Monday, 22 December 2014

New Posts Coming Soon

Probably anyway. I took a little GMAT-induced break from reviewing (and unfortunately even reading) interesting books. Now that the test is behind me I plan on returning to my kinda sporadic schedule of book reviews.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Advance Book Review: Is There Life After Football? by James Holstein, Richard Jones, and George Koonce

There are a little under 1,700 players currently on NFL rosters. All of them will at some point retire. Some will even do so more than once. And yet despite the fact that retirement is such a common occurrence, as noted by the authors of Is There Life After Football, the act is usually a private affair met with little fanfare. Granted, a few superstars can leave with some press attention and spectacle as they hold a press conference announcing them "retiring as a ____" but in most cases the decision is reluctantly and quietly made when all 32 teams take a pass on their services. The media has been devoting plenty of time to covering the mental health effects of former NFLers, but there really haven't been many wide investigations of what exactly players do after retirement. What careers do they pursue, what problems do they face, what impact does football have on them re-entering non-NFL life? Is There Life After Football? is three sociologists' attempt to answer these questions and does a fine job at examining NFL retirees and how the league's social institutions impact players far after their athletic careers.

The book draws heavily from the experiences from co-author George Koonce, a former linebacker for the Packers and Seahawks. Koonce didn't have the easiest transition after leaving the NFL, battling depression and a sense of aimlessness. It also draws from his research, as he eventually received a Doctorate in Sociology and wrote his thesis on NFL players' retirement transitions which included in-depth interviews with 21 former players. The insider access helps keep the book from ever veering into vague academic theorizing and firmly grounded in the real-world. The authors also wisely understand that Koonce is not a completely representative case, and his anecdotes and experiences are used as springboards for broader discussions rather than narrowly focusing on one case.

The sections generally follow a chronological progression throughout a player's life and how such events affect their post-career futures. The authors illustrate how many players have grown up with a myopic obsession with becoming a pro that prevented them from really focusing on post-career plans. They then proceed through chapters on life inside the single-minded NFL bubble, financial pitfalls, and the game's health impact. These read similarly to a long Sports Illustrated report. The final and perhaps most interesting chapter showcases the three sociologists drawing from academia to analyze how many of the problems faced by players have come about. It features them analyzing topics such as how players' senses are identity is often shattered by their retirement and how the hyper-regimented NFL lifestyle can lead former pros to struggle with retirement, the concept of role engulfment and its relation to the NFL, and name-dropping the likes of Emile Durkheim and others in the process. I found the chapter to be engaging and informative and never wading into "dry academic text" territory.

Is There Life After Football? greatly benefits from over 100 interviews with former pros, with many interviews yielding considerable insights. Koonce served as director of player development on the Packers and is able to tap into his rolodex to get former players from many decades. These accounts are bolstered by larger research studies from Koonce and others, delivering sobering statistics such as that 27% of retirees between the ages of 30-49 left voluntarily.

Is There Life After Football? also takes a very evenhanded look at NFL retirement as is by no means a hatchet job listing bankruptcies and sob stories (though there certainly are quite a bit of both). Sure, plenty of players have their issues once their careers end, but successes such as Alan Page (Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court) and Heath Shuler (former Congressman) should illustrate that retirement outcomes can run the gamut. It is was a surprisingly entertaining read for a book by three academics from a university publisher, and it held my interest besides a few passages that extensively detailed the intricacies of NFL pensions.

In Sum
Is There Life After Football? is an intelligent and engaging read about how NFL players normal life. While most accounts of post-NFL lives have predominately centered around concussions and other health problems, the book takes a wider sociological lens to the subject. It is an original approach that is executed well, and I recommend the book to anyone interested in learning more on the topic. It seems like it would be especially enjoyable to fans of fare such as HBO's Real Sports and ESPN's Outside the Lines. 


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Advance Book Review: Striking Gridiron by Greg Nichols

Adverse events and high school football have both been around for a while. The two have often intersected during the long period while the two have existed simultaneously. These instances are frequently chronicled by purveyors of the written word. As a result, Greg Nichols' Striking Gridiron, which recounts a western Pennsylvanian team's attempt at breaking the consecutive win record in the midst of a steel strike, enters a pretty crowded field. The book is well-written and researched and decently enjoyable, though there isn't really enough to separate it from similar fare.

The book covers the 1959 season of the Braddock Tigers as they loom on the verge of the longest winning streak in high school football. Led by coach Chuck Klausing, a hard-nosed leader with a preference for character-heavy players high in "intestinal fortitude" the Tigers have become a force in one of the more football-crazy regions of the country despite Braddock's poverty and declining economy, going undefeated in 5 consecutive seasons. The Tigers' 1959 campaign is further complicated by a massive steel strike that began in July that saw half a million steelworkers walk away from their jobs, which understandably dealt a humongous blow to the local economy.

Striking Gridiron follows the conventional setup of basically progressing through the season chronologically with occasional asides to further explore the backgrounds of Klausing or his players. Nichols had extensive cooperation from major players including Klausing and also culls from abundant newspaper and radio resources. Nichols vividly recreates life in 1950s western Pennsylvania and the importance of football to Braddock. There are some amusing anecdotes as well, such as Klausing working with US Steel employees to construct a rudimentary blocking sled for his players and Pittsburgh mayor David Lawrence employing some creative bureaucratic tricks in getting Klausing accredited as a teacher.

The basic format and content reminded me of countless other books such as Our Boys where a team of hardscrabble youths proceeds to beat the pants off of the bulk of its competition. I won't divulge any big spoilers here but a few of the Tigers' games aren't particularly competitive and are pretty difficult to make exciting. While Nichols does devote a decent chunk of the book to describing the steel strike and the impact on Braddock's economy, Striking Gridiron is still fundamentally a football book focused on the Braddock Tigers and their coach. This is to some degree a drawback, as there is little to make the book stand out. If you don't read about high school football very often and/or have an interest in the culture and economy of western Pennsylvania then Striking Gridiron is probably worth reading or at least seeking out. While Nichols is a strong writer and the book is a decent read overall, I can't recommend it too highly to those more versed in the "this is the account of one team's attempt at attaining gridiron success in the face of some kind of adversity" genre as it treads some familiar territory. 


Monday, 7 July 2014

Advance Book Review: The Sports Strategist by Irving Rein, Ben Shields, and Adam Grossman

At some point in every fan's life the curtain gets peeled back and they realize that their beloved sports franchises are not single-minded entities completely devoted to on-field success. They employ accountants and business managers, have substantial advertising budgets, and eagerly engage in as many sponsorships as possible/legally permitted. Ultimately, as a result of the increasing popularity of sports and some absolutely ridiculous broadcasting agreements has seen the industry balloon into a $750 billion business. In The Sports Strategist, Irving Rein, a communications professor at Northwestern, Ben Shields, the former head of social media at ESPN, and Adam Grossman, a consultant that has worked with the likes of the Minnesota Timerwolves and head of a sports analytics firm, have written a readable and entertaining guide to navigating the growing complexities of sports business and developing plans for financial success without relying completely on winning. It provides a wealth of information to those working in or looking to break into the field but also makes for an enlightening read for general sports fans looking to better understand the business side of things.

The book is primarily concerned with making money from off-field endeavors. While they acknowledge the importance of winning, (sometimes anyway, there are plenty of examples of good teams in dire financial straits and vice versa and a 2009 study by Kirk Wakefield at Baylor found that current season winning percentage trailed stadium quality and star players as factors that impacted attendance for MLB games), corporate officers, marketing teams, and their ilk have little direct control over such factors. Thus, personnel matters are largely pushed to the background and the authors examine broader business strategies related to topics such as public relations, stadium experience, and branding.

The Sports Strategist is mainly comprised of relevant case studies relating to the current major subjects in the industry, from marketing strategies to currying municipal favor for stadium funding and other matters. The book is broad in scope, covering all levels of athletics from high school to professional and leagues ranging from the English Premier League to single A baseball. The prose is rather jargon-free and while I was familiar with some of their examples, some of the cases were new and fascinating to me. Learning about tactics such as Northwestern using the Dutch auction model to price college basketball tickets and the Cleveland Indians' clever Lunch and Three Innings promotion to attract downtown office workers made the book worthwhile. All key takeaways are lucidly explained and sometimes concepts are codified into useful models that readers can apply to their own experiences. My only real criticism is that this wide-ranging "breadth over depth" approach left me wishing for more detail in certain passages. 

I should mention that I generally stray away from business books (I like to spend my leisure time in a less "work"-y fashion) and I don't work in sports. I picked The Sports Strategist up because I find sports business interesting and have always enjoyed the Wall Street Journal and Economist articles highlighting the innovative ways teams and leagues are trying to maximize profits. I was looking to learn more about the subject and The Sports Strategist delivered on that premise. I gained insight into how sports teams try to attract fans, control social media catastrophes and handle other business matters and was entertained throughout.

Additionally, many of the broad concepts promoted in the book are applicable to other industries. The authors emphasize more general strategies such as the importance of differentiation, ensuring all employee teams are on the same page, utilizing technology effectively, and meeting problems with a holistic approach, things that are certainly important outside the athletic realm. More business-minded readers can get a good bit out of the book (especially from some innovative ways teams have utilized new technologies) even if they work outside of sports.

In Sum
 The Sports Strategist was a surprisingly engaging look into the sports industry. While it seems mainly designed for managers inside and outside sports to develop successful strategies, it also provides a readable overview of the inventive methods teams are using to ensure financial success for anyone looking to learn more on the subject.


Friday, 4 July 2014

Advance Review: NFL Football by Richard Crepeau

Books can't really be read in a vacuum. Every work I pick up is inevitably assessed in comparison with other similar pieces. So while Richard Crepeau's NFL Football is a decent examination of the NFL's history and how the league been impacted by (and impacted) American culture and economics, it pales in comparison to other books on the subject and thus I can't recommend it incredibly highly. 

Crepeau is a history professor at the University of Central Florida and has written a past book on baseball's history. According to, he is also apparently on the shortlist to succeed Bud Selig as MLB Commissioner. Despite his academic day job (for now anyway), NFL Football is a largely readable account and its numerous citations generally come from mainstream books and media sources rather than abstruse scholarly texts. Some sections are a little dry but that is more due to familiar content rather than an overly-scholastic tone. The book proceeds through a chronological overview of the league with a large emphasis on the economics and culture of the NFL. He covers major league events, the exponential growth of television revenues, staggered integration (thank you George Preston Marshall) and hits the major figures like Pete Rozelle and Jim Brown with some in-depth passages. There are no glaring omissions and all major bases are covered, but much of the material is going to be old hat for a reader willing to read a history professor's account of the league. The book somewhat curiously concludes with a chapter on the history of the Super Bowl that outlines its evolution into an exorbitantly expensive festival of athletic excess.

Crepeau presents NFL Football as a synthesis of literature on the NFL's history and as a result leans heavily on preexisting sources. Unfortunately, this approach leaves the book largely bereft of any original analysis. There were no interviews conducted for the book and he culls much of the content from popular works so fans of the sport may not find many new insights. Crepeau includes extensive quotes from books such as Michael McCambridge's America's Game that are more comprehensive and entertaining accounts of the same subject. NFL Football does occasionally shine when Crepeau digs a bit deeper for more obscure and older sources demonstrating the culture of the league and era such as a 1971 Sports Illustrated article that purported a slew of anthropological and physiological reasons for black athletes' dominance in the NFL and a 1969 SI piece about drugs in sports.

In Sum

NFL Football gives a broad overview of an expansive subject. It does an adequate job at its stated goal of synthesizing the existing literature on the topic but offers little in the way of original content and I feel that other books such as America's Game do a better job outlining the history of the NFL.


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Book Review: Keepers of the Flame by Travis Vogan

Think about the seminal moments in NFL history. The Catch. The Immaculate Reception. The David Tyree catch that for some reason still lacks a catchy nickname. Imagine these events in your head. Do you have any idea of what the live television footage of those plays were like? You might be able to conjure up some vague recollections of what Tyree's catch looked like, but in general I'm guessing this was a pretty tough task. You are likely far more familiar to NFL Films' footage of such events, and the company has been documenting and canonizing professional football games since tiny Blair Motion Pictures won the rights to the 1962 NFL championship game. Travis Vogan's new book Keepers of the Flame documents the history of NFL Films and analyzes the evolution of sports media. Written by an academic and published by the University of Illinois Press, the book is appealing to football fans both inside and outside the ivory tower thanks to Vogan's extensive research and original subject matter. 

The first aspect worth mentioning about Keepers of the Flame is that it takes a more scholarly tone than the average football book (for what that's worth). Vogan is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa and his book is clearly intended to contribute to the academic discourse of football, sports media, and the business of sport. It has the somewhat detached emotional tone common to scholarly books and cites some deep thoughts by sociologists and cultural critics about the documentary form and role of media. That being said, this isn't a treatise on monetary economics or something. I would have definitely tried to take a class with Vogan had I attended Iowa and by that same logic I decided to pick up Keepers: I think the fundamental subject matter is fascinating and I want to learn more about it. So don't let the nature of the book dissuade you from reading it if you share my interest in the subject matter.

Vogan starts out with an exceptional and extensively-researched section on the history of the Sabols and NFL Films. Steve Sabol has been featured in the "A Football Life" series on NFL Network and the history of NFL Films has been covered in books such as America's Game by Michael McCambridge but Vogan's treatment is by far the most comprehensive and interesting. The Sabols were a pretty eccentric bunch, as Keepers outlines anecdotes such as Steve Sabol's quixotic Heisman campaign has a backup fullback at Colorado College that included local newspaper ads, postcards, t-shirts, and buttons and managed to fool the (presumably incredibly inattentive) local sportswriters to name him to the All Rocky Mountain Conference Team. Outside of these factoids, Vogan also presents the best history of how humble Blair Pictures managed to eventually become the media behemoth that is NFL Films. The history chapter reads like an excellent longform magazine article and stands well by itself.

The rest of the book examines topics such as the aesthetics of NFL Films' productions and the company's role in elevating the league and its players to the greatest heights of importance. The Sabols were meticulous auteurs (with quite a bit of cultural literacy and included some highbrow references to works such as Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon in their movies) and went to great lengths to present works of artistic merit. Vogan outlines signature elements such as the "tight on the spiral" aerial footage of the prolate spheriod and microphoning of players and coaches, a first among sports media entities. One benefit of reading academic authors is that they generally leave no stones unturned in their research, and Vogan is no different. He had access to Steve Sabol and was even granted the opportunity to visit NFL Films as often as he wanted. He also was able to sit down with producers, archivists, and administrators at NFL Films and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This allows for some great original insights and trivia,  such as how NFL Films' reliance on 16mm color film has made them Eastman Kodak's largest current client and the intricacies of the complex SABER system used to classify game footage which includes subcategories such as "Sweat," "Praying," and "Torn Uniforms."

Vogan spends a substantial share of the book writing on NFL Films' role as acting as a historian and propaganda arm for the league. Their productions allow the game to achieve a higher level of significance compared to other sports and seem more consequential in general. He also analyzes major films such as "Big Game America" for their portrayal of the sport and its athletes and how they were influenced by the current culture. People definitely took NFL Films' highlight films seriously, and in the 1970s the Pennsylvania State Legislature even passed a resolution censuring Monday Night Football because the NFL Films highlights that ran during halftime were apparently Steelers-deficient. Vogan concludes with a look at NFL Films today and how it is adapting to a shifting media market and trying to avoid obsolescence by aiming for a niche role and seeking out older audiences.

In Sum
I am not an academic and I didn't read Keepers of the Flame to cite it in a college essay or thesis or something. I simply picked it up because to my knowledge NFL Films hadn't yet received a full book treatment and it seemed like it would be an interesting read. Travis Vogan ultimately delivers a very well-researched and often illuminating look at an NFL cultural institution. Understand that while this book is academic in tone and quotes people like Pierre Bourdieu, it is still a great read for anyone interested in NFL Films and the history of sports media. 


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Advance Book Review: Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Bats are Not Bugs Header of Book Excellence

Belle and Sebastian is the least black band in existence. "6'4" and "Truck Driver" are the words least likely to be used by Asians in dating profiles. Do these factoids illustrate some kind of fundamental truths regarding human nature? Not really. Are they fascinating (albeit perhaps a little obvious in the case of our melanin-repellent Glaswegian twee pop friends) enough to sustain an entire book? I certainly think so. In Dataclysm, Christian Rudder leverages vast reserves of data of over 185 million people from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and OkCupid to pose some illuminating and entertaining theories and findings regarding social behavior. Some discoveries, such as the ones I mentioned at the start of this review, are merely compelling factoids. Others offer a bit more practical application and understanding of our society. All make for a very worthwhile read.

While "big data" has been hijacked by businesspeople to basically cover any data set that would cause a performance slowdown in Excel (i.e. anything with more than 10 rows), there really is quite a bit of data that businesses, governments, and pop social science authors can utilize. According to Facebook Power Editor's reach estimator tool, advertisers targeting 24 year-old Spanish-speaking women in the market for new economy cars have approximately 1,380 lucky users to serve their ads to. Sabermetricians can determine Dante Bichette's OBPS in the seventh inning of games on Tuesdays on cut fastballs on the inside of the plate in 1998. However, these massive reams of highly-specific data are pretty useless unless you are able to pose interesting questions about their contents and possess the statistical acumen to properly answer them. Author Christian Rudder thankfully possesses both qualities, and is an acerbic and skilled writer to boot. He is a co-founder of the popular dating site and SparkNotes and also maintained the blog OkTrends which included posts debunking dating profile photo myths and what white people truly like (evidently a lot of Tom Clancy and Phish). Rudder is a capable and engaging guide through the data and peppers his analysis with pop-culture references, amusing asides, and even some insightful comments.

If you found either of those blog posts intriguing I suggest you pick up this book immediately, because Dataclysm is basically a longer collection of such material. The book seems to have grown out from Rudder's blog and the book reads like a series of extended blog posts on human behavior. While Rudder came from an online dating site and there is plenty of (e)ink devoted to the topic of romance, he examines much more than just what big data tells us about relationships. Dataclysm is structured into three major divisions: what data tells us about sex and relationships, what data tells us about our broader culture, and finally what data tells us about how individuals identify themselves. This allows him to investigate phenomena such as how word lengths in tweets show that Twitter might be improving society's writing ability and how Facebook likes can accurately predict users' demographics.

Readers do not need any real knowledge of statistics to fully enjoy the book. While the analysis certainly seems well thought out and thorough, Rudder spares his audience any mentioning of p-values or Spearman correlation tests and instead just focuses on the social learnings that result from his number crunching. He presents all of his findings clearly and cogently and is generous with the charts and infographics. Rudder strikes a nice balance between keeping the book moving at a fast pace and fully exploring his topics and Dataclysm held my interest the entire time. I finished the book in two days and my only real complaint is that I wish it was longer and that he explored more topics. I really enjoyed the book and think that Dataclysm narrowly edges out Gabriel Sherman's The Loudest Voice in the Room as my favorite book of 2014 thus far.

In Sum
Any users interested in the usual pop social science suspects (Levitt, Gladwell, the Heath Brothers, etc.), Nate Silver's data analysis, or Chuck Klosterman's cultural musings should really pick this up. Dataclysm isn't going to provide you with the one secret insight that will guarantee financial and romantic success (which is good because that magic bullet doesn't actually exist), but it does offer some truly fascinating discoveries about our society and online behavior in a quick and easy read. Highly recommended. 


Friday, 23 May 2014

Using Facebook Data to Determine America's Favorite NFL Team and Optimal Franchise Relocation

A spectre is haunting many an NFL city-the spectre of peripatetic franchises. The Raiders and Rams both seem to be jockeying for a move back to Los Angeles. There are murmurs that the Buffalo Bills may leave for leave the friendly confines of western New York for Toronto in the near future. And at some point soon Roger Goodell will inevitably reiterate his strong and irrational desire to uproot some poor team and move them across the pond to satisfy his long-term goal of global NFL hegemony.

These are important decisions with significant financial implications. How can we determine the best way to sort out this relocation mess? As is the case with many policy quandaries, the clear answer is Facebook user data. And if we are going to be compiling all this fan data, we might as well identify the teams with the largest and smallest total fanbases in America, along with the cities with the highest and lowest concentrations of local fans. So without wasting any further rows of text or including stupid hyperlinks let's bust out the Excel charts.

What Are the Most and Least Popular NFL Teams in America?
  Teams with massive followings are likely to have no need to leave and we can rule them out of our forthcoming relocation discussion. Basically if it ain't broke don't fix it and thus keep the money train churning. Some of their fans may be from far outside the local market (we'll investigate that in more detail later) but we should expect a good bit of teams' supporters to come from their immediate environs, and said followers may be somewhat disgruntled should the team decide to pack up and leave. We should probably expect to see some of the more successful NFL teams in recent years (Patriots, Packers, etc.) as well as the Cowboys who have a lock on most of the southern United States and were a dynasty during the childhood of many a Facebook user.
I'm not all that surprised by the Cowboys, Patriots, and Steelers being so high on the list but the fact that the Eagles have the second-largest Facebook fanbase in America is quite perplexing. I'm not going to argue with Facebook's audience data so I'll just remove these teams from the relocation consideration set. 

Now let's look at the teams with the smallest followings. We can probably expect bad teams and/or those playing in tiny markets to make up the bulk of this list. 
While the teams listed aren't particularly shocking (though note the Jets as the 9th-least popular team) the miniscule total fan numbers are pretty striking to someone used to calculating audience sizes for Facebook ads. Let's include an additional graph to put these metrics in proper perspective:
That should hammer things home a little more for those of you blissfully unaware of the joys of Facebook marketing. Basically, 1.5 million users is nothing on Facebook (and Tebow and Chad Johnson evidently have ridiculous followings on social media). So basically we know that these teams can shift locations without too much friction because even if their entire fanbases lived in their current locations, there still really aren't too many people to alienate.

While I find the charts above to be interesting, a better gauge of local following can be determined by calculating market penetration, which is the percentage of a city's population (on Facebook, anyway) made up by fans of their local team.

Market Pentetration = Fans of Local Team in City / Number of Facebook Users in City

 Just because we have the data anyway, let's examine the teams with the highest market penetrations. Obviously we really should leave these teams as they are. We can probably expect good teams in small markets (i.e. Packers and Steelers) to dominate as well as franchises like the Patriots which just have sizable followings in general.
 The top three teams, while they all come from small metro areas (Pittsburgh has the largest local population among the top three with 860,000) have a staggering presence in their local market, and bad things will likely ensue if any of these top five teams try to move. We have already seen what happened when the Colts bolted from their previous domicile and the rancor that inspired.

Now we can look at the teams with the weakest local followings as a percentage of population. They are likely to be easier to move without any nasty custody battles or local riots.

 While the Jets have the lowest share of fans in their city's population (I guess Mark Sanchez will do that to a team), we should really double their 3% share to account for the fact that they share the New York City market with the Giants. That would bring them up to 6.54%, slightly higher than the Raiders' 5.82% market penetration. Neither number is much to be proud about, and I don't think any of my readers are really chomping at the bit to see me pay the Jets any favors even if they do make the numbers fairer. The Raiders' and Rams' low positions on this list provides some justification for their yearnings to move. 17% of Jacksonville residents are actually Jaguar fans, putting them alongside teams like the Eagles and above the likes of the Redskins and Falcons.

 Deciding What Team Goes Where: The Best Team for LA, London, and Toronto

Los Angeles
The return of football to America's second-largest metropolitan area appears imminent. The Rams, Raiders, and Chargers are considering moving soon and all have an eye on landing in LA. Which team does Facebook think is the best option for the denizens of southern California? 

 Poor Los Angelenos. The Raiders have the strongest following in the city, and none of the other teams in the top five have indicated any desire to leave and most in fact have fancy new stadiums. The Chargers are the 10th most popular team in the city while the Rams wallow away in 24th, despite having previously spent nearly 50 years playing in the city.
So there you have it. The Raiders are by far the most popular team in Los Angeles and the best fit to move there. On top of that, there are actually more Oakland Raiders fans in Los Angeles than there are in Oakland. 44% more in fact. And I realize that LA is quite a large city but that is still a bit ridiculous. The Raiders have a 3.07% penetration rate in Los Angeles compared to a 5.82% penetration rate in Oakland.

 Roger Goodell has hinted to us a bunch of times that he eventually wants a permanent franchise in London. The NFL has played regular season games in the city since 2007 and the "Jacksonville" Jaguars have agreed to move one of their home games to the friendly confines of London's Wembley Stadium through at least 2016. Owner Shahid Khan has made no secret about jonesing to move his team across the pond and we may see a London team, Jaguars or otherwise, in the NFL in the near future.

To start, let's look at the most popular teams in London.
So I guess the Raiders can keep Londontown in mind as a backup option should LA not work out for them. The Bears are the most popular team in London and probably gained most of their fans from The American Bowl preseason series that kicked off with the Chicago Bears playing the Dallas Cowboys in 1986. Bears lineman William Perry had a strong following among Britons and actually concluded his playing career with a brief stint with the London Monarchs of the WAFL.

The most glaring omission on the list of top teams appears to be the Jaguars. Surely Londoners would unite around the team given that they will be stuck watching their games for at least the next three years. Scroll back up to the top of this post and just look at the picture of Jaguars mascot Jaxson de Ville (I could see this name being an issue) and his female friends in front of Tower Bridge. The Jaguars and London truly seem like a perfect fit for each other. They must be the 6th most popular team or something.

 Just where exactly do the Jaguars rank in terms of popularity in London?
The Jaguars remarkably actually have the fewest supporters in London of any NFL team at 2,800 fans. Lilliputian figure right there. To put this trifling sum in perspective, Facebook tells us that there are 3,000 users in London between the ages of 18-24 that are fans of the old-school American rap group Eric B. and Rakim. There are 3,600 women between the ages of 25 and 44 in the Poughkeepsie, New York metropolitan area that recently purchased a small/midsize SUV. To my knowledge Britons of any age are not currently clamoring for any old-school rap groups to play a series of eight concerts in London and Poughkeepsie is not a hotbed for purchasing SUVs of any size.

Perhaps all potential fans were turned off by the team's 42-10 shellacking at the hands of the 49ers in Wembley last season or just the fact that the Jaguars have been terrible for quite a while now. Maybe they just aren't sold on Blake Bortles' arm strength. Who knows. Whatever the reason, it appears that the Jaguars are actually better off staying in Jacksonville, which is a terrifying proposition itself.

The Bills have been playing one game a year in Toronto since 2008, drawing about 40-50,000 fans for each game. The city already supports franchises in the NBA, NHL, and MLB and the NFL definitely has their eye on the city as a location for one of their teams.Clearly, Toronto and its 2.5 million denizens are a tempting location for a wayward NFL franchise.

For whatever reason the Philadelphia Eagles appear to be social media juggernauts, or at least in major Canadian cities. The Bills have only the fourth-highest fan total in Toronto, which seems pretty small given their geographic proximity and the fact that the city has literally been a second home to the team. Should the team indeed move to Toronto, they will need a pretty strong fan acquisition push. Also, in unsurprising fashion, the Rams and Jaguars are tied for the least popular NFL team in Toronto with a paltry 2,600 fans. It appears that Toronto is the only city to be a worse location than London for the Jaguars.

So What Exactly Have We Learned?
  • The Dallas Cowboys are both America's Team and Americans on Facebook's Team. While the latter title may sound less prestigious, they do have a whopping 7.8 million-strong fanbase on the site. 
  • The Raiders belong in Los Angeles. There are more Oakland Raiders fans currently residing in Los Angeles than there are in Oakland and the Raiders are the most popular team in LA.
  • Nobody likes the Jets. Which I guess isn't entirely surprising. But now we can quantify the indifference with social media data! Score one for science/basic math calculations.
  • Or the Rams. See previous bullet. 
  • The Jaguars are a terrible fit for London. Putting any team in London doesn't seem like the wisest decision in the world, but the Jaguars are an especially awful choice considering their 2,800 local fans.
Notes on Methodology: All data was pulled from Facebook's Power Editor which is the platform most advertisers use to advertise on the site. Basically you can set up targeting parameters on a variety of demographic, behavioral, and other parameters. The program will also show you the potential audience size on the site for the parameters you have established. I used "Interest" targeting to determine fanbase sizes for each team. Basically, Facebook culls profile data and what a user has liked to determine whether they are interested in a particular interest keyword such as "Detroit Lions." That is why the fan calculations I feature in the charts do not match up exactly with the total number of users that have liked the official team's Facebook page. Facebook interest targeting includes all those users as well as other users that the system has identified as fans of the team based on their likes and user data. To determine fan sizes within their markets I just changed the geo-targeting from "United States" to the team's city (using the team's "official" city rather than where their stadium is located). I extended the geo-targeting radius to 25 miles within the city to account for most/all of the city's metro area. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Advance Book Review: Eight World Cups by George Vecsey

In Eight World Cups, New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey reflects upon over twenty years of covering soccer's biggest event. Vecsey has spent over four decades writing for The Grey Lady and wrote the "Sports of the Times" column from 1982 through 2011, which largely focused on the broader off-field impacts and aspects of athletics. His new book offers a very personal account of covering the World Cup and his experiences following legendary teams and players such as Diego Maradona and Socrates. It is an intelligently-written recent history of the World Cup and while it is likely to tread upon some familiar territory for most readers, it is still a worthwhile pickup for soccer fans and those interested in the international phenomenon of the event.

Eight World Cups is largely structured chronologically with Vecsey describing highlights from the 1982 World Cup onwards. The book is largely a personal recounting of Vecsey's experiences at various World Cups rather than a broad overview of the events. Due to some fundamental laws of physics, he wasn't able to be at every game and he had to be selective in what games he attended. I found this "limitation" to help prevent the book from becoming a collection of basic summaries of each World Cup. He often becomes attached to certain teams and cities and tries to catch as many of their games as possible. Additionally, he generally chooses well (i.e. interesting/good teams with interesting/good players) and its not like the reader is ever mired in absurdly detailed descriptions of the rather inept Greece team in 1994 or something. Vecsey shares personal encounters with English hooligans and other fans, interviews with players and referees and anecdotes about the culture and quirks of the hosting countries. He strikes a very nice balance between describing the games themselves as well as off-field issues such as refereeing, the treatment of players, and the murky internal politics of FIFA. Writing for an American newspaper, Vecsey pays a good bit of attention to the American squads as well. He also weaves the history of the U.S. National Men's and Women's teams between the World Cup chapters and their remarkable evolution since he started covering the sport.

Vecsey is a gifted writer who describes the matches with lyrical and detailed prose that showcases his knowledge and passion for the sport. I especially enjoyed the chapters on the earlier World Cups that I was much less familiar with. His recollections of more recent events contained fewer new insights as they covered events I was already pretty familiar due to the humongous amount of press coverage and scrutiny garnered by the World Cup. I still enjoyed these portions, just not as much as those that preceded them.

 In Sum
A recommended read for soccer fans looking for a fun read with some intellectual heft. Die-hard soccer fans well-versed in the history of the sport may not find that many new insights, but casual fans and those just interested in the spectacle of the World Cup should pick up Eight World Cups


Monday, 17 February 2014

Advance Book Review: The Humor Code by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner

Bats are Not Bugs Header of Book Excellence

Occasionally, while mired in the middle of some writing some turgid paper on the economic ramifications Treaty of Maastricht or an equally-engaging area of the dismal science I would get distracted and get creative with my queries in my school's academic journal database. I would look for strange articles about football (turns out there are quite a lot) in hopes of avoiding my mind from completely going numb. I quickly reached the conclusion was that despite the best efforts of econ professors everywhere to dissuade me of the notion, academics sometimes actually studied interesting topics. Certain fields have generated a considerable amount of volume, and it turns out that the field of humor studies is no different. In The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, a writer published in Wired, The Boston Globe, and Grantland teams up with a marketing and psychology professor to identify the scientific, sociological, and cultural factors behind what we find humorous. Equal parts travelogue and pop-science examination, The Humor Code manages to be an amusing and informative read on what makes us laugh. 

The book grew out of a series of articles Warner wrote about McGraw including a feature in Wired and the book reads like an extended magazine article. Thankfully, there is enough substantive material for the book to succeed with the extended format. While McGraw and Warner are both listed as authors, it appears that the journalist Warner is the one behind the keyboard chronicling the pair's exploits.

Warner and McGraw traverse the globe to codify the elusive concept of humor. They visit locales such as Tanzania (to research the great 1962 Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, Japan (to examine those ridiculous game shows where many comedians act as contestant), and Scandinavia (investigating the fallout from the Muhammad comics). Closer to home, the authors also attempt to determine how to win the New Yorker caption contest and consult with some strange characters including Lisette St. Claire, the "laughter queen of Los Angeles." Their journey culminates in McGraw attempting to apply his learnings by performing at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.

The Humor Code also contains a bit of intellectual heft and reviews several items from the surprisingly abundant volume of humor research. McGraw is at the vanguard of the field as the direct of the Humor Research Lab (HuRL) and is a proponent of the "benign violation" hypothesis of humor, which strikes me as intriguing yet not entirely airtight (though my economics background puts me firmly within a glass house in that regard). The book covers studies about whether Democrats are funnier than Republicans and even conducts some original research, such as analyzing New Yorker caption contest winners. These segments were the highlights of the book for me and helped The Humor Code become more than a collection of fascinating and odd anecdotes about their travels.

I found The Humor Code to be a very enjoyable and fun read. It probably wont make you any funnier (which is not the book's intent in the first place) but it will yield some fascinating insights and strange anecdotes about global humor. The book has a light feel and despite a few weak sections and disappointments (such as a rather wasted interview opportunity with Louis C.K.) it is one of my favorite books of 2014 thus far and highly recommended for anyone interested in psychology or what makes things funny. 

In Sum
The Humor Code is an original, engaging, and oftentimes illuminating pop psychology book about what makes us laugh and why. Recommended for those seeking a light science read with some observations on global culture and, of course, humor. 


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Book Review: How To Rap 2: Advanced Flow and Delivery Techniques

There are now plenty of online and literary resources analyzing rap music. These all seem primarily focused on content: metaphors, references, general subject matter, and the like. Some musical elements, however, don't particularly translate well to the written page/link-baiting website, namely delivery and flow and how those words actually sound. Paul Edwards' sequel to his 2009 book How to Rap attempts to fill this gap and does quite an admirable job. Similar to the first installment of the series, How to Rap 2: Advanced Flow and Delivery Techniques consists of a series of insights from rappers past and present opening up about their craft. This volume is completely based around flow and delivery. While it seems to be aimed squarely at aspiring rappers (and it is undoubtedly a valuable asset for that audience) there is plenty to like here for the general hip-hop fan on how to appreciate the music in a new way.

The book culls from over 100 interviews with a broad range of emcees. Edwards gets to the pick the brains of the likes of Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, Aesop Rock, and E-40, among many others and the lineup truly runs the gamut of popularity and (American) geographic region. Most rappers are incredibly revealing about their methods and techniques. Highlights include Evidence from Dilated Peoples describing how the three-bar loop of "Worst Comes to Worst" and how Gift of Gab records and memorizes his rhymes to allow him to play around with delivery in the recording booth. Edwards is also far more than a silent transcriber, as he includes a plethora of flow diagrams (example pictured below) to illustrate his points and is able to mention abundant examples of the advanced techniques referenced in the subtitle. Some of his especially enlightening contributions include outlining how Nas links rhyme schemes on "N.Y. State of Mind" (very smoothly and cleverly, it turns out) or how Gift of Gab has to alter his rhyme scheme on the 3/4 beat of "Chemical Calisthenics."

The ubiquitous flow diagram. Also gas face to the herb reader who doesn't know the song referenced.

How to Rap 2 is split into three main sections. The first concerns advanced rhythm techniques, including placing rhymes within bars, triplets, and punctuating different beats in bars. The second section covers vocal tones, delivery, and timbre, and the final portion goes over rhyme schemes in a more complex and comprehensive manner than the first How to Rap. Some sections are actually groundbreaking, such as Edwards' application of the "flam" concept (think DMX on "Who We Be") in percussion to rap flows. Rappers have been using this technique for quite some time but this is the first time someone is actually classifying and naming it. Often times most discussion about a rapper's flow begins and ends with a statement like "he sounds like he could flow for days." How to Rap 2 is able to give names to many methods that lead to entertaining flows and delivery along with rappers explaining how they employ such techniques. The book concludes with an index of consonant and vowel sounds to practice enunciation, which is the only portion that non-rappers might conceivably skip (though I did like guessing to see what songs would be used as examples).

 How to Rap can essentially be seen as an introductory course into the craft of rapping, touching briefly upon all basic elements. Its sequel is more like "Advanced Topics in Rhythm and Delivery," expounding upon the more general flow and delivery content from How to Rap. The rapper interviews appear to all be from the same session that yielded the first book, but re-hashing is kept to a minimum and most of the book covers new territory. I also don't have any issue with assembling these journalistic b-sides into a new book, as it would have been a real shame if they never saw the light of day. And the fact that Edwards was able to create a 200-plus page book from interview snippets about one specific topic makes me excited for future installments in the series. While the author does occasionally fall victim to beating home some rather straightforward points (I think its a bit of explanatory overkill to mention that Pharoahe Monch ends a bar on "Maintain" with a low pitch because "the MC is serious and talking about a serious subject") and I don't entirely understand the frequent references to page numbers of the first How to Rap given that almost every flow and delivery topic is covered more in-depth in this current volume, these are minor quibbles. Ultimately, How to Rap 2 is a fun, fast, and enlightening read that is really essential reading for any aspiring rapper or fan of the genre. It explored new elements of the genre that made me want to return to albums I had listened to a thousand times already to explore their rhythmic and tonal elements with a new perspective and vocabulary.

 In Sum
Anyone looking to delve deeper into the rhythm and sounds of rap owes it to themselves to pick up How to Rap 2, especially if you enjoyed the first book. The rappers are all remarkably candid and insightful about their processes and Edwards is an excellent guide through the realm of rhyme schemes, vocal tones, and complex rhythms. Fans should not be dissuaded by the title, as there is plenty to like for anyone with an interest in hip-hop can learn and appreciate a lot from this book. 


Related Reading: Good Books About the Craft of Rap