The Vuvuzela Externality

Thus far, the top three stories of the World Cup are (3) Germany looks strong, (2) the U.S. got lucky, and (1) the vuvuzela is remarkably annoying.

For those who haven’t tuned in yet, the vuvuzela is a meter-long plastic horn whose name translates roughly as “making a vuvu noise.” And make a noise it does. When thousands of fans start blowing, you’d think a swarm of bees was taking over the soccer stadium … and your living room. Highly annoying.

And that’s not all. According to Wikipedia, the vuvuzelas raise other concerns:

They have been associated with permanent noise-induced hearing loss, cited as a possible safety risk when spectators can’t hear evacuation announcements, and potentially spread colds and flu viruses on a greater scale than coughing or shouting.

In short, the vuvuzela creates a host of externalities. So it’s not surprising that FIFA is under growing pressure to ban them.

I’ve been unable to come up with a market-based approach for dealing with the vuvuzela — there won’t ever be a Pigou club to limit the vuvu noise — and I would personally benefit from such a ban. So I’m all for it.

It is worth pondering, however, whether there are less drastic actions that might address some of the vuvuzela nuisance. Here’s one idea: ESPN and ABC should figure out a way to cancel out most of the vuvuzela noise. I still want to hear the cheers of the crowd and the screams of players who pretend to be hurt, but those are on different frequencies than the dreaded vuvu noise.

I don’t know how technically challenging that would be, but the marketplace is already providing similar solutions for consumers. According to Pocket Lint, you can change the sound settings on your TV, purchase an anti-vuvuzela sound filter, or even build your own filter at home.

Or you can go really low tech and use your mute button.

23 thoughts on “The Vuvuzela Externality”

  1. I read online that these annoying “instruments” emit sound at 123.5 decibels. Pain begins at 125 decibels for most people, so I suspect there are very many people in the stands who are risking permanent hearing damage.

    If I had flown half way around the world and paid thousands of dollars to attend World Cup matches, I would be asking for a complete refund of my money or a complete banning of these obnoxious non-musical instruments.

    Too bad folks in the stands don’t have a mute button.

  2. That title was all it took for me to conclude that you are a nerd on so wonderfully many levels!

  3. The problem is that the vuvuzela is at a mid-range frequency — in fact it occupies much of the same frequency band as the human voice. It also doesn’t just occupy a single frequency — if you look at the sound on an analyzer, you’ll see a fairly wide frequency band. While the pitch is constant — the frequencies cover a fairly wide range. The timbre is sonically complex (lots of harmonics and complex waves, unlike a simple sine wave “Test tone” sound.) tEQing or filtering the noise would result in a very odd-sounding broadcast. It would likely be disorienting — even more than the noise itself.

    The mute button works well — so does turning the channel. The best solution is just banning the stupid toys.

  4. Disadvantage to mute is that cc is really bad for sporting events in general, and the WC in particular.

    Strangely, the vuvus seem to have been used more in the non-African games (Germany-Australia was nearly intolerable; Ghana’s win was no worse than the UK-US match.

    Might be ESPN v. ABC, but I doubt it.

  5. You sound like a whiny old lady. It’s white noise. I love it. Makes me fall asleep.

    1. No, the sleepiness is from the slow play and all the draws (except of course, Germany – Australia)

  6. I have never watched a soccer match before, but I love the sound of that horn. It keeps the family mesmerized. I just ordered 3 for my sons and me so that we can actually become part of the tradition. Love it Love it!!!

  7. Oh so annoying, I had the game on in the other room and I thought someone had turned NASCAR on! It took a Google search to find out what the hell the noise was! Vuzuzela has GOT TO GO!! Thank goodness this is a South African tradition otherwise I might never have watched another game, this is the first World Cup I have ever watched. I understand the noisemakers, but nothing compares to 90+ minutes of none stoop buzzing, it make NO sense to me at all!

  8. Great piece on these noise makers. All that’s missing is a link or two on where I can buy one of my own so I can participate from home or local bar.

  9. The South Africans have every right the wave their flags and blow their horns till the cows come home.That’s what home advantage is all about.Get use to it because it is not going to stop even if the African teams get eliminated.So far Africa has done a fine job hosting the World Cup.

    1. You are an idiot. This has been the worst world cup EVER. That sound is killing the sensation. So if they host it in the USA again they should not let anyone in and fill the stands with Coke and McDonalds commercials?

      Tradition my ass! This is a World Celebration and not a South Africa only event. Everyone is supposed to enjoy it and by the looks from around the internet, millions are against these horns. If you like them that much, I can suggest a more pleasant use for you.

  10. Love the UPDATE, if the Vuzuelas get thrown on the field, they will be banned from the stadium… Ok, if your in the stadium and you hate the Vuzus… Hmmm… you figure it out… 😉

  11. You forgot the Jabulani ball, its a joke! This ball has a totally different design from a normal soccer ball. How idiotic to change to his joke of a ball for the World Cup.

    And yes, the vuvuzela is terribly annoying, there are so many other excellent aspects of S. African culture, those plastic horns are ridiculous!

  12. Thank you for giving a name to my pain. I hate that sound.

    As for infringing rights with a ban, you’re assuming that people have the right to make loud, obnoxious noises. If instead you assume that people have a right to minimal ear safety, then permitting the simulated flies is infringing on rights. Of course, Coase said that, assuming negligible transaction costs, it doesn’t matter who is assigned the rights just so long as someone is. So I’d suggest assigning the rights to the quieter people and then see if the vuvuzela tooters can bribe everyone else to allow their odious instruments. (This is a weak cost-benefit test since it’s infeasible to compensate the TV viewers around the world. But I’d guess that the games would be much quieter under such an arrangement.)

  13. I watched a Formula One race after the Ghana game yesterday. The F1 cars were less annoying. Not to mention that there are never ties in Formula One. You know, a sport with an actual outcome. Instead of the hug-fest that is a tie.

  14. There’s a backround beehive like sound on all the Mexican league games without the vuvuzela.

  15. I fully agree of the health concerns. The petition is great.

    But please get a reliable and valid scientific explanation, and not wikipedia!!

    Thank You!!

  16. It’s so damn annoying that stupid sound. we need someone to punch fifa’s president in the face..

  17. Your points are well taken. I also find the Vuvuzelas very annoying. I would be the first to welcome the host countries’ cultural extravagance but… I must stop at the Vuvuzela. FCOL, I can’t even sit down and enjoy the game because of that awful noise. Part of the dynamic, I believe, is that, to the individual, it’s fun. While they are blowing into it, they are saying, “hey, look at me, I’m blowing a vuvuzela, i’m cool”. But the rest of us are saying, “hey, that sounds like crap on steroids.” Go USA!!

  18. Why not ban all the traditional soccer chants that the Europeans and their clubs are so proud of while we’re at it. They are a nuisance and painful to the ears of other soccer fans. If the Vuvuzelas must go, so must all other forms of aural support. When Man U fans yell their silly chants its tradition, but when the South Africans do it its irritating????

  19. It’s not just South Africa. One time several years ago I was watching a soccer match that was in South America. And that infernal vuvuzela noise was out in force. The problem is it is non-stop unlike normal cheering of a crowd. You may as well hit mute and cut on music because the atmosphere is removed.

    Until the FIFA CEO pulls his head out of his arse, broadcasters need to find a way to notch it out or at least greatly reduce it. Otherwise FIFA is in a heap of trouble.

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