June 29, 2010

Overkill

NFL teams scored an average of 21.5 points per game in 2009's regular season, while World Cup teams scored an average of 1.05 goals per game in 2010's three-game miniseason. So, one World Cup goal is worth 21.5 / 1.05 or 20.5 NFL points. 

So, let's call it one goal equals twenty points.

Thus, a 1-0 World Cup game is like a 20-0 NFL game, while a 2-1 World Cup game is like a 40-20 NFL game. That traditionally most desirable score, 3-2, is like a 60-40 NFL game -- a bit of a farce, relatively speaking. Portugal's 7-0 defeat of North Korea was like a 140-0 football game.

Psychologically, however, 1-0 is quite different from 20-0. 

If your team is losing 20-0 in football, well, they might come back and score three touchdowns while blanking their opponents the rest of the way and win 21-20. American football is designed so that comebacks are possible by the offense taking on greater risks of interceptions, running out of downs, and sacks (with heightened chances of fumbles). But, you've got to admit, if your team is down 20-0, so far, at least, your guys are getting killed. You've given up two touchdowns and two field goals and you haven't scored at all.

In contrast, if you are down 1-0 in a World Cup game, that just shows ... well, whatever you want it to show:

- that just one play can equalize the score
- that you actually deserve to be winning if only you weren't the victim of malevolent fate
- that the opposing players are all devious, manipulative wogs
- that your players are overpaid yobs
- that your coach should be fired
- that the ref cheated you and should be lynched from the crossbar (in 1978, my dad and I paid about 50 cents each for "seats" in Rio's Maracana stadium, where 199,854 saw Brazil lose to Uruguay in the key game of the 1950 World Cup, but the seats turned out to be Standing Room Only at field level next to the deep moat with an overhanging lip guarding the ref from unfortunate incidents at the hands of overexcited spectators).

That's the beauty of a small sample size: you can spin it whichever way you like.

46 comments:

jody said...

steve, you're still doing this topic wrong, and showing that you don't understand the material at all. we know you don't watch soccer and don't understand soccer. why keep posting useless analysis? wait until you understand this stuff better. watch a full year of MLS, premier league, la liga, whatever. then try again.

stop making this apples to oranges comparison between world cup soccer play versus regular season NFL play. the apples to apples comparison is REGULAR SEASON LEAGUE PLAY FOR BOTH SPORTS. not tournament play versus regular season play. regular season play in soccer is similar to NHL action. there are more goals. the teams play differently. they play to win. they don't play not to lose.

you pride yourself on getting the data sets correct, but you are getting them wildly wrong on this topic, over and over. world cup soccer play is the wrong data set here. that you cite world cup numbers continuously, just keeps giving it away that you saw 60 whole minutes of soccer in the last 4 years, and only then because it's on network television and you just happened to channel surf on over to the game. you clearly never, ever watch any professional soccer of any kind. which is totally fine. but don't go pretending you have some insight after watching a whopping 2 soccer games in 4 years.

also, stop posting about how to make soccer more interesting for americans. they're interested. the 2010 world cup is setting television ratings records in the US.

if you want an interesting set of numbers to crunch, try this: an MLB season is 162 games, an NFL season is 16 games. nearly an exact 10:1 ratio. so every 1 football game is worth 10 baseball games. this establishes a strange relationship. the best football team routinely wins 14 or even 15 games per year, but the best a baseball team can do is win 100 games. that's the same as winning 10 games in the NFL. so the best baseball team is usually a "10 and 6" team, while the worst baseball team is usually a "5 and 11" team. that's such a compressed range of wins and losses, with not nearly as much separation as in the NFL. NFL teams typically range from 14-2 to 2-14. the best team is really good, the worst team is really bad. conversely in baseball, the worst team is almost never really bad. they still win 50 games, or 5 games in the MLB:NFL conversion. why can't the best baseball team win more games?

kaka said...

For a stat guy, this is a very innumerate argument. Steve seems to imply that soccer scoring is so low that it "frequently" falls below noise level resulting in "many" random and meaningless outcomes that can be interpreted however one wants.

Steve comes to this idea because he admittedly doesn't really get soccer. Also, he does not realize that the World Cup is a once every 4yr exception to the rules of how the game is played.

One suggestion would be for Steve to use stats to demonstrate such randomness by how often clear "upsets" occur using historical data. Crack a book (or browser) open and do at least minimal legwork to attempt to support your claim. Then compare this with his favorite sport which seems to be the NFL. I think any data driven results would be a wash at best.

For example, Manchester United won 11 of the last 18 premier league championships while Arsenal and Chelsea won 6 of the remaining 7 titles. Although there is more concentration of talent in these clubs than for NFL teams, all those "low-scoring" matches don't seem to create the randomness Steve thinks should come from the most clumsey and awkward sport he could imagine.

It is sadly atypical for Steve to make sweeping generalizations without any supporting quantitative data on a subject he clearly does not understand.

Anonymous said...

If ESPN hadn't elected to alternatively guilt-monger the viewer with race, while archly assuring him that soccer was "the-future" during its telecast of various world cup games, the game might have stood a chance on intriguing the American viewer more on its own merits and charms.

One commercial in particular had the word "racism" superimposed on the screen in white block letters no fewer than three times. Another commercial (Nike if I remember correctly) kept garbling on about "missing out on the future". Insinuating that the viewer is a backwards racist who isn't prepared for the modern world is not a way to entice him to watch soccer in my opinion, but that was the vaugue impression I got from ESPN.


To be truthful, with no snark whatsoever, my opinion on soccer gaining popularity with whites and blacks in the states is this: there are already three major sports here that take up all of the calendar year because their seasons barely overlap. It would be hard for quidditch to really catch on because to do so, you'll have to crowbar men who are psycho-emotionally invested in their favorite teams away from the televised broadcasts of those events. One of our present sports would have to be diminished to a second-tier status for soccer to really catch on to the point that ESPN could profitably broadcast its MLA season here. People dont have *time* to watch another league. Young males in particular are getting so into video games (which will soon be in 3-D), that trad sports are going to have a harder time keeping their interest.

Frankly I think most boys watch whatever their dad usually values. Perhaps if our elite overlords could find a way to disassociate young boys from their fathers so the boys didn't absorb their father's cultural values they might be able to replace football with soccer and religion with something else...............oh wait, I said I would be snarky.

Anonymous said...

Allow me a brief tangent on the subject of seats, since you brought that up.

BTW the Maracana at the World Cup in 1950 packed in 200,000 because many of the "seats" were standing areas. In current configuration that is closer to 100,000 and probably considerably less once the upgrades for the 2014 World Cup are complete.

Similarly, English football parks have undergone an extreme reduction in capacity since the 1980s due to new safety regulations (ie the Taylor Report). Grounds which used to hold 40,000 or 50,000 thanks to standing terraces are now reduced to 20,000 or so, all seating.

I have trouble explaining the concept of the standing terrace to my fellow Americans. They think I am talking about the "standing room only" tickets sold for big, already sold-out events, that allow the ticket holder to lurk in the background, peering at the game over the heads of the seated spectators.

No. The standing terrace is/was an entire concrete (or, much worse, wooden) terrace where fans stand, with the occasional hand bar to lean against. If the standing room terrace was packed full of people, you weren't going anywhere until the game was over, as there was nowhere to move.

Some pics of standing terraces:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/c.johnston570/Old%20North%20Bank.jpg

http://prints.paphotos.com/image/Soccer-Football-League-Division-Three-Brighton-and-Hove-Albion-v-Crystal-Palace_682031.jpg

http://www.stockphotopro.com/photo-thumbs-2/AAE2R8.jpg

http://media.photobucket.com/image/football%20standing%20terraces/timwwfc2/CliveStreetTerrace.jpg

What is impressive is how few injuries or deaths occurred over the 19th and 20th centuries at these kinds of standing terraces, not how many. Watch old films or pictures of these old British football grounds circa 1900-1950 and what impresses is how orderly and peaceful the crowds were, all almost entirely working class. Almost no hooliganism (that was a post 1960 thing) or crowd violence (except a little religious sectarian violence in Glasgow in the early 1900s) and few safety problems. There was no need of moats or fences to protect the ref - that came later, when British working class culture was beginning to break down.

You could write a thesis, easily, on the breakdown of white working class culture in Britain from the perspective of the football ground and football fan culture. Actually I'm sure its been done, probably from a Marxist perspective. Doing it from a HBD or libertarian/rightist perspective obviously isn't done, but the comparison to the breakdown in white working class culture under the British social welfare state, and the breakdown of African-American culture under the American welfare state, is too obvious to ignore.

And yet it is ignored, cause, well, we can't speak ill of the welfare state, now can we? It isn't done. Nor can we speak ill of the sexual/social revolution which loosened up our stodgy morals, resulting in, well, paradise, really. Because obviously everything is so much better now.

Steve Sailer said...

"why can't the best baseball team win more games?"

Would the best NFL team really win 140 games if they played 160? Baseball has its flaws, but 162 games does provide a larger sample size than 16 NFL games. Especially if the Indianapolis Colts could have Peyton Manning only play in every fifth game?

Anonymous said...

Steve,

In contrast to Jodie, I really appreciate your posts on soccer and I was a lifelong fan before moving to the States, where I still am, but nothing close the the fanatic I used to be.

I know a fan of Ayn Rand and I wondered why he loved soccer so much, given his love for most things American. I concluded with your help that it was because soccer is the kind of game that strongly supports the imposition of your own narrative on what happened. In basketball, you can do a reasonable analysis of non-scoring stats to see how the game turned out. Soccer doesn't lend itself to such in anything close to the same way.

American football is more similar to soccer, in that touchdowns are the game, and lots of things happen between the endzones, etc. The biggest difference, IMO, is that there is a more frequent feedback metric (point scoring), and this makes all the difference in the world.

Your posts about randomness apply mostly at the highest level, but what I appreciate the most is that

Steve Sailer said...

"Steve seems to imply that soccer scoring is so low that it "frequently" falls below noise level resulting in "many" random and meaningless outcomes that can be interpreted however one wants."

No, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, and have noted during previous World Cups, the same Great Soccer Power teams have won every World Cup after 1950. The World Cup does an interesting job of balancing randomness with respectability of outcome. Maybe Paraguay will win this year and upset the tradition, but I would bet that Spain's a lot more likely to move up to Great Power status than Paraguay.

What I _am_ saying is that if the score is 1-0, it's easier to _feel_ however you want to feel about the score than if the score is 20-0, even though those scores are directly comparable. If your World Cup team gets beat 1-0, that's about as bad as your NFL team getting beat 20-0, but it doesn't necessarily feel that way. It's easier to construct a narrative about a 1-0 game to suit your feeling than about a 20-0 game.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with jody and kaka; Steve isn't making a lot of good analysis here. Watching a few World Cup matches every four years and then crunching some extremely atypical and/or misapplied numbers is just bad use of statistics. You can use statistics to prove anything; 96.4% of statisticians agree.

Also to fellow anon complaining about ESPN political correctness; sorry this has nothing to do with whether "Americans will accept socer" or not. In case you have not noticed, American sports media in general are extremely racially politically correct all the time in all sports. Soccer is hardly unique. As to the "say no to racism" stuff, that is mostly a European derived campaign aimed at fans who were throwing bananas and making monkey hooting sounds at black African players. It's a bit different from an obnoxious lecture in PC racial politics and more something directly aimed at bad fan behavior.

Anonymous said...

- Jody is right - comparing the world cup miniseason to a full NFL season is not a good comparison.

(For instance, the Premier League had a 1,4 goal average per team and game last season)

-Still, the difference is not tremendous, so the psychological point that you make still stands.

Because yup, the larger randomness *in individual games* make even uneven matchups interesting rather often - at least for large chunks of the match.

Ek43

sn said...

Steve

You could focus on the stat "the team that scores first wins" comparisons across sports and types of competitions. In WC soccer, it is pretty high. Comebacks are rare but fans can hope irrationally.

The 1-0 equivalence to 20-0 appears weak and further linear extrapolation is really absurd.

I am curious about the suited coaches (managers) on the sidelines. Other than team selection and substitutes, they can't do much in active play, not much more than other onlookers.

sn said...

Steve's point is that soccer scoring allows for a memorable narrative that is also flexible from the fan pov. 1-0 has the easiest to construct story, 1-1 somewhat more complex and 2-1 is probably the limit. 3-2 or higher could be much more difficult to recall unless a 2-0 became 2-3 (in effect two runs of scoring). Referee blunders and player behavior/fouls uniquely spice up soccer.

It is likely that skill in offense and defense are correlated, across teams. If a team is up 1-0, its probably better off defending, with some counter attacks. Defending is probably a lot easier to do and energy conserving than attacking. A 2-0 score is almost unbeatable. Maybe there is some etiquette that deters (most) teams from running up absurdly high scores.

keypusher said...

Could the people who claim La Liga or Premier League is fundamentally different/higher scoring than the world cup kindly provide some numbers to substantiate their claims? Otherwise it's just assertion-tossing.

Scoring was higher in the round of 16. 22 goals in 8 games, or 1.4 per team per game, and just one 0-0 game. Interesting to see if this continues.

Anonymous said...

I have little to no interest in soccer, but I suspect that jody and kaka may have a point about NFL regular season:soccer World Cup as an inappropriate comparison.

Kaka, Jody: Does the 1.05 average sound "off" to you, for top league play? Would be different for Premier League or Champions League?

Would an AC Milan-Manchester United game be less likely to be end in a 1-0 or 1-1 score than England vs. Italy?

TD said...

Weird that some of you are giving Sailer a hard time for his soccer posts. (I don't mean your disagreements with specific statistical analysis; just your moaning that he doesn't really appreciate it or "doesn't get the game.")

I'm not trying to get all up on his jock here, and he can certainly speak for himself, but I've gotten the impression that he IS getting it, and that he HAS been watching. I haven't really picked up any knee-jerk "soccer sucks" vibe from these recent posts. They in fact seem to be coming from a growing grasp of what makes the sport so interesting.

That reflects what seems to be a steady but accelerating embrace and understanding of the game across the U.S., particularly with this World Cup. There remain some vocal soccer bashers out there, but while they can still be pretty loud, they appear to be declining in number.

I do agree that the World Cup is not an ideal analog to regular-season sports. It's really just soccer's icing on the cake, and at the risk of a painfully tortured metaphor, it's often a quite different flavor from the substance underneath. Professional club soccer, including MLS, is where one will really learn the game.

Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying this soccer posting.

One thing I'd call into question though is that fans particularly enjoy low-scoring games. Yes, you will almost never see ten goals in a game, but the idea that fans long to watch a 1-0 victory doesn't ring true. A good example of this is that when George Graham was manager of Arsenal, the team was notorious for its 1-0 victories, and the chant of opposing fans was always that they were "Boring, Boring Arsenal".

Anonymous said...

In a team sport like soccer, it is always easier for the defence to organize and coordinate than for the offence. Most of these National players are scattered throughout Europe, Asia, and latin America most of the year and the only time they see each other is when they play against each other. The exception is the world cup. That means teams that have strikers that are "one man wrecking crews" like Messi, have a big advantage. They don't need to finesse the ball into the net using multiple players.

I don't play soccer but this is obvious.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above commenters. Soccer is irredeemably boring and you should stop writing about it.

They just want to help, man.

The Bear said...

we know you don't watch soccer and don't understand soccer. why keep posting useless analysis?

The proper question is why do you bother to read and respond. I'm a guy who's always accusing Steve of not truly understanding college football. However, the last thing I want him to do is stop posting about the sport. Sailer is one of the few bloggers more concerned with facilitating a discussion than stroking his own ego.

kaka said...

First, like many, I criticize Steve's soccer posts because they are so poor in comparison to his usually well researched, reasoned and executed ones. I can understand his perspectives when sound even when I disagree with him, but these soccer posts have come across as half-baked anti-soccer/pro-NFL homerism. To wit:

Soccer is inherently pretty clumsy and random. It would be hard to think up a game worse for displaying skill and technique

Which, along with subsequent posts criticizing the low scores in soccer, is where I came up with my statement that:

"Steve seems to imply that soccer scoring is so low that it "frequently" falls below noise level resulting in "many" random and meaningless outcomes that can be interpreted however one wants."

Admittedly, these soccer posts have evolved and improved slightly. The last several posts have zeroed in on a more insightful hypothesis although it's still pretty untestable: soccer's low scores more easily allow individuals to impose their own narratives on the outcome.

Even this observation is suspect as the scale of scores don't change human nature. My experience is that there is just as much "narrative" imposed on American sports as soccer:

* if Payton didn't choke in the big games
* if their secondary wasn't so porus
* if the Oline could give the QB enough time
* dropped passes or RB fumbles at critical times/positions
* yada, yada

Anonymous said...

Jody, there's no way the best baseball team wins more than about 100-110 games at best. Baseball players deal with things that other sports don't:

Playing games on 10-12 consecutive days. Leaving Boston or New York after a Sunday game and travelling to Seattle for a Monday night game with the lowly Mariners levels things a bit, which is why the practice of sending the next night's starting pitcher to the next city a day early started. The 162-game schedule, along with 6-7 weeks of spring training and the 3-4 week playoffs make for a 8 1/2 month season, wearing down even the best athletes, and baseball players are far from the best pure athletes.

Unlike almost any other sport, the playing field is unigue to each team. Playing left field in Fenway Park, with the Green Monster looming over your shoulder, is infinitely different from covering the vast area in Yankee Stadium. The whole game stratagy is changed; right-handed sluggers thrive with the Monster and have a much tougher time producing in new York. The home team has a measurable advantage in baseball.

Baseball, more than the other major sports, has a "Tiffany" division, the AL East. Again this year, 4 of the 5 teams have winning records. They are superior teams, especially the Red Sox and Yankees, but how much do the holy wars between those 2 storied franchises take out of them? The umpires have even started complaining about how long Sox-Yanks games are. You have to strap it on every night in the AL East, and after 162 games the physical weariness is only half the story, as opposed to the other two AL dvisions, where only one out of nine teams has a winning record against the East. Euro club soccer has relegation for the weak sisters, something American sports would NEVER consider.

Your comment on American soccer viewship is a bit off base. Let's see how many people watch now the the Americans are gone. I watched the US-Ghana game at a "Irish" pub in Boston with some soccer geek friends, and it was packed with faux fans (about 50% women) only there for the US. I compare that to another match last year (Ireland-Bulgaria WC qualifier) at another real Boston Irish pub packed with Irish expats and illegals (0% women other than the waitresses). And I had to pay $10 to get in! American soccer "fans" will watch the US in the World Cup and very little else.

Re: NFL. Only 2 teams in the last 9 years have won more than 14 games, so 14-15 victories are far from routine.

Brutus

Anonymous said...

You are a marginal and marginalized figure. Good for you, you're a jerk.

Osman the Turk said...

Steve,
You've just bet the Sailer farm on a football game and a soccer game (with penalty shootout if tied). In the first half, either your football team will fall behind 20-0 or your soccer team 1-0. Which would you prefer? How many football teams down 20-0 actually come back to win or tie? Think why.

One way of looking at it is that, 20 points can be distributed whereas 1 goal can't be. So, if on average there are 20 points scored in football for every soccer goal, and you assume the better team scores 2/3 of the points in football, then by the time a goal is scored in soccer, a football game should be 14-6.

Remember, though, that in soccer if the better team goes ahead 1-0, they generally change strategy and become more defensive. This suppresses the total number of goals scored, but does not change the excitement level of the game. Imagine if in football, one half was offense, the other half was defense, and in the first half, your team went up 20-0. Then, you have the whole second half to root for your defense while the other team slowly chips away (with the possibility of an extra score for your team on a fumble being the equivalent of a counterstrike).

Also, many soccer games stay 0-0 for a long time. Even North Korea held the Brazilians scoreless in the first half. A 0-0 soccer game is equivalent to a 0-0 football game. A football team that goes up 20-0 will generally make its dominance clear pretty early, so a 1-0 soccer game with 5 minutes left can be very different from a 20-0 football game with 10 minutes left. We've seen even in this World Cup equalizers in the closing minutes repeatedly, where it becomes more a matter of pure will and risk-taking strategy (e.g. your goalkeeper Tim Howard fighting the Ghanaian goalkeeper for a header), which a spectator can enjoy taking in without bearing through stupid commercials every three minutes.

Anonymous said...

Allow me a brief tangent on the subject of seats

Allow me then another perspective on seats. It's not about social class and the decline in civility since the 1960s.

The Globe theater built around the turn of the seventeenth century only had seats around the rim. The majority of the spectators stood in the center. Those who stood had the best sight lines and heard the speech best. They were not lower class.

Similarly the La Scala opera house originally had two types of public accommodation. There were boxes owned by families. Boxes had curtains and kitchens. But most of the public stood in the center. There were no seats in what we now call the orchestra. In the early ottocento they would show the first act of the opera then the first act of an unrelated ballet. They alternated acts all evening. Those performances typically lasted five hours or more while the majority of the middle class patrons stood.

Later in the century the orchestra was filled first with folding chairs and then finally with fixed seats. These were not the cheap seats.

There remains a vestige of this practice at the Vienna Staatsoper. They still have standing areas with leaning bars in the orchestra. These are very good places in terms of sound and sight. They are filled with solid bourgeois class patrons not the proletariat.

There is a well documented long term trend for the public to be initially offered standing and later for seats to be substituted.

BFD

Albertosaurus

asfdasfasdf said...

More people play the lottery than soccer.

asdfasasdfasdf said...

Football is more like poker. You win some, lose some, and it carries on like that all evening.

Soccer is more like the lottery. A score in soccer is really like a miracle.

Edward said...

Steve

What I _am_ saying is that if the score is 1-0, it's easier to _feel_ however you want to feel about the score than if the score is 20-0, even though those scores are directly comparable. If your World Cup team gets beat 1-0, that's about as bad as your NFL team getting beat 20-0, but it doesn't necessarily feel that way. It's easier to construct a narrative about a 1-0 game to suit your feeling than about a 20-0 game.
6/30/2010


I think this is valuable insight that can also explain why professional league soccer is popular but why international soccer is MORE popular (as TV ratings go), even though it is much poorer in quality. Perhaps this is also your point.

Yes, soccer is surrounded by narratives. Soccer's frequent low scoring games, draws and upsets means before the start of the game both sides feel they might have a chance, and at the end both might feel aggrieved. The unpredictability means that the factors which are know to influence a result (e.g. performance of star player, tactics) can be taken very seriously.

Soccer is also popular because it is a safe i.e. PC subject with which you can interact with new people. Like the weather, everyone has a view on a soccer game. You can usually humorously support different teams and strike up a rivalry with someone without without becoming their deadly enemy.

International football is talked about much more, probably because the games are much closer and because it's much much harder to put together a great international soccer team than a club one, so there are more problems to discuss.

In international football managers don't have any choice over what talent they can field. Managers have to pick whatever half-decent players the national cohort has thrown up. If that's just 1 star goalie and 1 great right back and a decent striker among 8 mediocre outfielders, well the best players have to be picked to represent their country.

But if the managers can't control the personalities of these players, they can't control the team spirit, its discipline and therefore how the team will perform. If the star player is selfish and moody an international manager can't buy in reasonably skilled talent which is selfless, specifically to compensate for his star player's bad side.

When the manager's only other outstanding player in the country is a jackass too, there probably isn't going to be a good team spirit - e.g. France, or England, or typically the Netherlands teams of previous World Cups. (A lot to talk about though!) A professional club team would rarely get into a situation like that. Unlike club managers, international managers find it hard to not pick the best players for the good of the "team".


Steve, as other people have said, your use of statistical comparisons between NFL and World Cup are not appropriate unless you discuss the professional leagues too. It seems to me you have a casual, arms length, holding nose treatment, tailored for the kind American who likes to hate soccer... but this distracts from the good idea.

asdfadsfadsf said...

I guess lower scores means once poor-teams are getting better.
Japan and S. Korea, for instance, used to be a joke and got clobbered by other teams but now they are respectable and can hold their own against most teams.

asdfasdfasf said...

"Would the best NFL team really win 140 games if they played 160? Baseball has its flaws, but 162 games does provide a larger sample size than 16 NFL games."

Element of chance or luck is much bigger in baseball, which is why even Japan can even beat US or Cuba on occasion. But imagine Japan beating US or Cuba in football.

sdfasdfasdfas said...

World Cup should be compared with NFL playoffs than with regular season.

asfasdfasdfasf said...

"regular season play in soccer is similar to NHL action. there are more goals. the teams play differently. they play to win. they don't play not to lose."

This is an interesting point. In regular season, gambling and taking chances to score more points is acceptable since a team can afford to lose a lot of games and still make it to the playoffs.
But in the World Cup, every game is ALL IMPORTANT, so teams take fewer chances. Thus lower scores.

But the same is true of NFL playoffs and championship(every game is do or die) but they can be very high scoring.

Silver said...

If your World Cup team gets beat 1-0, that's about as bad as your NFL team getting beat 20-0, but it doesn't necessarily feel that way. It's easier to construct a narrative about a 1-0 game to suit your feeling than about a 20-0 game.

Steve, you can't be serious. There is no way 1-0 in soccer feels even close to 20-0 in football. Think about it: a shutout in football is much more of a drubbing than in soccer. You know, geezus, you could even get a measley field goal, how crap is that?

I'd say it's like losing 20-14, or better yet, 10-6 -- you clearly weren't thumped, in fact you were pretty much "in it," and even you had a shot at scoring a "real goal," but all you could do was get for a couple of consolation scores.

Steve Sailer said...

"Steve, you can't be serious. There is no way 1-0 in soccer feels even close to 20-0 in football."

Right. That's why the point of my post is that, "Psychologically, however, 1-0 is quite different from 20-0."

Osman the Turk said...

Steve, you're saying "for every 41 points scored in a 2009 NFL game, there were 2.1 goals scored in a group stage World Cup soccer match." OK, true. Then you say, "if your World Cup team is down two goals, that's like being down 6 touchdowns in an NFL game." Patently false.

First, this can be empirically tested. What percentage of 6 touchdown deficits have ended up with a comeback? Whereas, just recently, to give two immediate examples, England tied up its game against Germany in 20 seconds (obvious call missed) and the US came back to tie 2-2 (and scored the winner, but the call was missed).

Someone tells you: "A 2009 NFL game has just finished, but you have no further information. One team scored 23 points. Did it win or lose?" Then, you're smart to bet that it won, because 23>20.5. Similarly: "One random World Cup team scored a goal." Bet that it ended in a tie.

But, learning that a random team was down by 23 points at some point is a different matter, conveying far more information than learning that a soccer team was down by a goal at some point.

The probability that a random team makes up a 21 point deficit, given that it is inferior enough to be down 21 points, is very low indeed. The probability that a random soccer team makes up a 1 goal deficit, given that it is "inferior" enough to be down 1 goal, is not nearly as low.

It's like a UFC fight vs an Olympic taekwando fight. Even if there is one staggering UFC strike per 12 taekwando points, it doesn't mean that a UFC fighter who gets knocked down once has the same probability of coming back as the taekwando fighter down 12 points. That's a question of how much information is conveyed by the deficit.

Then, even if both sides were theoretically equal in ability, such that any past point/goal has no predictive value, logistics also come into play. An equalizing goal can be scored in the final minute, whereas making up a 23 point deficit quickly is impossible. Thus, if your team is down three touchdowns with 1/20 of the game (3 minutes) remaining, you head for the parking lot. You never do that if your soccer team is down a goal with 4.5 minutes to go (plus stoppage).

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, as I said, low-scoring in soccer manages to "keep hope alive."

Steve Sailer said...

In case you all haven't noticed, I've been explaining for some time now things that are _good_ about soccer.

Anonymous said...

I think you're searching too hard for the root of soccer's popularity, assuming that there must be something there when there isn't.

1. It's not as popular as proponents say. From what I can tell, China, India, Indonesia and Japan join the US in nearly absolute indifference to soccer. That's more than half the world's population right there, so it's not really the world's game. (That's not to say that it isn't more popular than any other single sport. It's just to say that all those stories about how Americans are almost unique in their inability to appreciate the beautiful game are crap. Lots of people don't appreciate the beautiful game.)

2. People like watching sports they play and soccer is just about the world's easiest sport to play. All you need is two goals and a ball. Rich, poor, urban, rural: no problem. Americans, who play lots of sports, including some that are far more fun to watch than soccer, choose to watch the others in later life, even though soccer is more fun to play than baseball, football (unless you're the QB) and hockey. Basketball is both more fun to play (5-man-teams mean you get the ball a lot) and more fun to watch.

3. But Europeans are rich enough to play lots of sports and they still love soccer. Yes, some Europeans are relatively wealthy and some love soccer -- but there's not that much overlap among the two groups. Soccer players and its fans all come overwhelmingly from the lowest economic strata in Europe, which means they have the least experience playing better sports and the least mental wherewithal to understand them. Soccer is a great sport for stupid people because -- as you pointed out in this article -- small sample sizes mean that any very stupid guy can make any really stupid argument he wants without being categorically demolished by the sort of obnoxious analytical guy who loves baseball.

SkinnyDynamo said...

"Thus, a 1-0 World Cup game is like a 20-0 NFL game"

Applying a similar calculation to basketball, we find that a 1-0 World Cup game is like a 94-0 NBA game. You see the problem, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Could the people who claim La Liga or Premier League is fundamentally different/higher scoring than the world cup kindly provide some numbers to substantiate their claims? Otherwise it's just assertion-tossing.



For the 2006 WC, there were 2.3 goals scored per game. Last year in the English Premier League, there were 2.77 goals scored per game.

The trend in the WC is for lower scoring - back before the sixties scoring was much more frequent.

Average goals-per-match for each World Cup tournament:

5.385 : Switzerland 1954
4.667 : France 1938
4.118 : Italy 1934
4.000 : Brazil 1950
3.889 : Uruguay 1930
3.600 : Sweden 1958
2.969 : Mexico 1970
2.808 : Spain 1982
2.781 : Chile 1962
2.781 : England 1966
2.712 : United States 1994
2.684 : Argentina 1978
2.672 : France 1998
2.553 : West Germany 1974
2.538 : Mexico 1986
2.516 : Korea/Japan 2002
2.297 : Germany 2006
2.212 : Italy 1990

The country listed is the country where the WC was held that year.

Anonymous said...

Soccer players and its fans all come overwhelmingly from the lowest economic strata in Europe, which means they have the least experience playing better sports

Soccer is THE European sport. It's fans include the politicians and business tycoons of Europe. Yet the logic of your position is that Europe as a whole is at the "lowest economic strata" and completely deficient in people with experience in "better sports". I'm sure that Roman Abramovich would be disturbed to discover that he's in the "lowest economic strata".

That minor problem aside, who are you to say which sports are "better"? And where is your complete ranking of all sports?

adsfadsfadsfasd said...

"I think you're searching too hard for the root of soccer's popularity, assuming that there must be something there when there isn't."

Soccer is the easiest game to not only play but understand. If you don't know football, the game looks weird. If you don't know baseball, you wonder what it's all about.
But soccer you get right away. Kick the ball into the goal.
Easiest game to understand, hardest game to score.

I wonder what game is hardest to understand, easiest to score.

asdfasdfadf said...

"Thus, a 1-0 World Cup game is like a 20-0 NFL game"

Applying a similar calculation to basketball, we find that a 1-0 World Cup game is like a 94-0 NBA game. You see the problem, Steve.


But think. A good many football games have scores that go up to higher 30s or even 40s. So, a score of 20 in football isn't something special. It is only half of a high scoring game.
What is a high scoring game in basketball? About a 100. Divide it by half, and you get 50.

So, one goal in soccer is about 50 pts in basketball.

Even so, soccer and football are roughly comparable, whereas basketball is very different game.

Suppose every soccer score was worth 7 pts. 2-1 would be 14-7.

Maybe soccer should make each regular goal 5 pts, each penalty kick 3 pts, and each shoot-off shot at the end 1 pt. Maybe a goal shot from far awaay should be 10 pts.

Anonymous said...

adsfadsfadsfadsf wrote:
------
I wonder what game is hardest to understand, easiest to score.
------

A good contender for that prize would be sabre fencing, a sport contested in the olympics without break since 1896.

In the direct elimiantion stage of sabre fencing, matches are fenced until one fencer has reached 15 points. With closely matched fencers, that would mean 28 points in one bout. In theory, the match is limited to a maximum of 180 seconds, but since experience has shown that real matches never get close to that limit, the clock is frequently turned off. A typical elapsed time (not counting stoppages) is about 30 or so, giving an average of 1 point scoring event/second.

It is inherently difficult to defend in sabre fencing, and a tactical choice to only defend while waiting for the opponents mistake will always lead to failure. Only might be able to pull it off if one is national team caliber fenicng versus a complete noob, but that is debatable.

Why is this so? team sports have a ball, a large field, and fixed goals at the opposite ends of the field. The defending team can contend itself with holding the ball away from its own goal, and put its players behind the ball so that a breakthrough is difficult.

All of that is different in fencing. The field is cramped (14¤2m), and the object to score - the fencers own body - can only be defended behind a small blade. A defender can not retreat much, since going behind the back line will give a point to the opponent. It is impossible to attack without bringing your own body close to your own opponent. which gives him possibilities should you screw up. Not so in team ball sports - if you dominate the game, the ball will be close to the opponent´s goal, giving you multilple opportunities to score, while he can not score before he has taking possession of the ball and moved over the field. In fencing, each fencer has his own object to score with, blade and tip - no need to take possesion.

In addition to that, sabre fencing has a Right-of-Way rule which says that if both fencer score roughly at the same time (which happens alot) then the one which had been on the offensive just before the hit will get the point, which the other one gets nothing. This rule favors offense even more, and makes looking at sabre fencing by those who have not done it themselves quite challenging.

In comparison, epee fencing has a lower scoring rate - a 28 point game would typically take 7 minutes of effective time, or 15 seconds per point. Right-of-Way does not exist in epee, and defence-while-waiting-for-your-opponent-to-screw-up is a common and valid strategy in epee.

HBD people might be interested in the fact that among USA fencers, jews are overrepresented, while hispanics and blacks are quite underrepresented. Other whites and east asians are a bit overrepresented also. Blue states knock the red states by a huge margin.

Internationally, the European powerhouses are France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Hungaria with some other countries being 2nd tier. Outside Europe, USA, China, S.Korea, and Japan have risen dramatically in the last decade, and can compete or even outshine the better European countries. There are pockets of reasonable results in S.America and other parts of Australasia, but Africa is really bad. In the most recent African championships, several events had all-white medal stands, from South Africa and Algeria/Tunisia/Egypt.

Sailer should really read up on this sport; the HBD aspects would interest him.

Anonymous said...

"Soccer is THE European sport" loved by elites and working men alike??? -- (It's hard to respond to specific people when the comments don't allow conversation and the thought police have scared most comment writers out of using names.)

Either you have never been to Europe during soccer season or you have not observed life there very closely.

Up until maybe 15 years ago, Britain's broadsheets hardly bothered to even print soccer scores because soccer was such an absurdly working class sport. The conservative Telegraph and liberal Guardian were bound by the common belief that it would be pointless to print soccer scores because none of the mouth-breathers who watched soccer could read.

Things are somewhat different these days because every elite person must constantly signal a distaste for elitism. Eton graduates speak mockney and everyone professes to support a team, though if you look at the ratings only about 5 percent of people in Britain's top earnings quintile watch soccer regularly.

I know dozens of Oxbridge graduates and a fair number of LSEers -- because I travel for work; I'm not British, which is suppose is obvious from my spelling and use of the word "soccer" -- and only a handful of them are true fans of any Premier League club.

In other European nations, where it's still just fine for the elite to be openly snobbish, the elite do not watch soccer. If you want to prove this to yourself, go to the website of the most elite newspaper in any country and see how much soccer coverage you see. Nearly zero.

If this does not seem thorough enough for you, try befriending people who have graduated truly elite European schools. It's a lot of effort to settle a bet, granted, but having a window into the thought of elite Europeans from different countries is constantly amusing (and I'm sure my crude American thoughts are equally amusing to them.)

I have sample sets of five or six from Germany (Heidelberg), Ireland (Trinity) and Switzerland (Geneva) and more than 20 in France (ENS and EP). I started emailing a bit of smack just before the World Cup and the replies basically showed that only two or three of them -- of about 35 people, 80 percent male -- planned to watch any of the games.

Anonymous said...

In other European nations, where it's still just fine for the elite to be openly snobbish, the elite do not watch soccer.


The Chancellor of Germany and the Prime Minister of Great Britain watched the England-Germany soccer mach together. But perhaps you don't consider these persons to be part of "the elite".



In other European nations, where it's still just fine for the elite to be openly snobbish, the elite do not watch soccer. If you want to prove this to yourself, go to the website of the most elite newspaper in any country and see how much soccer coverage you see. Nearly zero.


How much NBA coverage is there in Investor Business Daily or The Wall Street Journal? Remember, your claim was that soccer is a stupid sport for stupid people, unlike the sophisticated American games. So you should have no difficulty in meeting your own standard and demonstrating the way in which the intellectual elite in America are big fans of American sports. Hop to it, lawyer.

Anonymous said...

try befriending people who have graduated truly elite European schools. It's a lot of effort to settle a bet, granted, but having a window into the thought of elite Europeans from different countries is constantly amusing (and I'm sure my crude American thoughts are equally amusing to them.)


I have sample sets of five or six from Germany (Heidelberg), Ireland (Trinity) and Switzerland (Geneva) and more than 20 in France (ENS and EP). I started emailing a bit of smack just before the World Cup and the replies basically showed that only two or three of them -- of about 35 people, 80 percent male -- planned to watch any of the games.





Why don't you try befriending people from truly elite American schools, and then quiz them about their degree of support for the Lakers, Saints, or Phillies? Or would that undermine your theory?

Anonymous said...

Politicians profess to be passionate fans of lower class sports because being "with the team" is an easy way to win lower class votes.

Elites in the US are highly likely to be passionate about NFL football, college football, college basketball. It's not unusual to find ones who are pretty interested in MLB and NBA, though the sheer number of games make it hard for really successful people to follow them.

They have virtually no interest in the simplest of spectator sports, the American soccer, Nascar.