Campus Faces

“I think sometimes students take the class thinking that they’re going to talk about their favorite team. And they end up talking about my favorite economics,” says Peter von Allmen, who teaches a popular course called “The Economics of Sports” and, with Michael Leeds of Temple University, has written a textbook to go with it.

In his course, the grey terminology of introductory economics—from supply and demand to cost continuum—takes on color when illustrated with stories from the sports pages.

“Think of it! There’s an entire section of the newspaper devoted to that industry every day,” says von Allmen, who has taught at Moravian since 1990 and chairs its Department of Economics and Business. “And the debate over whether a city builds a new stadium is as likely to appear on the front page as in the sports section.”

Everyone knows sports are big business, as much a part of the economic landscape as school levies and highway construction projects. You don’t have to follow baseball to know that its players went on strike in the not-too-distant past, and every taxpayer has a stake in public subsidies for stadiums and arenas.

Though courses in sports economics have been taught for years, only recently has the field become a recognized subspecialty, with its own scholarly publication (Journal of Sports Economics)—and now, a textbook.

Until now, sports economics courses have relied on chapters from other economics books and readings from newspapers and journals. This collage approach relies on a certain level of research sophistication, von Allmen says, and that’s a lot to expect of the undergraduates in the course.

The Economics of Sports, already adopted by more than 20 schools across the country, addresses such standard economics topics as industrial organization, monopoly and antitrust legislation, public finance, and labor issues—not only as they apply to professional sports but also to college sports, where the same problems are complicated by academic requirements and expectations.

Von Allmen played intercollegiate golf as an undergraduate at a Division III school, the College of Wooster in Ohio, and became a Philadelphia Flyers fan during his graduate study at Temple, where Leeds was on his dissertation committee. He also played on a company hockey team at Merck & Co. (“I was a ringer!”) until last year. After a couple of injuries, he has switched to a safer pastime: the triathlon. For peace and quiet, he fishes.

Neither his course nor the book offers unconditional sports boosterism. “The relationship between professional sports and cities is one of the great hoodwinkings of American history,” says von Allmen cheerfully. “There’s a mountain of economic evidence that having a professional team does nothing for the economic development of a city.”

It’s the complex web of facts behind such conundrums that makes “The Economics of Sports” a delight to teach, says von Allmen. “The students almost always come to class having done the reading. They have a grasp of current events and opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong. I think it’s a blast.”

To learn more about The Economics of Sports, visit www.aw.com/leeds_vonallmen.


Peter von Allmen teaching his ocurse in "The Economics of Sports."

Photo: Michael P. Wilson