The Importance of the Face to the Face of a Franchise

Jayson Spikes
August 15 2017 01:31PM

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Summer 2017 saw the signing of Carey Price and Connor McDavid to huge contracts. And so far August has been Sidney Crosby appreciation month, as the legend celebrates his 30th birthday. All the discussion around the value these men bring to their teams. got me wondering how important the face is to the face of a franchise.

There’s a lot of research regarding the effects looks have on one’s success. The results aren't good for people like me with a face made for blogging. There’s evidence that prettier people get more attention in school, get lighter sentences in court and ultimately earn more than their less attractive peers, all else being equal.

In the sports sphere, the research isn't quite as rich, but I did manage to find a 2010 working paper on the topic: What does it mean to find the Face of the Franchise? Physical Attractiveness and the Evaluation of Athletic Performance.

This paper is based on NFL quarterbacks, but the results of that group, generally the most important players on their teams, may be useful when looking at superstar who have big impacts on team success in the roles of first line forward, top pairing defenceman and starting goalie.

THE DATA

The working paper studied 138 quarterbacks between 1995 and 2009. These 138 QBs gave rise to 621 player-season observations. The authors created a test for measuring facial symmetry on a 100-point scale (facial symmetry being believed to be a large determiner of what humans perceive to be attractive, based on several different fields of research). The 138 QBs ranged in score from 90.36 to 99.77, with higher scores indicating more facial symmetry.

The authors combined the facial symmetry data with other information about QBs that could help explain QB compensation:

  • Passing yards in the prior season

  • Career passing attempts

  • Years of experience

  • Draft position

  • Change in bargaining power after 3 years

  • Moving to a new team vs re-signing

  • Talent around the QB

  • Pro bowl appearances

THE RESULTS

The economists ran a variety of tests, but the results were consistent: a player’s attractiveness was a statistically significant determiner of compensation. The results were present in the season-by-season analysis and at the career level and the relationship actually appeared stronger at the career level.

In terms of numbers, the researchers determined that moving from one standard deviation below the mean to one standard deviation above the mean (or an increase of 3.16 on the facial symmetry scale) resulted in increased earnings of 11.8%, or approximately $378,000 per season.

Clearly, it pays to be good looking.

CONCLUSION

Economists have found that prettier people get treated better by teachers and jurors and have better outcomes in the general labour market. As such, we shouldn't be too surprised that better looking threatens do better, even when we control for things like performance, experience and pedigree.

The authors posit two possibilities for the bump in wages for the better looking. First, when you're talking about pro athletes whose job it is to perform in front of millions of people in a given season, it makes sense that having better looking players may draw more eyeballs to the screen and more dollars into an owner’s bank account, making it an attribute worth paying more for.

Second, the authors point out that it may be the case that attractiveness is just a proxy for other attributes which aren't measured as easily as things like goals and assists. There is research that shows that more attractive people are more confident, which leads to higher compensation due to better communication and leadership skills. So, the authors suggest that the “intangibles” we always talk about are just unevenly distributed with a preference for good looking athletes and the research on good looking athletes is just picking that up.

I like both arguments. I like the second argument even more, because it seems to suggest that me that simply being more confident may pay dividends in the form of better communication and leadership. Naturally, the trick then becomes getting more confidence while still being more suited for blogging than vlogging. More on that next time! (or not!)

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Jayson Spikes likes hockey and economics and, since sports economics is totally real a thing, he can write about two of his passions at the same time right here, discussing the behaviour and incentives of fans, players, coaches, general managers and owners. The business, finance and psychology of sports are other topics that interest him and may show up in his posts.
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