College Sports DO Have Positive Spillover Effects!
While I have wondered before whether college athletics really have the benefits so often attributed to them, it turns out that they do, in fact, have some rather important positive externalities. It’s just those spillover effects are not necessarily the kind one would immediately think of when addressing the topic of college athletics. In a piece for Slate, Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier point me to this paper by Andrew Healy, Neil Malhotra, and Cecilia Mo which demonstrated that there is “clear evidence that the successes and failures of the local college football team before Election Day significantly inﬂuence the electoral prospects of the incumbent party, suggesting that voters reward and punish incumbents for changes in their well-being unrelated to government performance.” The paper shows that football victories within 1o days of Election Day boosts the incumbent’s vote share by 0.8 percentage points, with larger effects for localities with teams that generate high attendance or are powerhouse programs.
However, on second thought, I’m not so sure that I can really call these “positive spillover effects.” After all, whether or not they are “positive,” really depends on how one views the particular incumbent in each political race. If the incumbent happens to be on the other side (as defined from each voter’s individual perspective), then the spillover effect would be a negative one, so whether this effect yields an overall social benefit is a wash. The only problem now is that some politicians may decide to call for more spending on college athletics in the hope of stimulating their vote in the next election (just kidding!).