Economists have long recognized that the sports and entertainment industries exhibit elements of what University of Chicago economics Sherwin Rosen called the economics of superstars in his classic 1981 study, in which small differences in talent or popularity can lead to outsize differences in returns. Anyone who reaches the NBA, for instance, is by definition an elite athlete. But if the superior skills of a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant added a mere 2 points per game on average to his team’s total, in a league where the average point differential per game is 0.06, over the course of a season they could easily add a half a dozen or more wins to the team’s record, making the difference between first place and missing the playoffs. Given the financial payoff for the team’s owners of reaching the playoffs, James and Bryant are worth almost any price, as in fact their salaries reflect.
Similarly, there are many talented performers in the entertainment industries. But people tend to prefer to listen to the same music and see the same movies as their friends. So if their friends start to listen to Adele or Taylor Swift more than other artists, even by a small amount, that difference in popularity is quickly amplified through network effects to where Adele and Swift tower over others in the charts and can command almost any price for their concerts. Read More »