Sports Economics at Fifty
In 2006, sports economics celebrated its fiftieth birthday. This essay reviews Simon Rottenberg’s seminal 1956 article and a handful of articles appearing over the next fifteen years that established the conceptual foundation for the field. A common thread among these papers is that all were motivated by the same policy issue: whether professional sports leagues need exemption from antitrust laws (especially with regard to player markets) in order to operate efficiently. These papers undermined the case for antitrust exemptions, and were the sources of the arguments that brought free agency and competition to the markets for professional athletes around the world. Moreover, although these papers lacked serious empirical analysis and, with one exception, did not include formal theoretical models, in the subsequent thirty-five years most (but not all) of the original empirical and theoretical arguments still stand.