Senshuraku Incentives

In comments to Bruce’s earlier posts, Leonid, Asashosakari, and coreyyanofsky discussed the strategy of 8-6 wrestlers going into a final day of sumo. It’s harder to break down the decision-making in sumo than it is in the NFL because there are fewer decisions and they’re more subtle. To demonstrate what I mean, if you’re Endo, pushed against the bales by Aoiyama, the decision-making is, “Do I step out?”, Do I give everything – and risk a nasty fall – to spin him around?”, or, “Do I do something in the middle?”

However, managing a football team of 50+ guys, Bill Belichick and his staff face innumerable gameday decisions regarding who plays and how much, not to mention the choices made by those individual players to run their routes. (Note: Auto-correct wants to change this to “Belches,” so I now have a new nickname for my favorite NFL coach.) So, it’s easier to see how Belches and his team react to a game that has less meaning to them than to their opponent. Belches sits players, punts instead of going for it on 4th and 3, and his 3rd string QB lets the clock run out going into halftime instead of spiking the ball to run another play.

Sumo has taken a knock to its reputation from the past yaocho scandals. It’s been alluded to recently on this blog as sumo wrestlers have their cellphones confiscated on match day and yakuza are banned from the premises, and hopefully any influence on the sport. But, in the interest of the sport, how do you get the best action from your wrestlers when giving 100% leads to, and aggravates, so many injuries? To illustrate, I only need to mention two names: Kisenosato & Terunofuji.

The answer is simple: kenshokin, kinboshi bonuses, and special prizes. Unfortunately, for 95% of the wrestlers there is no kenshokin, no matches against Yokozuna, and no eligibility for special prizes. This is why I hope more interest in sumo brings more money and more banners. I want more of those to trickle down the ranks, too. There are great value bouts down in the lower maegashira but my fave, Iki-yoyo, brings it every bout. And I really want the NSK to bring those banners into the 21st Century to encourage more potential sponsors. They need to do more than just quickly walk them around the ring. A web presence would be easy…and for nerds like me it would be a draw.

This is the big reason I wish the NSK didn’t go after Araibira. After all, Araibira got me back into sumo. By sharing THE WHOLE FEED, he gave much more exposure for sponsors than the NSK does, itself. Given the data, even I would add a sponsor/kenshokin page to the site to show which wrestlers are sponsored by which companies. (In my mind, since I wouldn’t be getting the money, it would not count as putting “ads” on this site, especially if I put it on its own page for users to check themselves.)

It’s also tricky with special prizes. Right now, Aoiyama is likely set for a special prize already, while Takayasu is ineligible as an ozeki (hat tip, Herouth for setting me straight). So, kenshokin would be the only added incentive for Takayasu and Aoiyama’s chances of seizing his outsider dreams of yusho may not be great enough to affect his decision-making.

There is one more incentive, but it’s not as tangible as cold, hard, cash. Pride. When I see a great bout on senshuraku between two wrestlers without much else on the line, that sure keeps me coming back. I’ll highlight my favorite PRIDE senshuraku bout tomorrow.

One thought on “Senshuraku Incentives

  1. I’m not sure if team sports are a good comparison, because the decision who plays is made separately from the decision how much effort to give. (And then there’s a feedback loop where the amount of effort can influence who gets to play the next time…) Anyway, a very well-sponsored lower bout might be getting 5 kensho; most currently don’t get any, of course. That’s net ¥150,000, a relative pittance compared to the regular salaries and bonuses. I’m not sure it’s feasible to put big enough incentives on individual bouts.

    On a side note: The notorious 7-7 stuff in the 1990s wasn’t even a direct financial issue, but largely one of banzuke dynamics. The top-rankers were very dominant, so the meatgrinder maegashira records tended to get huge beatings, and because of scheduling issues with the many Futagoyama (and later also Musashigawa) wrestlers, the meatgrinder killing fields frequently went down to M5 or even further. So there were often large holes to fill on the next banzuke, and the banzuke movements frequently looked something like this:

    6-9: minus 3
    7-8: minus 1
    8-7: plus 5
    9-6: plus 7

    In that situation it’s clear that getting that 8th win is hugely valuable and it’s obvious that lots of people can be better off if they help each other get to 8 in turn. (Or at least don’t get in each other’s way, because “help” veers dangerously close to match-fixing.) That’s much less of a problem nowadays because the banzuke movements no longer need to be that extreme most of the time, and the guys on 6-8 or 8-6 might gain as much from a Day 15 win as the 7-7 guy does.

    However, for the ozeki the situation largely still exists because avoiding kadoban / avoiding demotion is the key for them, so the rewards are still highly asymmetric for them if one ozeki is one win short of 8 wins.

    That being said, Goeido got killed by Kisenosato in his last two 7-7 appearances. :)


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