erik lundegaard

How to Predict: Follow the Numbers

I’m more historian than prognosticator — I tend to live life looking back rather than forwards (I know: it's not pretty) — so, for once, I thought I'd combine the two and check out two predictions from earlier this year.

The first, about baseball, from May. On the 21st, I said it was a good time to hate the Yankees. They were 20-25, in last place in the East, 7 1/2 back of the Rays, and, most importantly, “without the positive run differential they had last season that indicated they’d probably turn things around.” Five days later they were 25-25 but it was mostly on the backs of the hapless Mariners, whom, at that point, they’d beaten six out of six times, scoring 50 runs to the M’s 17. And they wouldn’t have the M’s to kick around much anymore.

How did it turn out? The Yankees did better than I thought they would. They finished 89-73, better than their record in, say, 1999, when they won it all. But it wasn’t good enough this year. For the first time in 14 years, they didn’t make the post-season. That’s how it appeared in May.

The second prediction, from early August, was about The Dark Knight. After its first week, MSNBC asked me to check out how it was doing, where it might be going, and could it unseat Titanic? I checked the numbers. I said in terms of worldwide box office, and Titanic’s $1.8 billion, no way. I said in terms of domestic box office, adjusted for inflation (and thus going up against Gone With the Wind’s $1.4 billion), no effin’ way. But domestic box office unadjusted for inflation? Titanic’s $600 million? I came up with a formula via a similar box office smash, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, and crunched the numbers. The numbers indicated a final take of $515 million. I wrote:
Other factors will come into play. “The Dark Knight” is better than “Pirates 2,” so it should have longer legs. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, singled out for high praise and Oscar buzz, may draw into theaters moviegoers who might not otherwise check out a superhero pic. And if Ledger, or the film itself, is nominated for an Oscar next January, that could boost its box office as well. Assuming it’s still in theaters. Even so, it would take a lot to make up $85 million.
The Dark Knight is still out there, plugging away, keeping us safe, and the movie has now reached $525 million. But it won’t get much higher. It made less than $1 million this past week, and that number, like all b.o. weekly totals, can only get lower. Probably won’t reach $530 million before it’s pulled.

So in both cases my predictions weren't far off. But neither was a true prediction. I didn’t predict how the Yankees would perform before the season began, and I didn’t predict how much money The Dark Knight would make when it hadn't opened yet. Both predictions occurred as things were progressing — when there were numbers available (run differential/weekly box office totals and drop-offs) with which to formulate answers. I just followed the relevant numbers.

Early August, when I wrote that Dark Knight piece, feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it? If only we had people in power who knew how to follow the relevant numbers.

Posted at 08:47 AM on Fri. Oct 10, 2008 in category Culture, Movies, Baseball  
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Jon wrote:

After its huge opening, a couple of my buddies were talking about how Dark Knight was going to destroy Titanic, and this and that, and I sort of just hung back. The thing that most people don't realize about Titanic is that it was bringing in double digit millions in its 15th weekend. The Bat fell out of the double digit performances in half that time. Big openings are great, but I don't know that we'll ever see anyone duplicate Titanic's incredible run.

As for the Yankees: we shouldn't even be talking about them when we've got a glorious franchise like the Philadelphia Phillies playing for a pennant!
Comment posted on Fri. Oct 10, 2008 at 11:22 AM

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