The referee’s a ****er

Were Scotland robbed on Saturday? Probably. Their manager thinks so:

Scotland manager Alex McLeish was furious with Spanish referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez after the 2-1 defeat by Italy at Hampden. Christian Panucci’s stoppage-time winner came from a free-kick that he felt ought to have gone Scotland’s way.
"The set-piece that led to their second goal was an unbelievable decision," said McLeish. "Alan Hutton was in control of the ball and their guy battered him. How can that be a free-kick to Italy?"

This sort of thing is hard to prove, but some inventive economists have looked at one particular aspect of dodgy refereeing: the idea that big teams are favoured by the referees at home. [HT: Bluematter.] Raw number crunching won’t do it for you – if Manchester United are awarded plenty of penalties at Old Trafford, might that not indicate nothing more than that they are putting their opponents under pressure?
However, Luis Garicano, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, Canice Prendergast have spotted something:

Referees have discretion over the addition of extra time at the end of a soccer game to compensate for lost time due to unusual stoppages. We find that referees systematically favor home teams by shortening close games where the home team is ahead, and lengthening close games where the home team is behind. They show no such bias for games that are not close. We further find that when the rewards for winning games increase, referees change their bias accordingly. Lastly, we identify that the mechanism through which bias operates is to satisfy the crowd, by documenting how the size and composition of the crowd affect referee favoritism.

Clever. But no consolation to Scotland, who were playing at home anyway…

Here is an article of mine about an earlier Palacios-Huerta paper, showing that footballers play optimal game theoretic strategies when placing penalty kicks.

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.