The Playoff Safety Bias occurs when playoff appearances matter more than championships in terms of an individual’s decision-making process when choosing to consume major professional sport from a set of options, referred to as the Sequential Goal Heuristic. This paper (i) demonstrates the potential value of experimental design research in sport management and (ii) provides a consumer-based perspective of playoff structure. Adopting a consumer psychology approach, a 2 (Team performance: good team/bad team) × 3 (Goal: make playoffs every year/ win at least one championship/ maximize number of championships) design was administered via a scenario presented to 152 undergraduate students. The scenario controlled and manipulated the good team/bad team construct by varying the team’s past six season standings. Results revealed that the subjects instructed to maximize the number of playoff appearances had similar estimations of the ideal number of playoff teams, whether fans of a good or bad team. Conversely, of the subjects instructed to either (i) maximize the number of championships won or (ii) maximize the probability of winning at least one championship, fans of good teams over-estimated the optimal number of playoff teams significantly more than fans of bad teams. Implications for future research, practitioner application, and support of similar methods in sport management research are provided.
O’Reilly is with the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.