Skip to main content
economy lab

In the United States, professional football is a $9-billion business, with revenue from television accounting for $4-billion.Kathy Willens

Marina Adshade is an economist at Dalhousie University. She writes regularly on the economics of sex and love on her blog Dollars and Sex

As the Vancouver Canucks continue their playoff run, Canadians can enjoy a few more weeks of action on the ice.

Fans are always happy when their team is winning, but inevitably some fans will have to face the disappointment that comes with supporting a losing team. Hockey is sometimes a violent sport and there is evidence that some professional sporting events, like the Stanley Cup playoffs, can perpetuate violence that spills off the ice and into viewer's homes. Specifically, do sporting events threaten women's safety?

New research co-authored by Canadian economist David Card of Berkeley suggests that high levels of domestic abuse correlate not only with major sporting events, but specifically with events in which fans expected their team to win were disappointed when, in fact, their team lost.

The study adds a new understanding about the way in which television and the media can trigger domestic violence.

In the United States, professional football is a $9-billion business, with revenue from television accounting for $4-billion. Using twelve years of U.S. data from police reports of violent domestic incidents on Sundays during the professional football season and point spreads made by Las Vegas bookmakers for football games (as a way of measuring if fans expected the game to be a victory or loss), the authors of this paper found that when a home team was predicted to win by four or more points and instead lost the game the level of violence perpetuated by men against their wives and girlfriends increases by a remarkable 10 per cent. This violence was isolated in a narrow window immediately following the end of the game and the number of acts of family violence increases as games became more important.

On the other hand, if the team was expected to lose, and did in fact lose, there was no increase in domestic violence; likewise for when the team was expected to lose and won instead.

Just to put this increase in domestic violence in context, holiday weekends also are correlated with an increase in domestic violence. For example, on Monday (Memorial Day in the U.S.) police can expect reports of abuse to increase by 30 per cent.

So, the football upset effect described here is only one-third of the Memorial Day effect. This isn't to diminish the disappointed fans effect, though. While everyone across the country has Memorial Day, football fans are generally geographically isolated and, while maybe not a small proportion of the population, certainly only a fraction of households are watching football on any given Sunday.

Of course this isn't really about sports, or necessarily about sports fans. It is about understanding the role played by the experience of loss in perpetuating abuse in homes; even a minor loss such as the loss of a game.

Follow Economy Lab on twitter