Having played in football pools for several seasons on a lot of the big sites, I’ve noticed fan picks are all the same. If you glance at the percentages of fans who pick one team or the other, most of the time there isn’t much difference between ESPN and Yahoo. Doesn’t matter whether it’s NFL, NCAA BB, or NCAA FB. Fans playing online pools mostly pick the same way.
The College Bowl season brings the spotlight on one glaring difference between ESPN’s and Yahoo’s respective College Bowl pools. That glaring difference is what Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein call a “nudge.”
First, the similarity. Last year I wrote that the rank correlation between ESPN’s and Yahoo’s fan pick percentages on all 68 teams was 0.99. Pretty much indistinguishable.
Now for the nudge. I don’t know whether this was intentional on Yahoo’s part, but it certainly was mindless on ESPN’s part. If you visit the pool site for Yahoo, you’ll see the games listed in reverse chronological order, and the default confidence picks are descending as well. In other words, if all you do is pick the winners without bothering to re-sort the games according to your confidence, your picks will be back-ended. Most of your point opportunities won’t come until after the New Year. In fact, the final 11 games (starting with the 3rd game on Jan 1) count for over half your points opportunity.
Switch over to ESPN and you’ll see the opposite. Here the games are listed in chronological order, but the default confidence points are in reverse-chronological order — so the default pick set is front-loaded. Say you don’t bother re-ordering your picks on ESPN, then half your points opportunity is spent by the 11th game, Dec. 28.
You’re probably wondering “who doesn’t re-order the games?” The answer: more than you’d think. Just watch as the pick distributions fill in, just how high the average confidence is for ESPN fans on the New Mexico Bowl between Brigham Young and UTEP. A pair of forgettable 6-6 teams probably won’t fetch more than an average confidence of 4 on Yahoo, but I bet they’ll both be 20 or over on ESPN.
So what does this have to do with web traffic? A lot of Yahoo players will still be in the running in January, and they’ll be visiting the pool site with regularity to check the standings. Not so for ESPN. Sure, fans will visit the ESPN site in general like they always do, but it won’t be to see how their College Bowl picks are faring, because it will already have been decided.