Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Persuaded under Pressure: Evidence from the National Football League

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Persuaded under Pressure: Evidence from the National Football League

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Sports has proven to be a fertile ground for testing models of corruption, discrimination, crime, incentives, supervision, and performance (Garicano, Palacios-Huerta, and Prendergast 2005). In particular, the study of sport referees (Dohmen and Sauermann 2015) has provided a glimpse into how certain competitive and social factors affect human behavior, theories that otherwise are difficult to empirically test.

As examples, referee decision making has been shown to be associated with player characteristics such as race, size, and stature (Gift and Rodenberg 2014; Mills 2014; Pope and Pope 2015; Price and Wolfers 2007), changes to the number of referees (Heckelman and Yates 2003), and their positioning during play (Kitchens 2014), as well as their own previous judgmental decisions (Abrevaya and McCulloch 2014; Gift 2015; Lopez and Snyder 2013). In addition, a referee pressure to support the home team has also been studied extensively (Boyko, Boyko, and Boyko 2007; Buraimo, Forrest, and Simmons 2010; Dohmen 2008; Garicano, Palacios-Huerta, and Prendergast 2005; Moskowitz and Wertheim 2011; Pettersson-Lidborn and Priks 2010; Sutter and Kocher 2004), as it has been identified that crowd noise is a cue that informs referee decision making (Buraimo, Forrest, and Simmons 2010; Nevill, Balmer, and Williams 2002). Other social pressures on referees, including whether or not the contest is on television (Lane et al. 2006), and the choice to make fewer calls at game's end so as to avoid being part of a game's narrative (Moskowitz and Wertheim 2011; Snyder and Lopez 2015), have also been suggested. And although their behavior is susceptible to outside factors, the monitoring of referees has been shown to reduce bias (Parsons et al. 2011; Pope, Price, and Wolfers 2013).

One aspect missing in the literature, but a part of the flow of any athletic event, is accounting for the pressure and monitoring applied on referees by team employees. Formally, coaches and players admit that "working the referees," which includes acts of kindness and reverence as well as screaming during times of frustration, is part of a game plan (Abrams 2008). Although there is some evidence that suggests referees can be tricked into favoring either team (Petchesky 2014), and that certain positions use their stature to gain leverage (Mills 2014), it is unknown to date if the immense and constant pressure placed on referees by players and coaches in all sports alters or impairs referee judgment.

If the pressure to satisfy personnel on the nearest sideline exists, it would link closely to established supervisor-subordinate theory. First, there's a rent-seeking nature to the interaction between referees and team personnel, which manifests itself when coaches and players beg for favorable decisions without reciprocation. Second, knowing that they are constantly monitored, referees could act as risk adverse agents (Prendergast and Topel 1993b). The high stakes nature of professional sport creates potentially distorted incentives for referees, who, although tasked with the role of making impartial decisions, may instead adhere to more socially acceptable standards of rule enforcement. As one theory, providing favorable decisions to satisfy nearby coaches and players would be an understandable response to the fear of a coaches' retribution to media after the game, which could jeopardize referee promotion and reputation (Boeri and Severgnini 2011). Finally, it is reasonable to view referees as supervisors who are also judges, in which case proximity effects come into play in a managerial context. While previous work has linked both the size and relative location of the crowd to referee choices (Buraimo, Forrest, and Simmons 2010), fans have low levels of one-to-one interaction with referees. Meanwhile, the constant and often aggressive correspondence between coaches and referees happens on a personal level, in which case the close proximity could be responsible for an increase in favorable biases (Judge and Ferris 1993). …

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