty estimate – supposedly making this the seventh largest peaceful gathering of people in human history – can boost the city’s image (both internally and externally). The team probably doesn’t mind the figure: it illustrates how dedicated the fans are (though there are plenty of other ways to do this) and might help increase the value of the franchise. The fans like such a figure because they can say they were part of something so much bigger than themselves.
If a revised lower figure gets released, I suspect it will not reach much of an audience.
Sociologists with their interests in social movements have been at the forefront in estimating crowd size. See earlier posts about counting crowds here and here.
For many, the city of Chicago looked good yesterday: the weather was beautiful for November 4th, the buildings gleamed, the lake was beautiful from the air, everything looked pretty clean, and joyful millions descended on the city (I’m skeptical of the 5 million figure but that may be a subject for another post) to celebrate a win for the whole city.
Yet, I want to continue some thoughts from last week: a championship, even one as unusual as that of the Cubs, does not lead to a transformed city. On the television coverage, they talked of the day’s events bringing the city together, how the team embodied different aspects of the city, and how so many hearts had been lifted. Will the poverty rate decrease? Will the uptick in shootings and murders subside? Will economic opportunities start arriving in poorer neighborhoods? Will the public schools start providing a good education for all students? Will residential segregation lessen? Will the wealthy share more with those with less?
If anything, this win will provide more money for those who already have a lot. The Cubs were already quite profitable before the win and the championship supposedly adds $300 million to a multi-billion dollar commodity. The team’s development work around the ballpark is supposed to help the neighborhood but it also follows the pattern of other teams who are using their sports franchises to make more money in local real estate and development. I know the team gives to charities – pretty much all major businesses do – but does the wealth help others?
And does a win provide Cubs fan Rahm Emanuel – alongside other city leaders who were to receive tickets to World Series games until the public got wind of it – a reprieve from tough questions?
And which Chicago is the real Chicago: the skyline, Loop, and North Side or the other areas of the city?
And how about the pretty white fan base (at least it appeared this way by who was attending the World Series games at Wrigley and those who attended the parade and rally)? How many of those who poured into the city to celebrate are from the suburbs and from outside the region?
It could still be a very good day for Chicago if that same passion and energy displayed in celebrating the winning of a game – men playing with bats, balls, bases, and gloves – could be regularly channeled into improving communities.
Two pieces of information about the just-run Naperville marathon caught my eye:
The Naperville marathon has been one of the fastest-growing events in the country, more than doubling in size over the past few years. Still, it maintains a sense of smallness that is attractive to some runners like Jennifer Maierhoffer, of Seneca. Running a marathon was on her “bucket list,” she said, and she chose the Naperville event due to its size…
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said the race is great event for Naperville as it provides not only an economic boost to the city, but also serves as a time in which the community can come together as volunteers to help run the event. This year more than 1,000 volunteers participated, he said.
Several quick thoughts:
- Naperville claims to have a small town feel despite its size (over 140,000 residents). So, what will they do to keep this event small?
- Keeping the event small could be at odds with the purported economic boost. If you had more runners, there would be more visitors. I suppose the spots in the races could become more lucrative, especially if this is tied to good causes (according to the end of the article, $1 million was raised for charity).
- Just how much of an economic boost could a relatively small event like this be? I’d be interested in seeing the figures.
- Naperville’s rapid population growth has slowed now that large parcels of land have disappeared but the marathon gives the suburb something fast-growing to hold on to.
- What is the saturation point for hosting marathons? Are there suburbs and other places that have stopped hosting marathons in recent years because they didn’t have enough interest or participants?