Estimating Demand for Aggressive Play: The Case of English Premier League Football

By Jewell, R. Todd | International Journal of Sport Finance, August 2009 | Go to article overview

Estimating Demand for Aggressive Play: The Case of English Premier League Football


Jewell, R. Todd, International Journal of Sport Finance


Abstract

This study estimates a demand curve for physically aggressive play in the English Premier Football League (EPL), the highest level of professional association football (soccer) in England. Employing a league-point-maximization framework in which a team chooses its level of aggressive play as an input, optimum aggressive play is assumed to respond to its price, where price is the reduction in the probability of a win or a tie resulting from aggressive play. The results indicate that aggressive play by EPL teams, as measured by total disciplinary points, is responsive to opportunity cost for both the home and away teams in a given match, although the responsiveness of the away team is shown to be much larger than that of the home team. Therefore, EPL teams can be expected to respond to policies that are designed to reduce aggressive play through increases in the cost of such behavior, and such policies can be expected to influence the behavior of away teams more than home teams. If fans of EPL football have preferences for less aggressive play, then the league may be able to increase revenues by reducing aggression through increases in opportunity cost.

Keywords: English soccer, football, aggressive play, disciplinary points

Introduction

The sport of association football (or "soccer" as it is know in the US) is played in nearly every part of the world. FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the sport's world governing body, has over 200 member countries, a quantity that surpasses even the number of United Nations members. FIFA establishes the rules of the game for all competitions that it sanctions, including international matches and professional club leagues in member nations. One of the primary laws of the game (Law 12) involves fouls and misconduct and the penalties for such offenses (FIFA, 2008). The penalties range in severity according to the seriousness of the offense, and the referee is responsible for meting out appropriate punishment with input from two assistant referees and a fourth official. The referee may award a free kick (direct or indirect) against the offending team, he may choose to caution the offending player and award a yellow card, or he may take the extreme step of sending off the offending player with a red card if the misconduct is judged to be egregious enough.

The purpose of FIFA's in-match penalties is to promote fair play, punish violent play that may lead to player injury, and generally negate any advantage that misconduct may accrue to the guilty player or team. From the perspective of an economist, the penalties also serve as an incentive mechanism; specifically, the penalty associated with a given foul is the "price" that must be paid for committing said infraction.When fouls and misconduct are beneficial to a team or player, penalties reduce the net benefit of such behavior. Under an assumption of rationality on the part of players and teams, infractions with higher prices (i.e., greater punishments) and lower payoffs will be committed less frequently. Such rational behavior in response to the price of misconduct in football is essentially an application of the law of demand; specifically, more of a good (misconduct) will be consumed at lower prices of that good, all else equal.

The current study attempts to estimate a demand curve for in-match misconduct in the English Premier Football League (EPL), the highest level of professional club football in England. The EPL has the reputation as a league in which physically aggressive play is part of the culture, where the game is generally played "hard but fair." Physically aggressive play is considered to be a tactic that, if employed well, can increase the ability of a team of lesser skill to compete with more highly-skilled teams. For example, the London-based club Arsenal has a reputation, whether deserved or not, of being a team composed of players that do not like playing against teams with a physically aggressive style of play, indicating that aggressive play can improve a team's chances of winning against Arsenal. …

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