Sport and economy are connected! And here’s how it works.

Susanna Hedenborg
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University

Richard Pomfret & John K. Wilson (red)
Sports Through the Lens of Economic History
151 pages, hardcover.
Cheltenham, Glos: Edward Elgar 2016 (New Horizons in the Economics of Sport)
ISBN 978-1-78471-994-4

In Sports Through the Lense of Economic History, an analysis of the last 150 years is provided. A starting point is the economic development at large – raising real incomes for the industrial workers and increasing their leisure time – and sport.  The economic changes made it possible for a larger part of the population to take part in and watch sport. Furthermore, the authors point to the strong connection between technological development and sport. Examples given are the transformation of the transport system, giving players and spectators an increased opportunity to travel, at speed, to watch and play sport, and the development of the television media. The latter increased the numbers of possible spectators.

Player migration, labour market restrictions and recruitment patterns as well as stadium arrangements, workplace provisions and how different leagues are regulated are discussed in this book. Team sport is given most attention, but there is also a chapter on an individual sport event (Tour the France). The historical perspective is made important and given an explanatory meaning. An example of this is chapter 2 by editor Pomfret, in which the industrial organization of team sport is different in the USA and Europe is analyzed. According to the author, the organization has historical roots and because of path-dependency some leagues are closed and others open. The importance of relating economic context to sport events becomes clear when revenues from sponsors versus ticket sales as systems for economically supporting sport is discussed (in chapter 4) in relation to the development of Tour the France. The costs for sport are also analyzed in chapter 6, in connection to how cities compete in providing stadiums – mostly at tax-payers expense. In chapter 3, Akihiko Kawaura and Sumner La Croix focus on labour, as the (relatively short) careers of foreign players in the Nippon professional baseball league 1958–2004 is explored.

The authors also point to the rich number of sources, not least so called “big data”. Statistics have been collected for a long time in sport – not necessarily for research purposes but for reasons connected to clubs or spectators and fans. Today statistics can be used in new ways, and processed by way of computers it is possible to draw conclusions based on large-scale material. An example of this is the analysis by John K Wilson in chapter 5 in which the question of whether crowd attendance can be explained by competitive balance is asked. Attendance data over 60 years is used. The conclusion, however, is that other factors, such as traditional or local rivalry were equally important. Another issue studied in chapter 8, by John Cranfield et al., is whether ethnical discrimination against French Canadian hockey players has been taken place. Using statistics of among other things size, the authors conclude that physical size rather than ethnicity can explain the under-representation of French- Canadian hockey players in the NHL.

In chapter 7, Wray Vamplew presents an interesting study of workplace sport in Britain. He demonstrates that company provision of sport can be categorized chronologically into different eras, starting off with a philanthropic (paternalistic) form in the 1800s, followed by a “welfare package” form, whereas a decline of workplace sport is noted from the 1970’s. Vamplew raises important questions in relation to who is included in a society’s sport activities in history and today. During the time when sport activities were provided by employers, it seems that a larger group were involved than is the case today. This group also included women – often seen as not active in sport activities before (for a more thorough analysis see Skillen 2014[1]). Using the historical perspective, Vamplew’s study underlines a problem in the contemporary British context and challenges the economic support system for sport activities. When private company provision of sport declined, public measures were not taken to provide the population with sport activities to the same degree, and “[d]espite common reference to health benefits of sport government financing of sport is overwhelmingly directed to elite athletes and spectator sports (p 4).

Sport has become a multi-million dollar industry. It can be seen as a sector, which since long has involved producers and consumers, issues of supply and demand, marketing, cross-regional and national as well as transnational employment and different kinds of regulations. Yet research about the historical development of sport through the lens of economic history is dearth. Wray Vamplew pointed this out in his book Pay up and Play the Game[2] almost thirty years ago; however, few have accepted the challenge. Therefore, this rather slim volume is long-awaited for, even though a wider range of international comparative studies including both men’s and women’s sport activities would have been even more welcome;. Here examples are collected from North America, Britain, Australia, France and Japan.

Copyright © Susanna Hedenborg 2017

[1] Skillen, F. (November 14, 2014). Preventing ‘robotised women workers’: women, sport and the workplace in Scotland 1919–1939. Labor History, 55, 5, 594-606.
[2] Vamplew, W. (1988). Pay up and play the game: Professional sport in Britain, 1875-1914. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press.


Table of Content

  1. Sports Economics and the Sports Industry: Perspectives in Economic History
    John K. Wilson
  2. The Evolution of Professional Team Sports
    Richard Pomfret
  3. The Very Short tenure of Foreign Players in Japanese Professional Baseball, 1951-2004
    Akihiko Kawaura and Sumner La Croix
  4. An Economic History of the Tour de France, 1903-2015
    Jean-François Mignot
  5. The Relationship between Crowd Attendance and Competitive Balance – evidence from the SANFL 1920-83
    John K. Wilson
  6. Ground sharing between Cricket and Football in Australia
    Lionel Frost, Margaret Lightbody, Abdel K. Halabi, Amanda Carter and Luc Borrowman
  7. Workers’ Playtime: Developing an explanatory typology of work-associated sport in Britain
    Wray Vamplew
  8. Ethnic Inequality in Professional Sport: A question of discrimination in the National Hockey League draft
    John Cranfield, Kris Inwood and J. Andrew Ross
  9. Epilogue
    Richard Pomfret
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