Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Do we have a right to free football?

Even though I love football, I sure hope not, but some Montanans think we do.

Tuesday was about two hours old when John Sterrett of Missoula finished creating a "public event" page - called "Petition to Have ESPN Have Feeds of FCS Playoff Games" - on Facebook.

He punched a button, and sent it out to his Facebook friends - all 400 or so of them.

Less than 36 hours later, the petition had spread across oceans, gathered more than 10,000 "signatures," and was in the hands - or at least available on computer screens - of more than 64,000 more Facebook users.

"It's kind of surprising," Sterrett, owner of A1 Glass Restoration, said Wednesday morning. "I knew there'd be a lot of interest, but I didn't expect this much ‘lot.' "

The number of signatures was closing in on 12,600 by 6 p.m. Wednesday - most from Grizzly and Bobcat football fans steamed that most of them won't be able to watch Montana and Montana State's Dec. 3 FCS playoff games on TV.

That's because ESPN owns the TV broadcast rights to both games, and - so far - will not allow local stations to show them.

They'll only be available on ESPN3, an online streaming service that most Montanans cannot access because their Internet providers do not pay ESPN the fees it demands to carry it.

With so much of Montana outraged, both Montana Senators jumped to action. By the account of most newspaper articles, they were successful:
Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester today scored a touchdown for Montana football fans by securing a commitment from ESPN to allow broader TV distribution of the upcoming Bobcats and Grizzlies playoff games.

Both Senators last week asked ESPN to make the games more widely available to Montana viewers and fans. The cable sports network today responded by announcing it will make all 8 games of the December 3rd NCAA Division I Football Championship playoffs available on cable and satellite nationwide through ESPN GamePlan for a suggested retail price of $24.60 in addition to its previously announced carriage on ESPN3. Montanans can call their cable or satellite provider to access the playoff games.
I don't get this story (or the passion surrounding it) on many levels.
  1. First, much of the anger about this issue has been directed at ESPN -- the non-Montanan evil corporation that bought and owns the broadcasting rights to the FCS playoffs. Why is the anger not directed at the internet companies that are unwilling to pay the fees to ESPN to allow for streaming ESPN3 games?
  2. Second, my parents who live in Montana can access ESPN3 through their internet connection (I verified). With technology these days, they can even stream the internet to their TV. They're certainly not the only household in Montana who can do this. They just have a decent internet/cable plan. I wonder how many people signed the petition who could have watched the game anyway (but didn't bother to check).
  3. Third, I don't get why ESPN's solution solves the initial problem. The primary issue was that Montanans would not be able to watch the game on local television. ESPN is offering to charge willing buyers a one-time fee of $25 to broadcast the game. It won't be on the local channel. Moreover, it sounds expensive, yet this is a "touchdown" for the senators.

At the end of the day, I commend ESPN for working this outrageous situation into a profit-making opportunity. Plenty of Montanans will sign up for this pay-per-view service, which will make it worth it for ESPN. Moreover, ESPN didn't cave and give away the valuable exclusive broadcasting rights. Judging by the outrage, the people of Montana were willing to pay to watch the game. ESPN gave them the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. If you value watching the game so much to sign a petition, is it worth $25? If not, there's always the radio.


Update (11/30; 9:57 am): It's worth mentioning another reason that offering ESPN Gameplan coverage may be beneficial. The Gameplan broadcast makes broadcasting the game at sports bars much easier. Sports bars could probably find a way to hook the internet up to their televisions to broadcast ESPN3, but many of these local institutions already have ESPN Gameplan (or would order it to attract patrons on Saturday). Indeed, by making the broadcast available through pay-per-view subscription, ESPN helped local taverns more easily broadcast the game. By offering ESPN Gameplan coverage, the executives at ESPN effectively allowed anyone who can go to a bar the opportunity to watch the game. It's not on a local channel, but combined with sports bars' profit motive, it can be a local football experience.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Insanely Successful Auctions

In an interesting post, Xan asks, "Why are charity auctions insanely successful?" His post brings up several interesting reasons related to auction theory regarding why charities would stand to benefit from holding auctions. One possibility that isn't discussed in the post or the comments is that charities are an outlet for in-kind giving -- the giving of products / services rather than cash. Auctions provide an efficient mechanism for converting these in-kind gifts into something that can be spent.

If the goal is to transfer resources to the charity, one might question why charities go through the hassle of hosting an auction. On the buyer side, Xan suggests how the charity can extract greater than fair value from the product. That is, if auctions are insanely successful, there is good reason to host them rather than devoting effort to other fundraising activities. On the seller side, the charity can capitalize on in-kind gifts from local businesses, but then, we still need to resolve why businesses resort to giving in kind.

A couple of reasons spring to mind: (1) Donating a product to an auction could be an effective form of advertising (to the extent that the auction is public or the winning bidder spreads the word to friends) and (2) in-kind gifts might have tax benefits over cash gifts. For example, if a local spa owner donates a spa day that retails for $200, the deduction is $200 (which as I understand it, would be the fair market value of the donation; correct me if I'm wrong), but it may realistically cost the spa owner $60 in foregone business (or other resources) even if the product is legitimately valued at $200. In this case, it makes sense to donate in-kind rather than spend the equivalent amount of cash.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tony's 2011 BCS National Championship Bracket

There are a lot of broken links with the pictures on my old blog posts. I don't know what happened (Blogger lost them), and unfortunately, some of the missing images are lost forever. For example, there's my post from last December about a hypothetical playoff bracket for the BCS National Championship:
Some bowl supporters claim that the current system is good for college football because it makes the regular season more relevant for the top teams. One loss and you're out of contention for the national title. At the very top (as long as you have no losses thus far), that might be true, but what happens once a good team loses a game? Is the regular season as important as it was anymore? When the competition is tough, it's not so clear to me.

And, then there's the team that hasn't lost, but because it doesn't play in the toughest conference, it isn't ranked among the top two. Do they deserve to be in the top two at the end of the regular season? Probably not. But, do they deserve to have a chance to play one of those "best" two? I think so. Such a game would attract a lot of media attention. Finally, what about the regular season drama for the teams that have to go undefeated just to be noticed? Is that drama gone if we expand the playoff? Not if the playoff tournament is small enough.

The way I see it, there's plenty of drama and regular season pressure to go around in a 6-team format. To show what my tournament would look like, I redrafted my 6-team bracket from last year to incorporate the top 6 teams in the BCS standings.
Unfortunately, if you click through, you won't see my bracket from last year. What better way to bring this up than to speculate about a six-team playoff for this year? It is too early, but just imagine that the higher seeds hold serve. Here's what a 6-team BCS championship bracket would look like:

Of course, there's still time left in the season. If this were the end of the season tournament, maybe one of these teams would stumble and leave room for Boise State (ranked 7) or Houston (ranked 8) to have a shot at the championship. This is hypothetical, of course, but it sure seems more satisfying than a group of media members deciding whether LSU versus Alabama (part 2) would be more interesting or more worthy than some other match up that hasn't happened yet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gobble Slowly

As one of my friends told me, "think fast and eat slow" this Thanksgiving. According to an older article in the New York Times, there could be a benefit to slowing down:

In a study last month, scientists found that when a group of subjects were given an identical serving of ice cream on different occasions, they released more hormones that made them feel full when they ate it in 30 minutes instead of 5 . The scientists took blood samples and measured insulin and gut hormones before, during and after eating. They found that two hormones that signal feelings of satiety, or fullness — glucagon-like peptide-1 and peptide YY — showed a more pronounced response in the slow condition.

Ultimately, that leads to eating less, as another study published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggested in 2008. In that study, subjects reported greater satiety and consumed roughly 10 percent fewer calories when they ate at a slow pace compared with times when they gobbled down their food. In another study of 3,000 people in The British Medical Journal, those who reported eating quickly and eating until full had triple the risk of being overweight compared with others.

This research might be gobble-de-gook, but it's worth trying this Thanksgiving. While you're measuring your bites, be sure to have some good conversation. After all, people (not food) is what Thanksgiving is all about. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rivalry: A Follow Up

In case you were wondering, here's a follow up on my post about the rivalry game between my Alma Mater Montana State and Montana, the game didn't exactly go well (36-10, bad guys).

The beauty of the Football Championship Subdivision -- the level of football at which Montana and Montana State play -- is that at the end of the year, there is a playoff system to determine the national champion. Today, they announced the playoff bracket. Both teams are in the 20-team tournament to determine the national champion (and there is a slight possibility of a rematch).

Regarding the unexpected outcome of the game, I'm sure there's something about the folly of prediction in there somewhere, but I'll save that for another post.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Here's what I'm watching this Saturday.

It's the Cats versus the Griz in the rivalry known as The Brawl of the Wild.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Introduction to Dominion

Dominion is a deck-building game where players acquire cards from a common set of supply piles in an effort to build the best deck (defined soon). There are three types of cards: Treasure Cards, purchasing power necessary for a player to acquire new cards; Action Cards, which give a player more draws from her deck, actions, buys, or purchasing power this turn (+Cards, +Actions, +Buys, +Money) and Victory Cards, which give the player victory points. When the game ends, the person with the most victory points wins. The game ends when three piles run out (of 17 or more) or when Provinces (6-Victory-Point cards) run out.

At the start of each turn, a player holds a hand with 5 cards, drawn randomly from her deck. From these five cards, the player may play one action card (more if the action card gives +Actions) and buy one card (more if an action gives +Buys) from one of the supply piles. Treasure cards used in the buy phase remain part of the player's deck. At the conclusion of the turn, all cards acquired and from the hand go into the player's discard pile to be shuffled together into a new (better) deck when the deck is exhausted.

Each game involves 10 Kingdom cards whose supply piles are made available to the players. Even in the standard deck, there are 25 Kingdom cards to choose from (3268760 possible games) Including all of the expansion decks, there are 157 possible cards. This means that there are 1871 trillion different possible games (Yes, 1.871*10^15). Because every game is different, Dominion never gets old.

My description merely scratches the surface. There are plenty of guides out there on the game. Here's a FAQ. Here are the official rules. What's even better? There's a free online version of the game, complete with a rather sophisticated ranking system.

Good dominion strategy involves making complicated tradeoffs. The piles are finite, actions and buys are limited by the rules. Given a hand and current deck, the amount of treasure is finite. With all of this scarcity, Dominion really makes players think consciously about opportunity cost. For all the complication, the game is surprisingly popular. Yesterday, the online site reported that nearly 15000 games were played through the interface. If you're a fan of games that make you think, give it a try.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What does consumer theory have to do with investments?

Here's a video where I offer a partial answer by providing a consumer theory take on how to allocate assets between a risk free asset and a risky asset.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Year of YouTube Partnership

One year ago today, I became a YouTube partner. Here is how the last year has gone in terms of video views per day on my YouTube channel.

The most striking thing about the graph to me is how easy it is to tell when it is summer.

An Interesting Thought Experiment

Xan poses an interesting thought experiment about existence.

I'm not going to argue about "the right way to think" here. But if you feel differently about this scenario in its various incarnations, it's probably not a bad idea to think about it. I know I have mixed feelings. The second-to-last scenario is empirically indistinguishable from the current state of the world, and I don't know what sort of existence rule I would most prefer such a god to implement.

We care about the quality of life on this planet. But should we care about something like the sum total of life quality across people, or something more like average life quality conditional on existing? That is, do we prefer a bunch of people with okay lives, or do we want fewer people with better lives?

Click through to ponder the various scenarios.