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Volume 45, No. 1
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Economics / Professor Fernando Lozano
Fútbolnomics


Story by Paul Oberjuerge / Photo by Carlos Puma

Fernando Lozano doesn’t plan to stake his entire career on “fútbolnomics.” His future forays into the field may be as rare as U.S. victories in the soccer World Cup.

But he knows this: “Fútbolnomics” certainly can draw a crowd. Even among academics.

“Doing soccer is so much fun just because of the reaction I get from people,” he says. “People would much rather talk about soccer than talk about educational attainment or people’s working hours. When I present my paper, I get full rooms.”

Lozano presented his fútbolnomics work at a Society of Labor Economists meeting at Columbia University in May, and the 34-year-old Pomona assistant professor of economics has never been so popular.

Academics from all over the world were keen to talk about his study titled, “The FIFA World Cup and the Hours of Work of American Males.”

What were his methods? How did he collect and parse his data?

And how ’bout that World Cup?!?

Lozano is excited about his paper because his analysis of Current Population Survey labor data found that the average salaried U.S. employee works 30 minutes fewer per week during the four-week FIFA World Cup, the planet’s most popular sports event, staged once every four years.

That lost time is worth a cumulative $1.2 billion to the U.S. economy, Lozano finds. Not a big number in a $13 trillion economy, he says, but perhaps globally significant, considering the still-limited interest in the World Cup among U.S. natives.

“Actually, that’s what encouraged me most,” Lozano says, “because if I can see an effect in the U.S. ... I’m capturing a lot of data and I could imagine the effect I might be seeing in Brazil or Spain.”

He originally considered branding his work “soccernomics.” But “somebody at the World Bank used that name and soccer still sounds kind of alien to me,” Lozano says. “So I just went with the Spanglish term.”

Presto! “Fútbolnomics.”

Lozano is an avowed soccer fan, even though he says he played the sport poorly in his youth growing up in Mexico and was actually a superior baseball player. “But you had to play soccer or you didn’t have any friends.”

He traces his interest in the World Cup/hours-worked topic to 1978, when he was 4 years old. His father, a Mexico City businessman, took young Fernando with him to the office specifically to watch the World Cup, contested that summer in Argentina. Lozano found all his father’s employees at their work stations—watching the soccer matches.

Nearly three decades later, he brought academic rigor to something “everyone knew.” That “countries shut down,” he says, during the World Cup.

Says Professor Gary Smith, Lozano’s Pomona economics colleague: “It is a wonderful paper that systematically confirms what previously had been anecdotal.”

Smith says academics no longer are likely to dismiss sports-themed work in the field. “For many years, pure theory ruled economics,” Smith says. “Now, there is a tremendous interest in using economic tools and data to answer all sorts of provocative questions. Freakonomics [a best-seller written by a University of Chicago economist] is symptomatic of this revolution.”

Lozano now is working with three Pomona students, members of the men’s soccer team, on an investigation into “social distance” of referees in the World Cup and the frequency with which they hand out disciplinary penalties to players.

He suspects that officials who come from a region not familiar with another region’s “style” of soccer are more likely to penalize a player (with a “red” or “yellow” card) from an area that plays what the referee perceives to be exotic or unusual soccer. For example, a Canadian referee officiating a match with an African team, or a Japanese referee overseeing a game involving Mexico.

 Referee’s choices are “responses to incentives,” Lozano says, “and economics is a science that studies behavior in the face of incentives.”

He is looking over World Cup game reports and identifying where the ref is from, and how many red/yellow cards he handed out—and to players from which countries. While poring over those old reports, there’s always the likelihood that the statistics will trigger memories of a riveting match.

“It’s a fun combination of work and play,” says David Martin ’09, a midfielder for the Sagehens soccer team, who is one of three team members helping Lozano with the research. “Mixing what we learn in class with what we love to do in our free time.” Martin says he enjoys a professor with whom he can relate on so many levels.

“Professor Lozano brings a kind of enthusiasm to the classroom that is contagious,” he says. “You can tell immediately that he really enjoys what he does and that he enjoys his interactions with students. ... When you can tell that your professor is really enjoying himself, it makes the class immediately better.”

Lozano’s sports-related research goes beyond fútbolnomics. Students of his are working on a study of baseball free agency, and he has been asked to apply the same sort of analysis he brought to his “World Cup and Hours of Work” study to other sports, such as baseball or the Olympics.

Most of Lozano’s scholarly work has focused on issues pertaining to Mexican immigrants in the American workplace..

 “There is fun in sports topics and immigration topics, but you don’t want to concentrate too much on any one topic. If you’re writing a paper, it can become tiresome, and after two or three years you put it down for a little while to do something else, and when you come back to it you say, ‘Ooh, ooh, this is really cool and now I remember why I was doing it.’”

Lozano can get his fútbol fix on weekends, when he sometimes joins informal games with Pomona faculty at Claremont’s Chaparral Park. Professor Smith plays too and he says, tongue in cheek, that Lozano is a better player than he admits to. “He is excessively modest,” Smith says. “He reminds me of [onetime English superstar] George Best.”

Whatever his on-field skills, Lozano readily concedes that he spends far more time watching the game on TV than playing it. And, he admits, when the next World Cup rolls around in 2010, his own work hours just might slip a bit.
 

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