The business of selling legal weed is big and getting bigger. North Americans spent $6.7 billion on legal cannabis last year, and some analysts think that with California set to open recreational dispensaries on Jan. 1 and Massachusetts and Canada soon to follow, the market could expand to more than $20.2 billion by 2021. So it’s no surprise that you see eager business people across the country lining up to invest millions of dollars in this green rush.
But here’s a word of warning for those looking to dive head-first into these brand-new legal weed markets: The data behind the first four years of legal pot sales, with drops in retail prices and an increase in well-funded cannabis growing operations, shows a market that increasingly favors big businesses with deep pockets. As legal weed keeps expanding, pot prices are likely to continue to decline, making the odds of running a profitable small pot farm even longer.
Washington offers a cautionary tale for would-be pot producers. The state’s marijuana market, for which detailed information is available to the public, has faced consistent declines in prices, production consolidated in larger farms and a competitive marketplace that has forced cannabis processors to shell out for sophisticated technology to create brand new ways to get high.
“A lot of people (in Washington) are surprised, and a lot of people are in denial about the price dropping,” said Steven Davenport, a researcher with the RAND Corporation. “The average price per gram in Washington is about $8, and it’s not clear where the floor is going to be.”
Davenport has watched the legal weed market from its inception, starting with his work as a consultant to regulators in Washington state in 2013 when they were writing the rules that would govern the country’s second legal weed market,10 which allowed for both growing pot and licensing businesses to sell the product the following year.
There wasn’t a lot of data on how the market for cannabis worked back in 2013, and the regulators in Colorado and Washington were trying to write rules for a product that had never been sold on any regulated market. Questions about the market dynamics behind selling pot were in some ways unanswerable, the telltale information buried deep in the ledgers of black market dealers.
Now, four years later, as entrepreneurs launch recreational cannabis businesses in California and Massachusetts, the tables have turned. With legal pot sales happening every day in five states, there’s a wealth of data about how the market works. In fact, there might be more public data on how this market works than any other market in the world thanks to a public database11 containing each legal weed transaction that has taken place in Washington state. The massive, 45-gigabyte database tracks every plant as it is harvested, processed and sold.12
This data shows that legalization has been extremely disruptive to the previous ways of growing and processing pot, when small, underground weed businesses could stay afloat with a basement full of grow lights.
“Prices are declining, the industry is consolidating, product variety is exploding — and none of that is a surprise,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a former co-director of RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center who co-authored a book in 2012 called “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.” “Those are all things that we predicted well in advance because they are natural consequences of legalizing along a for-profit commercial model.”
Declining Pot Prices
Pot shoppers didn’t have much of an economic incentive to purchase legal weed when Washington’s first recreational stores opened in July 2014. With only a handful of farms and stores licensed to sell legal pot, the market’s supply was constricted, and the average retail price per legal gram in that first month of sales was $32.48,13 considerably higher than the black market or medical market prices.
The average retail price went up to $35.67 the following month, according to the state’s data as provided by TopShelfData.com, but pot prices have seen a steady decline since then: Within six months, the average retail price had dropped to $21.07 a gram; a year later, after a change in state taxes,14 pot was averaging just $12.32 a gram; and by September of this year, the average retail price for a gram was $7.45, or 77 percent cheaper than when the legal market first began. Producers in September were getting an average wholesale price of $2.53 a gram of pot.
Those prices are a lot lower than what the pot farmers thought they would be getting for a wholesale gram when they were first applying for licenses at the end of 2013, according to Susan Gress, a legal pot farmer on Vashon Island, just outside of Seattle.
“It was just blue sky estimates, anything from $5 to $25 — nobody had any idea. We were hoping for somewhere around seven or eight (dollars a gram), and back in those days, we were able to get $8 a gram,” Gress said. “But things have changed.”
Gress, who used her retirement savings to start the Vashon Velvet pot farm in an old horse barn on her property, said she thinks her brand has a better chance of surviving because it is considered premium and she is able to charge closer to $5 for a wholesale gram. But not everyone will manage to keep going as prices go down.
It’s fairly obvious why growing has gotten cheaper, Caulkins noted: On the one hand, pot farmers no longer have to spend time and energy avoiding police; on the other, industrial farming techniques and engineers are now involved in the industry, designing state-of-the-art grow facilities to increase efficiency and lower production costs. These changes — with their related price drops — are only likely to continue.
California and Massachusetts are starting their own legal markets in 2018, and prices will decline even further if the federal government ends its prohibition, according to Caulkins.
“Once it’s nationally legalized and farmers can grow it just like tomatoes and asparagus, it will be crazy cheap to grow compared to what it was in the past, and it will be either crazy cheap or pretty darn cheap to process, depending on which kind of product you are making,” Caulkins said.
Consolidating Cannabis Farming
When Washington’s regulators set up their market for legal cannabis, they created three tiers of pot producers based on the square footage of each farm. License different sizes of farms, the thinking went, and the market will support a range of small, medium and large producers.
Fast-forward three years, and it appears this thinking was flawed. Big recreational producers have swallowed up most of the market, pushing out the small-scale growers of the black and medical markets. From January through September of this year, the 10 largest farms in Washington harvested 16.79 percent15 of all the dry weight weed grown in the state, which is more than the share produced by the 500 smallest farms combined (13.12 percent).
Davenport said this consolidation of cannabis farming in Washington is just a harbinger of what’s to come. “I think what has become more clear is the inevitability of pretty large-scale production, and that is really going to start to drive down production costs,” Davenport said.
Current regulations keep pot farms from infinitely expanding, but as legalization marches forward, bigger farms could well be permitted. This summer, regulators in Washington expanded the maximum farm size from 30,000 square feet to 90,000. California plans on capping farms at 1 acre, or 43,560 square feet, when the market first launches. But the state rules do not currently stop farmers from using multiple licenses, which opens the door for larger farms.
What would happen if pot farms could be as large as wheat or corn fields? According to Caulkins, 10 reasonably sized farms could conceivably produce the entire country’s supply of tetrahydrocannabinol, pot’s most famous active chemical (usually shortened to THC).
“You can grow all of the THC consumed in the entire country on less than 10,000 acres,” Caulkins said. “A common size for a Midwest farm is 1,000 acres.”
The economic pressure on small pot farmers is only likely to increase if a nationwide market for cannabis opens up and the country’s largest, multibillion-dollar agriculture companies are able to invest in production — something they are blocked from doing16 until the federal government changes its laws.
“The professionalization of the industry is an ongoing thing,” Caulkins said. “There has been enormous change, but there is at least as much change still to come.”
It’s Not Your Parent’s Pot
Walk into a legal weed store, and you’ll see shelves of products that hardly resemble the pot of Cheech & Chong. From weed mineral waters to pot topical rubs to cannabis sodas, producers use sophisticated and expensive equipment to get creative with how they deliver pot to their customers. And Washington’s weed data shows that consumers have clearly developed a taste for these processed products.
When legal weed stores first opened in Washington in July 2014, flower — the unprocessed nuggets of cannabis that can be put into pipes or joints — made up 94.80 percent of the market, but a year later, flower accounted for only 72.62 percent of sales. That share had further dropped to 54.50 percent by September of this year, the date of the most recent available data from TopShelfData.com.
Other forms of pot — like concentrates, vapes and edibles — take up the rest of the market. Concentrates, highly potent products that can be consumed in a variety of ways, made up just 5.2 percent of all sales in July 2014 but accounted for 17.96 percent in September of this year. Vape cartridges, which allow cannabis to be consumed through electronic cigarettes, accounted for 7.67 percent in September, while edibles made up 8.46 percent of sales.
Caulkins said this kind of diversification is only natural in an industry where the basic product — loose-leaf flower — is relatively cheap to produce. “If you take the same amount of marijuana and put it into an edible, then your edible might taste different than a competitor’s and so be differentiated by its other ingredients,” Caulkins said. “They are trying everything they can to differentiate their product so they can command a price premium.”
While it’s relatively cheap to grow and sell unprocessed pot, it can take a massive investment in equipment to produce the edibles and concentrates that are becoming increasingly popular. Products like flavorless pot mineral water or concentrates so pure they form crystals are made with a combination of pharmaceutical and food science technology and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment to produce. For small-business owners, it can be difficult, or impossible, to buy the equipment it takes to produce modern pot edibles themselves.
This business climate appears to limit the number of companies willing to produce edibles. Of the more than 1,000 Washington companies with active licenses that would allow them to process edibles in the 12 months prior to September 2017, only 74 companies sold an edible, according to TopShelfData.com. And, just like with flower, a few large companies dominated the edible market. The five largest edible producers were responsible for 51.15 percent of the $38.7 million in edibles sold during those 12 months. The top 20 edible producers accounted for 90.48 percent of edibles during that time period.
As legal weed expands across the continent, that drive to find a way to charge a premium for pot won’t end anytime soon. Combined with dropping pot prices and consolidating production, it isn’t likely to get any easier for small-business owners to find a profitable way to sell legal weed.
Things That Caught My Eye
The 0-15 Cleveland Browns play the 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, and a loss will make them the second 0-16 team in NFL history. Browns Coach Hue Jackson has promised to make good on a vow he made to swim in Lake Erie if the Browns went 1-15 yet again. Overall, Cleveland is 1-30 under Jackson. Elo suggests that the Steelers have a 95 percent chance of winning on Sunday, and their bye week position in the playoffs is already locked up. [ESPN, FiveThirtyEight]
Surprise: Clemson and Alabama will play in the College Football Playoff again, their third such meeting in three years. That pair of games was a dead heat: each took a national championship, and the aggregate scoring was 76-75, Alabama. Stakes are high, but these aren’t the same exact teams we’ve seen in the playoff before: Alabama’s once ironclad defense has been deemphasized, but it has a stronger offense to compensate. [FiveThirtyEight]
Todd Gurley, the Rams star running back, has been making a highly persuasive case for why he should be the NFL MVP over other contenders, like water pitchman Tom Brady. One component of the pro-Gurley argument is his incredible December performance, in which he has scored eight touchdowns in three games. This comes as no surprise to anyone playing Fantasy Football, where Gurley’s 107.1 fantasy points gave him the best postseason ever. [ESPN]
Oklahoma has the best offense in the college football playoff, and on New Year’s Day they’ll play Georgia’s remarkable defense in the Rose Bowl. The winner goes on to face one of the two most recent national champions. Oklahoma’s quarterback, Baker Mayfield, has a completion rate of 53 percent when under pressure compared to 71 percent overall. [ESPN]
Try out our fun new interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?
The Canadian Football League approved Johnny Manziel — former Heisman Trophy winner, Cleveland Browns quarterback and cautionary tale — for a 2018 contract. His CFL rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who will now be able to sign him or trade his rights. [ESPN]
Marissa Brandt and Hannah Brandt, two sisters from Minnesota, will be playing ice hockey in the Olympics, but not on the same squad. Marissa will be playing for South Korea, the country of her birth, while Hannah made Team USA. [NBC Sports]
Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL game: Can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions?
61 percent chance
There are six teams competing for three remaining spots in the NFL playoffs, but none of them are playing each other so it’s going to be a very weird Week 17: a bunch of teams with lots on the line are playing a bunch of teams with not a lot on the line. In the AFC, the contenders are the Ravens (94 percent chance of making the playoffs), Titans (58 percent), Chargers (31 percent) and Bills (17 percent), all playing squads with nothing on the line. In the NFC, it’s the Falcons (70 percent) and Seahawks (30 percent) fighting for the last spot. At least Atlanta is playing Carolina, a playoff-bound team still fighting for seeding. Atlanta has a 61 percent chance of winning that game. [FiveThirtyEight]
Leaks from Slack:
loved this, and wondered if there’s a ranking for us of the small-conference teams that most lean-in to their underdog nature. would help us see if texas southern is really the harshest
What a cool idea.
Yeah this is kind of amazing, they’re easily #1 in average opponent Elo so far this year
Oh, and don’t forget
Over the last two seasons, the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide have faced each other twice for the College Football Playoff championship. To say the rivalry has been as close as it gets would be an understatement: The teams split the national championships at one apiece and were nearly even on total points as well. (Alabama has a slim 76-75 lead in aggregate scoring.)
Like any good trilogy, we’ll get a high-stakes finale when the Tide and Tigers face off in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. For us fans, we can only hope it’s more Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and less Godfather Part III. So what differences should we be on the lookout for this time around?
Clemson changed its game plan — and got better
As my colleague Dan Levitt and I wrote about early in the season, Clemson had to revamp the way it played this season after losing quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. Watson’s replacement, Kelly Bryant, wasn’t as polished a passer as his predecessor — he averaged about 95 fewer yards per game through the air than Watson did in his final college season17 — but he was more proficient with his legs, racking up more rushing yards than Watson and scoring nearly twice as many touchdowns on the ground.
In terms of total contributions, Bryant wasn’t quite able to match Watson’s output of a year ago. But in combination with the Tigers’ other skill-position talent (specifically running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster), he led a Clemson offense that compiled over 30 more rushing yards per game in 2017 than it had the year before. In turn, that improved run game helped the Tigers’ offense absorb Watson’s departure with a loss of fewer than 3 expected points added (EPA) per game.
More importantly, Clemson’s defense made major strides in 2017, led up front by a unit composed exclusively of first- or second-team All-ACC linemen. Tiger defenders recorded 3.4 sacks per game (third-most in the Football Bowl Subdivision), held opponents to 3.1 yards per rush (ninth-lowest in FBS), yielded the sixth-fewest total yards per game in the country and improved their overall performance by 4.9 points per game according to EPA.
Clemson wasn’t an awful defensive team the last time it faced Alabama, but this regular season the Tigers might have had the best defense in the nation. That defensive development helped Clemson post a superior point differential (adjusted for schedule strength) than the Watson-led national championship squad did a year ago. In other words: This is probably the best of the three Clemson teams that have appeared in the College Football Playoff.
Alabama isn’t the best ever anymore, but they are better on offense
Up until they faced Clemson in the championship game, the 2016 Crimson Tide were riding high. In fact, according to our Elo ratings, they’d put together the greatest peak performance of any college football team since the AP poll began18 when they defeated Florida in last year’s SEC championship (and then increased their Elo record when they beat Washington in the playoff semifinal). But we all know how that ended for them — with Nick Saban shaking his head in disbelief as Watson produced a comeback for the ages and delivered the Tigers their first national title in 35 years.
Alabama regrouped in the way Alabama usually regroups, which is to say they shot right back up to No. 1 for most of 2017 as well. But, statistically, they were not quite as dominant as a season ago: Going into the playoff, Elo considers the 2017 Tide to be 29.9 points per game better than an average FBS team, which is not only a far cry from their mark this time last year (40.2) but also ranks just fourth in the country this year, behind Clemson (32.6), Georgia (31.3) and Oklahoma (30.0). According to Sports Reference’s power ratings, this is Alabama’s worst season since 2010, a year they were relegated to the unacceptably non-prestigious Capital One Bowl. Although most programs would kill for a “down season” like the one Alabama is having, it’s still worth noting that this rendition of the Crimson Tide has been less dominant than usual.
But like their counterparts at Clemson, the Tide have also tweaked their playing style in a way that makes their continued greatness especially impressive.
That dominant 2016 Alabama squad was built around a fearsome defense that ranked among the best in college football history, allowing a paltry 248 total yards per game during the regular season and holding opposing passers to a Total Quarterback Rating of 11.4 — both marks ranked No. 1 in the FBS. This season, those numbers are up to 258 and 20.9, respectively, which still count among the best in the country, but also helped contribute to a defense that was more than a touchdown worse per game by EPA than it had been in 2016.
Fortunately for Alabama, its offense nearly improved enough to offset that defensive decline. According to EPA, QB Jalen Hurts and the Tide passing game was worth a full point per game more this year than last, with Hurts rising from 41st nationally in QBR to sixth, and receiver Calvin Ridley cracking the top 40 in receiving yards per game. Moreover, the Crimson Tide rushing attack churned ahead for more than 20 extra yards per game this season, with a greater depth of contributions (eight separate Alabama rushers gained at least 100 yards) that amounted to nearly 4 extra points per game by EPA. Overall, the Alabama offense was second only to Oklahoma’s in efficiency, a year after it ranked only 24th in the country.
In other words, both Alabama and Clemson have altered their strengths since the last time we saw them face off in the College Football Playoff. Whether things will play out more like they did in 2016 (an Alabama win) or 2017 (a Clemson victory) is still up in the air — but with greater balance from both teams, the ingredients might be in place for Part 3 of the trilogy to somehow surpass the all-time classics we saw in Parts 1 and 2.
The College Football Playoff has transformed the way teams and conferences build their schedules — and created plenty of controversy along the way — in the four seasons since it debuted. And even if the system could stand to make some improvements, it’s also been a relatively successful experiment in adding legitimacy to a championship that used to be determined through such opaque measures as media voting and computer ratings. For all the debate over “who’s in,” at least the eventual champion can say it won the title by beating two top-ranked opponents on the field.
The benefits of a four-team bracket got us thinking: What if the current playoff structure had been in place before 2014? Who would likely have won the championship each year? (Would it have been different from the consensus champs of old?) And which schools would have gained — and lost — the most titles under a playoff system?
Let’s answer those questions. (If you’re not interested in how we’re answering those questions, skip down to the first table.)
First, we’ll need a way to determine which teams would have made the playoff each year. Unfortunately, over the first four years of the actual playoff’s existence, neither the AP poll nor our Elo ratings (which are designed, in part, to predict the playoff selection committee’s tendencies) have completely nailed the playoff field with their four highest-ranked teams going into the bowls. But a combination of both19 has been a perfect 16 for 16 in terms of predicting the real-life playoff teams.
So we’ll use that Elo/AP combo to pick the four playoff teams in each historical season.20 (Our Elo ratings can be calculated going back to the 1988 season, so that’s when our hypothetical exercise will begin.) I also found that, once the playoff field is set, the pre-bowl AP rankings alone have done the best job of matching the committee’s seeding for the teams, so we’ll set the seeds that way in our mythical playoffs.
Next, we’ll need a way to play out the theoretical playoff games themselves. For that, we’ll use Elo, which provides a probabilistic forecast for any given game based on the two teams’ pregame ratings. In most cases, we’ll use each team’s pre-bowl Elo ratings to give us the chances of each team winning both its semifinal game and the championship game (conditional on making it that far). The only exception is when a slated matchup happened in a real-life bowl that season, in which case we’ll use the actual result for that semifinal or final matchup.
A great example of this came in 2003, when both of our hypothetical semifinal games — No. 1 USC vs. No. 4 Michigan and No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma — actually played out in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, respectively. In that case, the Trojans and Tigers would automatically advance to the title game, where each would have almost exactly a 50-50 shot at winning the championship, according to Elo.21 At least one of these real-world matchups happened every year from 1988 to 2013 — except in 1989, when conference bowl tie-ins kept each of the four teams in our playoff field from actually playing one another.
After following all of the rules laid out above, here’s how each season since 1988 would look if a playoff had been in place instead of the system that was used at the time:
|Playoff Teams w/ Championship Odds|
|1988||Notre Dame||44||Miami||33||Nebraska||12||W. Virginia||11|
|1989||Miami||31||Florida St.||26||Notre Dame||24||Michigan||20|
|1990||Colorado||37||Miami||26||Florida St.||25||Notre Dame||13|
|1992||Alabama||44||Florida St.||23||Miami||18||Notre Dame||15|
|1993||Florida St.||48||Notre Dame||23||W. Virginia||22||Nebraska||8|
|1996||Florida||50||Nebraska||17||Arizona St.||17||Florida St.||16|
|1998||Tennessee||62||Florida St.||14||Florida||13||Ohio St.||11|
|1999||Florida St.||40||Nebraska||30||Alabama||24||Va. Tech||6|
|2005||Texas||61||USC||15||Ohio St.||14||Penn St.||10|
|2007||LSU||33||USC||29||Va. Tech||27||Ohio St.||11|
The good news for the old system(s) is that each year’s real-world national champ — or at least the co-champ — would be the favorite to win the playoff as well. (The only time a historical national champ didn’t make our theoretical playoff was in 1990, when Georgia Tech22 claimed the national title in the coaches’ poll but missed the top four in our rankings after entering the bowls seventh in Elo.) But the fact that the real-world champ tended to be the favorite in our hypothetical playoffs is no guarantee those seasons would have played out the same way: Even after including real bowl results when they happened, the championship favorite in any given year had only a 47 percent chance of winning the title on average.
The most uncertain year of our hypothetical playoffs might have been the aforementioned 1989 campaign; without any real-life bowls to help guide us, our system gives all four teams at least a 20 percent chance of winning the national championship. And among years that featured at least one actual bowl result to work with, the wacky 2007 season — in which playoff favorite LSU would have only a 33 percent of replicating its real-world championship — probably would have kept providing us thrills well into January. But with a playoff in place, many seasons would likely have had different endings than the ones we’ve set to memory over the years.
How different? Here are all the schools that would have made at least one playoff appearance under our hypothetical system,23 along with their projected and actual national championships won:
|Hypothetical Playoff Results|
|Team||Appearances||Semifinal Wins||Champs||Actual Champs||Net Diff.|
Aside from Alabama, which won the most real-life championships (four) of the 1988-2013 era but would project to have about 1.4 fewer under a playoff system, every other school’s projected title tally is within about a half-championship of its actual count, playoff or not. The anti-Bama might be Oregon, who made only one BCS title game in the years we’re covering (losing to Cam Newton and Auburn in the culmination of the 2010 season) but would figure to make three playoff bids under our hypothetical system — and probably would have given Miami more of a fight than Nebraska did in 2001. All told, the Ducks would figure to have won 0.6 more championships with a playoff than under the actual system.
Over about 25 years, a handful of national titles is about the best you can do (see Bama’s four). So even a half-championship gain is a lot. And the more marginal differences further down the list matter, too. Imagine the effect on the fan bases at Oklahoma State, Cincinnati or Northwestern (!!!) if their teams had managed to get hot during the playoff and take home the championship. In general, you can see a pattern emerge in the table above: Under a four-team playoff, the long-term effect is to take titles away from many of the top programs and give extra chances to the next tier of teams. As counterintuitive as that sounds, given the way a program like Alabama has dominated the CFP since its inception, the addition of an extra semifinal game introduces more randomness to the system, which helps teams down the list.24
I once wrote that the BCS wasn’t any worse at picking champs than the College Football Playoff would be, and in a certain sense, that’s not wrong. (Again, the real-life champs each season above would have also been the favorites to win the playoff.) But the more we’ve seen teams get a chance to prove their championship merit on the field against top competition, the more appealing it is. Now I only wish college football had the current system in place for the past quarter-century instead of the confusing mismash of arrangements that preceded it.
For a few years now, Bloomberg Businessweek has chronicled a list of stories its writers wish they’d done. We wish we’d thought of that idea ourselves, so we’re shamelessly cribbing it for the second year running. Here are 11 stories we read, watched and consumed with a mix of admiration and regret this year. Hopefully our jealousy will lead to your discovery.
By Aaron Steckelberg and Chiqui Esteban, The Washington Post
I love the graphics in this piece. They take an undemocratic aspect of our political system that most people overlook and make it striking: 4.5 million people in six states have 18 representatives in Congress, while 4.4 million people in U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have no representatives who can vote. Plus, I’ll love anything with a nice map.
— Ella Koeze, visual journalist
By Evan Osnos, The New Yorker
This piece isn’t empirical, but it combines formal theory (Schelling’s model of brinkmanship) with information on what we know about North Korea. As someone who came to FiveThirtyEight from academia, I typically look at the numbers first and the context second. (Sorry!) But I found the most illuminating part of this story to be Osnos’s firsthand descriptions of his visit. Even if his experience was curated and controlled by North Korea, it reminded me that there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned human connection when covering issues that matter.
— Andrea Jones-Rooy, quantitative researcher
By Cary Aspinwall, The Dallas Morning News
We hear a lot about the problems with the criminal justice system in the U.S., but rarely do we hear about the families left behind when people get entangled in it. This distressing read from The Dallas Morning News pulls back the curtain on an issue with enormous consequences: When mothers go to jail, no one in the criminal justice system is responsible for the safety of their children. “Not in North Texas, and not in most communities across the country,” as the article puts it. Since there wasn’t data to make sense of the scope of the problem, reporter Cary Aspinwall went and gathered it. The resulting work is both novel and heartbreaking.
— Anna Maria Barry-Jester, lead health writer
By Joss Fong, Vox
Joss Fong and her team at Vox produce videos throughout the year that make me go, “Damn, I wish I made something like that.” With data-driven videos, often the most difficult thing is figuring out the clearest way to convey complex ideas while making it visually appealing. This video stuck with me because of how beautifully they were able to accomplish both of those things.
— Tony Chow, video producer
By Xaquín G.V., The Washington Post
I get emails and tweets claiming “the gender pay gap is a myth!!!” all the time. (It’s an occupational hazard.) This piece reads as a fact checker, running through many of the arguments over the gender gap. It provides beautiful graphics showing that the evidence actually disproves the purported mythbusters, and it lets readers enter their profession to see what day women essentially started working for free in that field, according to earnings data. I’ll be pointing pay gap deniers who @ me to this piece in the future.
— Kathryn Casteel, writer
By Denise Lu, The Washington Post
Quite a few visual journalists published fantastic work in the lead-up to the eclipse, but Denise Lu truly knocked it out of the park. Come for the spinning globe, stay for the tour down our nation’s eclipse history. As with pretty much any project with Lu’s name on it — I mean, come on — I’m steeped in envy and awe.
— Julia Wolfe, visual journalist
By Amanda Shendruk, The Pudding
This piece by Amanda Shendruk is really everything that I look for in a culture story that’s grounded in data. It’s got a terrific idea at its core and the data to back it up: that female superheroes have been defined by infantilizing names and “emotional” superpowers. Superheroes are a dominant story trope these days, which means they deserve scrutiny this good.
— Walt Hickey, culture writer
By Justin O’Beirne
Cartographer Justin O’Beirne goes into incredible detail to compare the interface designs of Google and Apple Maps. His findings are the best progress report we have on the tech giants’ race to create a “universal map.”
— Gus Wezerek, visual journalist
By Shannon Mattern, Places Journal
Shannon Mattern’s trenchant essay, “A City Is Not a Computer,” considers the long history of cities as data-storage devices. Their monuments, archives and offices capture and display the existence of their residents. But technologists and venture capitalists are now elbowing out low-tech planners and scholars, reducing urbanism to an algorithm and likening cities to the internet. Amidst this change, Mattern cautions that urban data has important context. She argues for an approach that eschews mere computation and embraces memory and history. As T.S. Eliot put it: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
— Oliver Roeder, senior writer and puzzle editor
By Nina Martin, Emma Cillekens and Alessandra Freitas, ProPublica; and Renee Montagne, NPR
I’ve been through the process of pregnancy and birth recently enough that I still remember feeling like neither the medical establishment nor the natural-birth establishment regarded me as terribly important. No matter which side of the Mommy Wars people came down on, “doing what’s best for the baby” was how it was framed. ProPublica’s series on maternal death and illness made it clear that there are real consequences to not focusing on mothers — especially for women who are already socially marginalized. These are stories that should make us rethink the way we frame medical care and medical choices.
— Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer
It’s almost 2018. For some, that means looking forward to the new year — what are the big political storylines to watch in the coming year? But I can’t do that until we finish one last end-of-year tradition: remembering all the times I screwed up!
That’s right: It’s time for my annual mea culpa column. Happily, this year’s column isn’t nearly as painful as 2016’s, and certainly not 2015’s, the year I laughed off Donald Trump’s entrance into the presidential race. Still, there’s always stuff that I wish I had written better, written differently or not written at all.
First, I think I undersold the chances of Republicans passing a health care bill. Of course, they didn’t pass a health care bill. The various bills they considered were super unpopular and the GOP’s math in the Senate was always difficult, so we were skeptical that Republicans would pass anything. Probably a little too skeptical, however.
Take a look at a couple of these headlines: “The GOP Health Care Bill May Have Found A Better Way To Fail” and “Trump’s Health Care Bill Won Over The Freedom Caucus — But Risks Losing Everyone Else.” For one, it didn’t alienate everyone else — it passed the House. And later, it was just one John McCain thumb away from passing the Senate too. So, I don’t think the GOP health care bill was destined to fail. After all, only recently Republicans passed another unpopular bill.
Screw-up No. 2 came in my preview of Virginia’s gubernatorial primaries. That article included a “survey” from “CSP Polling.” It shouldn’t have. I had never heard of CSP Polling, which showed up in May. And, as I wrote later — in “Fake Polls Are A Real Problem” — I could never find any person willing to go on the record with his or her actual name to stand behind the work. That’s obviously a big problem. We tend to take an inclusive attitude toward pollsters here at FiveThirtyEight, but any legitimate pollster should have real, identifiable people behind it.
Including one stray suspect poll might seem minor, but it’s not. A lot of people come to FiveThirtyEight for guidance on polling. We let them down in this instance. In 2018, we need to be extra vigilant on this front. There are probably going to be a ton of competitive House races. And most of them are unlikely to be surveyed by “gold-standard” pollsters. In other words, it’ll be tempting to grasp at any poll that pops up in a lot of these districts. Unfortunately, many will probably be suspect or shoddy. I put together some advice on how not to fall for these polls, and I would do well to heed it.
OK, screw-up No. 3 is a little wonky but still important. In early January, I wrote “Registered Voters Who Stayed Home Probably Cost Clinton The Election.” The main point of this piece relied on a SurveyMonkey poll. That data was fine, and I don’t think anything in the article was wrong, really. But it was thin. I should have used a voter file too.
Some pollsters use random digit dialing to do surveys — call a random phone number and ask that person if they’re registered to vote. Other pollsters use voter files, lists of registered voters with a bunch of information about each one, to construct their samples. I think a mixed approach to surveying (e.g. combining random digit dialing and a registered voter list) is probably best. And that goes for a lot of analyses too. That article on how much registered voters who stayed home hurt Hillary Clinton should have used more than self-reported voting status, which can be unreliable at times. I wish I had supplemented it with voter file data.
One of the big questions for the 2018 midterm elections is what will turnout look like. The evidence so far suggests Democrats will do far better turning out voters than they did in the 2010 or 2014 elections. How much better? We don’t know. So let’s not make too many assumptions about who will turn out in 2018 based on previous midterm elections. Voter lists will help us understand just how different the turnout patterns are in 2018.
Screw-up No. 4 is an error of omission. In July, I wrote, “Red-State Senate Democrats Haven’t Drawn Strong Opponents — Yet.” That was true at the time. But it’s not true anymore, and it hasn’t been for some time. In fact, the GOP has a number of fairly good candidates running in red states with Democratic senators, including Indiana and Missouri. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you were just reading FiveThirtyEight. That article deserved a follow-up.
Often, it’s not the bad articles you write that get you in trouble. Instead, it’s the articles you don’t write.
So that’s that. I’m sure there were other things I messed up in 2017, but these are the errors that still gnaw at me. As is tradition, however, let’s close out this column on a more hopeful note. Here are a few things I think I got right:
- I never lost faith in the laws of political gravity. After Trump’s election, it became fashionable to say that “nothing matters,” that the normal rules of politics don’t apply anymore. I never thought that was the case. And, as we’ve seen in all types of elections in 2017, it’s not.
- I’m now 2-for-2 — or 3-for-3, depending on how you count — in pulling out the “normal polling error” card. The idea here is that many people treat polling as an exact science. It’s not. Instead, it’s perfectly normal for polls to miss the result by a lot. So, just before the 2016 election I pointed out that Trump was only a normal polling error behind Clinton. And just before the special Alabama Senate election, I wrote that Democrat Doug Jones was just a normal polling error behind Republican Roy Moore.
- Finally, here’s an article I’m proud of: “Fake Polls Are A Real Problem.” After a bunch of media outlets cited a Delphi Analytica poll of the 2018 Michigan Senate race showing Kid Rock winning, I spent weeks sifting through the survey’s data and trying to track down the people behind Delphi Analytica. The resulting article showed just how careful journalists need to be in citing pollsters they’ve never heard of.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you all in 2018!
For now, the chatter around Christmas Day game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors is about its lousy ending, thanks to lousy instant replay rules. The Cavaliers held a lead early, coughed it up in the third quarter, and hung around for what should have been a stirring finish before two no-calls on LeBron James drives derailed the game. Our loss. (Cleveland’s, too.) But underneath the dramatics was a game plan that saw the Warriors’ defense negate the Cavs’ best asset: LeBron’s driving and dishing.
The Cavs were 6-for-21 with a 38.1 effective field goal percentage off of passes from James on Monday, according to data from Second Spectrum. On James’s 21 drives, he shot 4-for-6 but generated just one assist against three turnovers. Those numbers are uncharacteristically bad for one of the most effective driving facilitators in the game. Because the Golden State defense could switch so effectively — trading Kevin Durant for Draymond Green or Klay Thompson doesn’t exactly give LeBron the mismatch it does against other defenses — and could recover to shooters so well, the drive-and-kick game got itself into trouble.
Sometimes, this led to turnovers by James when he was trapped or by his teammates when they received a pass under tighter coverage than they’re used to (one bad turnover by Kevin Love on the right wing comes to mind). Other times, passes from James were a little farther off-target than usual, requiring a shooter to gather and reset before firing, or they sailed out of bounds entirely. (LeBron is usually so precise that he can focus on whether teammates want seams or no seams when they receive a pass — high, low or midsection.) And even when things went to plan, the open shot at the end of a kick-swing-swing sequence sometimes fell to a non-shooter like Dwyane Wade. Often, the Warriors’ defense discouraged the drive altogether — a large chunk of James’s passes to shooters came above the free-throw line, to a shooter who’d flared on a pick-and-pop or a simple screen, far from the deadly help-defense-obliterating machine that usually powers the Cavalier offense.
Here are all 21 shots created directly by James’s passes:
James hasn’t always struggled to generate offense against this Warriors team. Even in a one-sided series like last season’s NBA Finals, the Cavs tended to shoot much better when James was passing to them than otherwise. But on Monday, they were miserable on plays LeBron set up and only very slightly less miserable on the ones that he didn’t.
Maybe the Cavaliers can make enough gimmes to get back to their game in future matchups — they did miss a lot of open shots, too. And perhaps Patrick McCaw, a strong defender who is getting extra minutes while Stephen Curry is out with an ankle injury, changed things up a bit — McCaw probably won’t play quite the same role down the road. But those late-game no-calls aside, Durant’s defense on LeBron (and backup point guard Shaun Livingston’s on Wade) fundamentally changed the way the Cavs offense usually works.
It was just one game, and the personnel should look vastly different when they play again just a few weeks from now with the returns of Curry and Cleveland guard Isaiah Thomas, who was in uniform Monday but glued to the bench. But what happened on Christmas in Oakland didn’t look like a one-off: It looked like a plan.
Check out our latest NBA predictions.
On the Bacon Bits for Fri, Dec 22, 2017Rob Cressycelebrates heat check MVP Michael Beasley, Darryl Strawberry one upping Ric Flair, the potential comeback of the XFL and the Pirates trading Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, plus send good vibes the way of the San Diego Chargers over and the members of the Bacon Sports community.
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- Check out more of The Bacon Sports podcast here.
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1.World’s Largest eBay NBA Jerseys Database: Find NBA jersey on eBay easier. We’ve got over 763 past and present NBA players from 1985 whose jerseys you can buy. If you love basketball jerseys then this is the holy grail!
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Rep The Squad is changing the way the jersey game is played by allowing sports fans to rent jerseys from their favorite teams.
When I first heard about the concept I was uncertain about it. As someone who is very particular about the jerseys he rocks why would I want to rent one for $19.95 when I could just buy one instead?
To help sort this out myself, Gibson Smith, and Hoopstergram’s Tom Phillips aka The Hoopster Nation crew jump on the Bacon Sports podcast to give our candid thoughts on the concept of renting jerseys, breaking down how Rep The Squad’s jersey subscription works, how jerseys lovers should think about NBA jerseys vs NFL jerseys, why giving the gift of jerseys is a fabulous idea, plus why this idea make so much sense for jersey loving parents who want to get their kids into jerseys.
For those that would prefer some written thoughts that go above and beyond what we dish about on the podcast I’ve got you covered.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of Rep The Squad’s jersey subscription service I want to address the thing that I find most important.
Does this company get jersey culture and can I see them being a valuable part of the jersey loving community?
In order to judge this I looked at the stable of jerseys they had in their locker. Being the hoopster that I am I naturally went to the NBA first.
Since Rep The Squad just launched in August they are only in a few select markets (Seattle, Denver, Detroit, the Bay Area/LA.) Despite this I found the selection of NBA jerseys to my liking. It was a nice mix of current players and throwbacks, which appeals to both a younger generation as well as those of us who love nostalgia.
The first jersey that I saw was a Kevin Durant Sonics. Immediately I liked where this was going as on a previous podcast we dished about our Top 5 Seattle SuperSonics jerseys ever and KD was on the list.
What makes that jersey special is Durant was only in Seattle for one season before the team unfortunately got moved to Oklahoma City. That season he averaged 20 ppg and won Rookie of the Year. The casual fan might not remember that Durant played in Seattle, and even fewer fans will be rocking that jersey since he became much more popular in Oklahoma City and Golden State. It is a nice mix high performance with an element of obscurity.
After that I immediately went to see what other SuperSonics jerseys they had available. Too much of my delight I spotted a Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton jersey. Well done Rep The Squad.
Upon further browsing here are some other quick thoughts about NBA jerseys I saw and loved.
My favorite jersey of all time is the old school Denver Nuggets with the rainbow colors and the white mountains. It has been on my jersey bucket list forever. Both Dikembe Mutombo and Alex English are available options.
For the basketball lover the Golden State Warriors are the gift that keeps on giving. Not only were the usual suspects of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson available, but so were throwback jerseys for Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin. Major bonus points for this. The only thing I ask for is that they get a Mitch Richmond jersey in there ASAP so we can complete Run TMC (which would make a great group jersey #squadgoals.)
Their Lakers jerseys were on point as they nailed the throwbacks with Magic, Worthy, and Wilt, Shaq and Kobe were in the house, as were the new crop with Lonzo and Brandon Ingram.
Now that they have passed my credibility test lets get to how their jersey subscription service works.
It’s actually pretty simple, it’s like Netflix except for jerseys.
Here’s how it works.
For $19.95 a month for adults or $16.95 a month for kids you can choose from Rep The Squad’s collection of jerseys, both current and throwback players, home and away. They’ll ship the jersey to you, you can rock it for as long as you’d like, and then return it when you are ready. All the shipping costs are taken care of and there are no cleaning fees. You can then swap it out for another fresh and clean jersey which will arrive in 2-3 days. Best of all you can also cancel anytime.
So here is the big hurdle that I believe most sports fans will have to overcome when deciding if renting jerseys is for them. Why should I rent a jersey when I can buy one instead?
To help make this easy for you here are some reasons why I would prefer to rent a jersey instead of own one.
- I’m a die hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan and I currently own two jerseys: a crappy mesh Big Ben and an authentic Nike Troy Polamalu. For the longest time I’ve been wanting not just an Antonio Brown jersey, but also a Le’Veon Bell. Then this year the Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster and TJ Watt, both of who are balling out this year. That’s four Steelers jerseys that I’d love to have but unfortunately I have none. Why? Because they cost between $99 and $150 each. By renting I get the variety that I long for.
- Because I would love to rock an old school Alex English Nuggets jersey one weekend and then turn it in and rock a Tim Hardaway Warriors jersey and then turn that in and rock a Shawn Kemp Sonics jersey.
- If you root for a team that is constantly rebuilding then investing in a jersey of one of the players is a high risk proposition. No better example of this are the recent Cleveland Browns quarterbacks which include Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Kelly Holcomb, Josh McCown, Jerff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Ken Dorsey, Colt McCoy, and Brandon Weeden. The Browns certainly aren’t alone in this. Draft choices and free agents are busts all the time. How is that Mike Sweetney Bulls, Jarvis Jones Steelers, Lance Stephenson Hornets, Ben Gordon Pistons, Rob Johnson Bills, and Adrian Peterson Saints jersey working out right now?
The way I see it Rep The Squad gives sports fans options to increase their fandom without the downside.
Does this mean that I’ll never own a jersey again? No.
I’m just open to other options like I was open to switching from Blockbuster to Netflix, and going from hailing a cab to calling an Uber.
Choice is a good thing and as a die hard sports fan who also loves jerseys, I love that I have a new way to be stylin & profilin.
So now that I’ve laid out the Rep The Squad’s jersey renting concept what do you think? Are you willing to play just the tip and see how it feels? Hit me up @BaconSports on Twitter and let me know your thoughts.
GET A 2-WEEK FREE TRIAL BY GOING TO REPTHESQUAD.COM AND USING PROMO CODE “BOOM”
This podcast and post was sponsored by Rep The Squad. They saw a ton of value in the Bacon Sports community so make sure to show them some love.
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The post Rent Jerseys From Your Favorite Teams Thanks To Rep The Squad appeared first on Bacon Sports.
Want to increase the frequency in which you go to the gym while also having fun? Then say hello to The Free Throw Challenge, a Fitness Hack I’ve been doing for the last 11 years that gets me looking forward to working out.
I’ve been going to the gym at least four times a week since 2006 (when I was 26 years old.) I had just got out of a relationship and since I was now back on the market I had to step my game back up so that I looked good. It was at that moment when I had a mindset shift about fitness. It became less of a chore and something that was now part of my everyday life.
Despite being committed, getting to the gym can still be a challenge even for the most motivated of us. That’s why I decided to life hack myself into always making the experience of going to the gym good, thus increasing the chances that I consistently go.
The way I did this was through my love of basketball.
I’ve been a rec league baller since I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh idolizing Michael Jordan. This continued through my Freshman year at Miami University whenmyself and friend Jeff Ewan would shoot hoops at the nearby gym. As part of our hoopin we would see if we could make ten free throws in a row. Sometimes we’d get it quickly, sometimes it would take thirty minutes, other times we wouldn’t get it at all.
I always enjoyed shooting free throws because it was the one facet of basketball that was the same for everyone. Plus, as a pickup hoops baller, we always shoot for teams and the better I am at free throws the more often I get to play.
Fast forward to 2006 and the gym I went to in Cincinnati had a basketball court. As a warmup I’d shoot hoops for fifteen minutes and then I’d go lift.
During those fifteen minutes I had to make ten free throws in a row and I wouldn’t leave the gym until it happened. Because of that it was always the first thing that I did, that way I could get it out of the way. Once I hit ten in a row I would then see how many in a row I could make until I missed. Once I missed I was done shooting free throws for the day and was now free to shoot around (time permitting) or go lift.
It was by dangling the carrot of something that I like to do, shooting hoops and free throws, that I was able to make the task of going to the gym less daunting and thus increasing my frequency. Instead of, “aw man, I don’t want to go to the gym, it’s cold outside” it became, “I can’t wait to shoot hoops.” Once I was at the gym the hard part was over with and I could enjoy doing what I love while also accomplishing my fitness goals.After doing it for a few weeks, and then months, and then years it became part of my routine and is now second nature.
If you are looking to increase your frequency of going to the gym or working out then I encourage you to try out the free throw challenge and/or create your own free throw challenge. Find that thing that gets you excited to be physically active and constantly having fitness part of your lifestyle. When you do you’ll feel better and have a happier mindset. Also, make sure to hit me up on Twitterand let me know about your free throw challenge journey.
Two years ago I decided I would track how many free throws I made in a row in an Evernote doc and then I’d post my daily number on Snapchat. That way I could quantify my efforts better plus be more accountable by sharing my journey.
Ever time I stepped up to the line I was shooting for a magical number: 106 free throws made in a row. That’s the most that I had ever made in a row, which happened at a Lifetime Fitness in Cincinnati. Since I’ve done it once I believed that I could do it again. With that in mind…
Here are some next level stats on my 2016 free throw challenge performance:
- Total free throws made: 4156
- # of times shooting the free throw challenge: 177
- Average # of free throws in a row made: 23.88
- Most free throws made in a row in one session: 95
- # of times I only made 10 free throws in a row: 5
- # of free throws in a row that happened the most often: 11 – 21 times
- # of times I made 50+ free throws in a row: 13
- #of times I made 60+ free throws in a row: 6
- Three highest free throws made in a row totals of the year: 78, 84, 95
Here are some next level stats on my 2017 free throw challenge performance:
- Total free throws made: 2696
- # of times shooting the free throw challenge: 117
- Average # of free throws in a row made: 25.37
- Most free throws made in a row in one session: 131
- # of times I only made 10 free throws in a row: 8
- # of free throws in a row that happened the most often: 11 – 13 times
- # of times I made 50+ free throws in a row: 10
- #of times I made 60+ free throws in a row: 5
- Three highest free throws made in a row totals of the year: 71, 96, 131
2017 was an amazing year from the free throw line as I broke my record of 106 free throws in a row by making 131 in a row. I was at XportFitness in Old Town (Chicago) on Thursday, October 4 wearing a Steelers t-shirt (freaking yinzers) and it took me 27 minutes.
I ended up shooting fewer free throws this year because I trained for three months to run the Tough Mudder (I share my experience about it HERE.) As part of that I was doing more running which meant less time in the gym. None the less I’m very happy with my year in free throws.
I’m looking forward to 2018 being an amazing year from the free throw line and I look forward to all of you who play the free throw challenge hitting me up.