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Do States with Professional Sports Teams Have Lower Suicide Rates?

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DOI: 10.4236/ojs.2018.85050    102 Downloads   258 Views  
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ABSTRACT

The author examines six age-group specific suicide rates in 2016 between states (in the continental United States) with and without professional sports teams in baseball [MLB], football [NFL], hockey [NHL], and basketball [NBA]. States with at least one team in baseball or football have significantly lower suicide rates among adults in all six age groups (over 20 years of age). States with at least one hockey team have significantly lower suicide rates for all adults over the age of 20, except the oldest age group (adults 65 years of age or over). The results are weakest for states with at least one basketball team. Adults only between 25 and 44 years of age and 65 years of age or over have significantly lower suicide rates with at least one NBA team.

1. Introduction

Many people have written on the economic benefits and costs of hosting a sports franchise. One benefit of a franchise might be that its presence promotes marital stability [1] . The finding that the 1998 World Cup had an effect on reducing suicide rates in France [2] , the host nation and eventual winner of that year’s World Cup, begs the question: do U.S. states with baseball, football, hockey, or basketball professional sports franchises experience significantly lower suicide rates? One could argue that the sense of belonging and social integration associated with a sports franchise explains why states with a pro sports team might have lower suicide rates than those states without.

In this brief research note, we examine the difference in average suicide rates across six age groups between states (in the continental United States) with and without franchises in the four major North American professional sports leagues (baseball [MLB], football [NFL], hockey [NHL], and basketball [NBA]). The emphasis here is not on how the aftermath of a single sporting event or how well (or poorly) a team performs over the course of a season affects suicidal behavior (see, for example, Fernquist [3] ). Rather, we are curious to see if the mere presence of a major sports franchise reduces suicidal behavior among residents of the state fortunate enough to have attracted a major league franchise.

2. Literature Review

The ultimate location of professional sports teams depends in large part on the competition among host cities and the public subsidies, not to mention “sweetheart deals,” they can offer to entice teams (see, for example, Porter and Thomas [4] ). Reasonably good weather, proximity to a well-heeled fan base, and maybe the promise of a new or at least renovated stadium all factor into where a team decides to locate.

The economic benefits that allegedly result from hosting a major league sports franchise include: 1) job creation, 2) greater tax revenues, and 3) increased retail spending by out-of-state visitors. Yet many economists have debunked the alleged economic benefits (see, for example, Baade and Sanderson [5] ). There is scant evidence that these economic benefits―additional employment or increased spending―actually materialize.

The less tangible and nonpecuniary benefits of having a home team to root for are, however, very difficult to measure. The difference in average suicide rates (easier to quantify) between states with and without at least one professional sports team may be nothing more than a statistical curiosity. But, if such a relationship does exist, one would expect that the difference would be greatest for the most stable sports leagues, namely, those leagues with the fewest franchise relocations.1 According to Edwards [7] , since 1970 MLB has had the fewest franchise relocations and the NBA has experienced the most. As a result, one might expect to find that the difference between average suicide rates in states with and without MLB (NBA) teams would be largest (smallest).

3. The Data

1When the Dodgers left Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for the West Coast after the 1957 season, many Dodger fans felt abandoned. The sense of loss was likened to “taking a heart out of a person” [6] . To Walter O’Malley, then owner of the Dodgers, the motivation to move was a simple matter of economic profit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in June 2018 released the latest figures (as of 2016) on age-specific suicide rates per 100,000 people by state. Suicide death rates by state for six age groups―20 - 24, 25 - 34, 35 - 44, 45 - 54, 55 - 64, and 65 or over―were obtained from the CDC WONDER’s online database for mortality [8] . In cases where the number of deaths by suicide was less than 10 (or deemed by the CDC to be “unreliable”), the CDC’s figures were suppressed.

A list of the twenty-nine Major League Baseball [MLB], thirty National Football League [NFL], twenty-four National Hockey League [NHL], and twenty-nine National Basketball Association teams located in the continental United States are from [9] .

Table 1 shows age-group specific suicide rates by state in the continental United States in 2016. The highest average suicide rate was among adults between 25 and 34 years of age in Montana (44.4 per 100,000 people), a state with no professional sports teams from any of the four leagues. The lowest average suicide rate was among adults also between 25 and 34 years of age in New Jersey (7.9), a state with two NFL teams (New York Giants and New York Jets; both teams play in East Rutherford, New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium) and one NHL team (New Jersey Devils). For all 48 contiguous states, the average suicide rate was highest in 2016 among adults between 45 and 54 years of age (23.02) and lowest for 20- to 24-year-olds (18.46, just slightly below the 18.48 average for adults 65 or over).

Table 2 shows the number of major professional sports teams by league in each state. Twenty-two of the lower 48 states have no teams in any of the four sports leagues. Thirteen states have at least one team in each of the four sports leagues: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland,2 Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Seventeen states in 2016 had at least one MLB team. Twenty-two, eighteen, and twenty-two states had at least one NFL, NHL, and NBA team, respectively, in 2016. California had the highest number of teams in each league.

2The CDC suppressed suicide rates for all six age groups in Washington DC. As a result, the Washington Nationals (MLB), Washington Capitals (NHL), and Washington Wizards (NBA) were counted among Maryland’s sports franchises (joining the Baltimore Orioles (MLB) and Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens (NFL)) because Annapolis, Maryland is the closest state capital to Washington, DC.

3Although the Las Vegas Golden Knights did not begin play until 2017, the decision to expand the NHL to include Las Vegas was made at the league owners’ meeting on June 22, 2016. Therefore, the Golden Knights are included in 2016 as a Nevada team.

The smallest state (in terms of their 2016 population as of July 1 [10] ) with an MLB team was Minnesota (Minnesota Twins) and the largest state without an MLB team was North Carolina. The smallest state with an NFL team was Louisiana (New Orleans Saints) and the largest state without an NFL team was Virginia. The smallest state with an NHL team was Nevada (Las Vegas Golden Knights)3 and the largest state without an NHL team was Georgia. The smallest state with an NBA team was Utah (Utah Jazz) and the largest state without an NBA team was New Jersey (after the New Jersey Nets moved to Brooklyn, New York in the 2012-13 NBA season).

4. Methodology

To determine whether or not states in the lower 48 with at least one sports franchise in either baseball [MLB], football [NFL], hockey [NHL], or basketball

Table 1. Suicide rates by age group and by state in the continental U.S., 2016.

aData sources: Suicide rates per 100,000 population by state for residents 20 to 24 years of age in 2016 are from: https://wonder.cdc.gov/controller/saved/D76/D38F594; suicide rates by state for residents between 25 and 64 years of age by ten-year age groups are from: https://wonder.cdc.gov/controller/saved/D76/D38F595; and suicide rates by state for residents 65 years of age or over are from: https://wonder.cdc.gov/controller/saved/D76/D38F596.

Table 2. Number of major professional sports teams by league in each state, 2016.

aBecause Annapolis, Maryland is the closest state capital to Washington DC, the three teams based in Washington DC―Washington Nationals (MLB), Washington Capitals (NHL), and Washington Wizards (NBA)―are all included in Maryland’s counts. bThe decision to locate an NHL team in Las Vegas, Nevada was made in June 2016. Data Sources: https://state.1keydata.com/mlb-teams-by-state.php; https://state.1keydata.com/nfl-teams-by-state.php; https://state.1keydata.com/nhl-teams-by-state.php; and https://state.1keydata.com/nba-teams-by-state.php.

4The two samples―states with and without at least one sports franchise―do not always add up to 48 because the CDC did not report in 2016 a suicide rate for particular age groups (see, for example, 20- to 24-year-olds in Delaware, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming, which all happen to be states without a sports franchise).

5. Presentation of Results

Table 3 shows the difference in average suicide rates for each of six age groups in states with and without a pro sports team in 2016.4 Among 20- to 24-year-olds and adults 45 to 64 years of age, suicide rates are, on average, discernibly lower in states with a baseball, football, or hockey franchise, but not discernibly lower in states with a basketball franchise (using α = 0.05).

Among adults 25 to 44 years of age, suicide rates are discernibly lower in states with a franchise from any of the four pro sports leagues. In addition, among adults 65 years of age or older, suicide rates are discernibly lower in states with an MLB, NFL and NBA franchise, but not an NHL franchise. For all six age groups (that is, any adult 20 years of age or older), suicide rates are discernibly lower in states with either an MLB or NFL franchise.

There are, admittedly, strong regional differences in average suicide rates, the lowest (for all six age groups but adults 65 or over) being in northeastern states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) as shown in Table 4. Hence, one might confuse regional differences in suicide rates to differences that are incorrectly ascribed to the presence of professional sports teams. For example, perhaps the average suicide rate for states with NHL teams is low because disproportionately many NHL teams are located in the northeast (more than in any other Census region). Table 5 shows how pro sports league coverage depends on Census region. To test the null hypothesis of no dependence, χ2 may be used. In Table 5, let πij denote the underlying bivariate probability distribution; for example, π23 is the probability that an NFL team is located in the South. Let πi and πj similarly denote the marginal probability distributions. Then the null hypothesis of statistical independence may be stated precisely as follows:

H 0 : π i j = π i × π j (1)

4The two samples―states with and without at least one sports franchise―do not always add up to 48 because the CDC did not report in 2016 a suicide rate for particular age groups (see, for example, 20- to 24-year-olds in Delaware, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming, which all happen to be states without a sports franchise).

against the two-tailed alternative hypothesis that π i j π i × π j . The calculated χ2 is 4.107; the critical χ2 (with nine degrees of freedom and α = 0.05) is 16.9. The calculated χ2 can be converted to a p-value, which is 0.904. This p-value is too

Table 3. Differences in average suicide rates by age and by major professional sports league, in states in 2016.

aThe p-values are for a two-sample one-tailed t-test. Numbers in italics (boldface) are significant at better than the .10 (0.05) level of significance.

Table 4. Average suicide rates by age group and by census region.

Table 5. Sports league coverage, by census region.

aThe league currently includes 30 franchises; all but the Toronto Blue Jays are located in the U.S. bThe league currently includes 32 franchises. cThe league currently includes 31 franchises, all but seven are located in the U.S. The seven Canadian teams are: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks. dThe league currently includes 30 franchises; all but the Toronto Raptors are located in the U.S.

high to reject H0 at the customary 5% level. That is, at this level χ2 fails to establish any dependence of pro sports league coverage on region. In other words, the finding that suicide rates in states with MLB, NFL, or (excluding the oldest age group) NHL teams are lower than in states without representation in these leagues is no accident of geography.

6. Concluding Remarks

There are numerous risk factors associated with suicide, including major psychiatric illness, substance abuse, a family history of suicide, and severely frayed relationships with family and friends. What role could sports possibly play in suicidal behavior? The analysis presented here suggests that states with professional sports teams in baseball, football, hockey, and, to a lesser extent, basketball generally have lower suicide rates. Even among die-hard fans for “lovable losers,” there is a sense of belonging that manifests itself in significantly lower suicide rates.

Future research might examine whether season-long success or failure of sports teams in the four major sports leagues affect the suicide rates of younger state residents differently from older state residents. Does making the playoffs or even winning a league championship reduce suicidal behavior more in one sport than in another? Moreover, how do the effects of winning on reducing suicidal behavior vary across the six different age groups?

Acknowledgements

The author gratefully acknowledges the help of CDC Wonder Customer Support in providing age-group specific suicide rates by state for the year 2016.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Cite this paper

Sommers, P. (2018) Do States with Professional Sports Teams Have Lower Suicide Rates?. Open Journal of Statistics, 8, 760-769. doi: 10.4236/ojs.2018.85050.

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