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Skill, Strategy and Passion: An Empirical Analysis of Soccer


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  • Palomino, F.A.
  • Rigotti, L.
  • Rustichini, A.

    (Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research)


Sports provide a natural experiment on individual choices in games with high stakes. We study soccer with a game-theoretic model of a match, and then evaluate the ability of this model to explain actual behavior with data from 2885 matches among professional teams. In our model, the strategy of a team depends on the current state of the game. When the game is tied, both teams attack. A losing team always attacks, while its winning opponent attacks early in the game, but it starts defending as the end of the match nears. We find that teams' skills, current score, and home field advantage are significant explanatory variables of the probability of scoring. We also find that a team which falls behind is relatively more likely to score. A team which is ahead, on the other hand, uses a conservative strategy very early in the match. These results support the main conclusions of our model. They indicate that soccer teams behave consistently with rationality and equilibrium. However, there is significant evidence that emotional factors are roughly as important as rational ones in determining the game's outcome, and they affect the strategic decisions of teams.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research in its series Discussion Paper with number 1998-129.

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Date of creation: 1998
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Handle: RePEc:dgr:kubcen:1998129

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Keywords: zero sum games; motivation; rationality; natural experiments; sports; soccer;

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  1. Palomino, F.A. & Rigotti, L. & Rustichini, A., 1998. "Skill, Strategy and Passion: An Empirical Analysis of Soccer," Discussion Paper 1998-129, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  2. Sahi, S. & Shubik, M., 1988. "A model of a sudden-death field-goal football game as a sequential duel," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 15(3), pages 205-215, June.
  3. Stefan Szymanski & Ron Smith, 1997. "The English Football Industry: profit, performance and industrial structure," International Review of Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(1), pages 135-153.
  4. Brown, James N & Rosenthal, Robert W, 1990. "Testing the Minimax Hypothesis: A Re-examination of O'Neill's Game Experiment," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(5), pages 1065-81, September.
  5. Klaassen, F.J.G.M. & Magnus, J.R., 1998. "On the Independence and Identical Distribution of Points in Tennis," Discussion Paper 1998-53, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
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Cited by:
  1. Kirchsteiger, Georg & Rigotti, Luca & Rustichini, Aldo, 2001. "Your Morals Are Your Moods," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt5fh525g8, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  2. Frederic Palomino & Luca Rigotti & Aldo Rustichini, 2000. "Skill, Strategy, and Passion: an Empirical Analysis of Soccer," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1822, Econometric Society.
  3. Anurag N. Banerjee & Johan F.M. Swinnen & Alfons Weersink, 2006. "Skating on Thin Ice: Rule Changes and Team Strategies in the NHL," LICOS Discussion Papers 17506, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
  4. Carrillo, Juan D, 2006. "Penalty Shoot-Outs: Before or After Extra Time?," CEPR Discussion Papers 5579, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Banerjee, A.N. & Swinnen, J.F.M., 2002. "Does a sudden death liven up the game? Rules, incentives, and strategy in football," Discussion Paper Series In Economics And Econometrics 0214, Economics Division, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton.
  6. Franz Wirl & Simon Sagmeister, 2008. "Changing of the guards: New coaches in Austria’s premier football league," Empirica, Springer, vol. 35(3), pages 267-278, July.
  7. Renneboog, L.D.R. & Vanbrabant, P., 2000. "Share Price Reactions to Sporty Performances of Soccer Clubs listed on the London Stock Exchange and the AIM," Discussion Paper 2000-19, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  8. Brocas, Isabelle & Carrillo, Juan D, 2002. "Do the 'Three-Point Victory' and 'Golden Goal' Rules Make Soccer More Exciting? A Theoretical Analysis of a Simple Game," CEPR Discussion Papers 3266, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.


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