Discussion paper

DP5231 Sabotage in Tournaments: Making the Beautiful Game a Bit Less Beautiful

We exploit an incentive change in professional soccer leagues aimed at encouraging more attacking and goal scoring to obtain evidence on the effect of stronger incentives on productive and destructive effort. Using as control the behavior of the same teams in a competition that experienced no changes in incentives, we provide differences-in-differences estimates of the effect of the incentive change on the behavior of teams. We find that, although teams increased offensive effort, they also increased destructive effort (`sabotage') substantially, resulting in no net change in scoring. When ahead, teams became more conservative, increasing their defenders, scoring less goals, and allowing fewer attempts to score by their opponents. We also find that teams that engage more in sabotage activities depress the attendance at their rival's home stadiums, and that indeed attendance suffered as a result of the incentive change. Thus, teams responded to stronger incentives, but in an undesirable way.


Garicano, L and I Palacios-Huerta (2005), ‘DP5231 Sabotage in Tournaments: Making the Beautiful Game a Bit Less Beautiful‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 5231. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp5231