Preface: I am cranky. I had my Boston Sports Mania Thursday all planned out, complete with game 7 Bruins tickets and everything. And while there was a sweep involved for Boston, it was in the wrong direction. (Also, I would argue that there are few things as soul-crushing as a sudden death overtime loss.) Seriously, what are the chances? (Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 8, technically, but still…) The one upside is that, with some help from a last minute t-shirt gift, I managed to fashion a reasonably cute Bruins outfit:
Completely appropriate for a hockey game, I would argue. Anyway, the friend that I was at the game with had invited me to game 7 of the last round of the Celtics playoffs, but unfortunately I hadn’t seen the text message in time to take him up on his offer. He sent me this email the next day, which illustrates an interesting psychological point:
“So I’ve lived in Boston almost three years, and there’s quite a bit I haven’t done [yet]. I figure if I’m only going to go to one Celtics game, by golly I’m going to do it right. Floor seats, behind the basket, Game 7 of an amazing series. Seats any basketball fan would kill for — not to mention a rabid Boston sports fan.
Now I’m pretty free with my money. Not because I have a lot, just because I know I’m going to spend it eventually, probably on college loans. So paying $987 for two Celtics tickets isn’t a big deal, given the quality of the seats and the weight of that particular game. In this case, I covered the cost of the tickets and my roommate said he’d pay me back whenever. Kind of like putting on an old coat and finding $20 in the pocket. I can work with that.
But then roommate proceeds to ‘pre-game’ a little TOO much. I ask him to stop, awkward silence ensues, incoherent argument 10 minutes later, old shit sneaks into current discussion, I say ‘fuck it’ and go in search of a new Game 7 companion.
This is where things get weird. For the life of me, I can’t GIVE AWAY Celtics tickets. Game 7 of the playoffs. Floor seats. What gives!?
I understand there’s some guilt associated with accepting high-dollar tickets from a friend, associate, colleague, or acquaintance. No one wants to feel indebted like that. So for the people that gave me a tentative ‘yes,’ I explained that I viewed the tickets as a sunk cost, and simply wanted to salvage the evening by spending it with someone who’d have a wonderful time. [cricket… cricket…]
So eventually Wendy came along, and wrote me a check for $100 after the fact, along with a heartfelt Thank You card I might frame, or at least pin to the corkboard for a bit. I might not even cash the check. Or maybe I will, so I can go to another Sox game.
The point is, I’m still perplexed that it was SOO difficult to give away tickets to a playoff game. Is that tinge of guilt so overwhelming in people as to forego such an incredible opportunity? Wouldn’t the experience be worth it? I wasn’t asking anyone to name their first-born child after me — I just wanted to be in good company.
If the field of Behavioral Economics is as advanced as, say, Organizational Behavior, I suspect you have a theory that addresses The Celtics Phenomenon. If not, I guess I can chalk it up as “Nobody Likes Me, Guess I’ll Go Eat Worms.” In any case, I hope the story makes for an interesting line of ponderation.”
I can, for the record, say that my friend is perfectly nice to be around, so we can rule out jackass cost as an explanation of the above scenario. Furthermore, I doubt that the response can be attributed to people not caring about basketball, since a. it’s Boston, b. you don’t have to specifically like basketball for a playoff game 7 to be reasonably entertaining, and c. it’s Boston. As such, I really do think my friend is on to something. Consider an economic experiment called the ultimatum game:
There are two players in the ultimatum game- let’s call them Jack and Jill. Jack is given $10 and then instructed to make an offer to Jill regarding how the $10 should be split between the two of them. Once he makes an offer to Jill, she has the option to either accept or reject the offer. If Jill accepts, the $10 is split according to Jack’s offer. If Jill rejects, both Jack and Jill get nothing. From a pure monetary perspective then, Jill should accept any offer given to her, since even one penny is technically better than nothing. The only justification, then, for rejecting an offer is spite or punishment. (It is important to note that Jack and Jill don’t know each other and don’t expect to interact again in the future, so reasons such as teaching Jack to behave can be ruled out, unless of course you think that Jill is trying to do a favor for society by teaching Jack to not be a d-bag.)
So what happens in the ultimatum game in practice? There are two interesting observations:
- Offers are typically higher than pure economic theory would predict, with a $5/$5 split being a surprisingly popular offer
- There are more rejections than pure economics theory would predict, and offers where Jill gets less than $4 or so are typically rejected
These observations imply, at the very least, that people place some value on a transaction being considered fair, and also that people are willing to sacrifice in order to maintain this notion of fairness. (For the record, I, as an economist, would accept just about any offer, but I wouldn’t make an “unfair” offer, since I don’t expect people to be as objective as I am. Then again, I also would have jumped on the ticket offer and worried about money and/or fairness later.)
Why is this relevant to the Celtics example above? The Celtics example is just another form of perceived fairness in a transaction, albeit in a different direction. I doubt there are many examples of Jack offering $9 in the ultimatum game, and I also doubt that Jill would reject the offer in that case, since doing so would punish Jack. However, I am guessing that people see the Celtics example as analogous to the following:
Jack has the opportunity to split $10. He makes an offer to Jill, who can accept or reject. If she accepts, the proposed split takes place. If she rejects, Jack gets the $10. (This analogy holds if you assume that my friend with the tickets can find someone else who is willing to buy the extra ticket.)
In this case, it seems more plausible that Jill would want to reward Jack for a particurly generous offer. What Jill doesn’t entirely consider is that her “reward” leaves Jack sitting by himself at the Boston Garden. Oh how good intentions go awry sometimes…