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Are Subjective Evaluations Biased by Social Factors or Connections? An Econometric Analysis of Soccer Referee Decisions


  • Scoppa, Vincenzo


Many incentive contracts are based on subjective evaluations and contractual disputes depend on judges’ decisions. However, subjective evaluations raise risks of favouritism and distortions. Sport contests are a fruitful field for testing empirically theories of incentives. In this paper the behaviour of the referees in the Italian soccer (football) league (“Serie A”) is analyzed. Using data on injury (or extra) time subjectively assigned by the referee at the end of the match and controlling for factors which may influence it (players substitutions, yellow and red cards, penalty kicks, etc.), we show that referees are biased in favour of home team, in that injury time is significantly greater if home teams are losing. The refereeing bias increases greatly when there is no running track in the stadium and the crowd is close to the pitch. Following the 2006 “Serie A” scandal we test whether favouritism emerges towards teams suspected of connections with referees finding that these teams obtain favourable decisions. Social pressure by the crowd attending the match however appears to be the main cause of favouritism.

Suggested Citation

  • Scoppa, Vincenzo, 2008. "Are Subjective Evaluations Biased by Social Factors or Connections? An Econometric Analysis of Soccer Referee Decisions," MPRA Paper 15819, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:15819

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    2. Ryan Rodenberg, 2013. "Employee Discipline And Basketball Referees: A Prediction Market Approach," Journal of Prediction Markets, University of Buckingham Press, vol. 7(2), pages 43-54.
    3. Mario Lackner & Hendrik Sonnabend, 2017. "Coping with advantageous inequity - Field evidence from professional penalty kicking," Economics working papers 2017-21, Department of Economics, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.
    4. Hlasny, V. & Kolaric, S., 2015. "Catch Me If You Can - Referee–Team Relationships and Disciplinary Cautions in Football," Publications of Darmstadt Technical University, Institute for Business Studies (BWL) 74994, Darmstadt Technical University, Department of Business Administration, Economics and Law, Institute for Business Studies (BWL).
    5. Michela Ponzo & Vincenzo Scoppa, 2014. "Does the Home Advantage Depend on Crowd Support? Evidence from Same-Stadium Derbies," CSEF Working Papers 376, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
    6. Thomas Dohmen & Jan Sauermann, 2016. "Referee Bias," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 30(4), pages 679-695, September.
    7. Pettersson-Lidbom, Per & Priks, Mikael, 2010. "Behavior under social pressure: Empty Italian stadiums and referee bias," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 108(2), pages 212-214, August.
    8. Andrés Picazo-Tadeo & Francisco Gónzalez-Gómez & Jorge Guardiola Wanden-Berghe, 2011. "Referee home bias due to social pressure. Evidence from Spanish football," Working Papers 1119, Department of Applied Economics II, Universidad de Valencia.
    9. Dawson, Peter & Dobson, Stephen, 2010. "The influence of social pressure and nationality on individual decisions: Evidence from the behaviour of referees," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 181-191, April.
    10. Baert, Stijn & Amez, Simon, 2016. "No Better Moment to Score a Goal than Just Before Half Time? A Soccer Myth Statistically Tested," IZA Discussion Papers 9980, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Andres Giraldo & Juan Mendoza & Andrés Rosas & Dayana Tellez, 2013. "Managerial Turnover: Coach Dismissals and Team Performance in Colombia," VNIVERSITAS ECONÓMICA 011054, UNIVERSIDAD JAVERIANA - BOGOTÁ.
    12. Juan Mendoza & Andrés Rosas, 2013. "Referee Bias in Professional Soccer: Evidence from Colombia," VNIVERSITAS ECONÓMICA 011059, UNIVERSIDAD JAVERIANA - BOGOTÁ.
    13. Katherine G. Yewell & Steven B. Caudill & Franklin G. Mixon, Jr., 2014. "Referee Bias and Stoppage Time in Major League Soccer: A Partially Adaptive Approach," Econometrics, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(1), pages 1-19, February.
    14. Scoppa, Vincenzo, 2013. "Fatigue and Team Performance in Soccer: Evidence from the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship," IZA Discussion Papers 7519, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    15. De Paola, Maria & Scoppa, Vincenzo, 2008. "The Effects of Managerial Turnover: Evidence from Coach Dismissals in Italian Soccer Teams," MPRA Paper 11030, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    16. Andrés J. Picazo-Tadeo & Francisco González-Gómez & Jorge Guardiola, 2011. "The importance of time in referee home bias due to social pressure. Evidence from Spanish football," FEG Working Paper Series 03/11, Faculty of Economics and Business (University of Granada).

    More about this item


    Favoritism; Subjective evaluation; Sport economics; Soccer; Referee bias;

    JEL classification:

    • L83 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Sports; Gambling; Restaurants; Recreation; Tourism
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification
    • M50 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - General


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