Arnold Kling  

Are Soccer Fans Socialist?

PRINT
The Euro and Armageddon... The Macro Doubtbook, Installme...

My complaint about soccer rules creating too much room for luck drew many comments. People can argue that I am a philistine who does not appreciate the beauty of the sport, and that is fine. The only sport I claim to know anything about is baseball. I dislike sports where you never find professional players whose height or weight is somewhat below average for the population. The only period where I avidly followed football was 1968-70, when the Kansas City Chiefs had a kick returner who was 64 inches tall and weighed about 135 pounds. (I don't count placekickers.)

When it comes to baseball, tradition matters, but some tinkering with the rules is acceptable. I understand why they had to lower the mound and reduce the strike zone after the 1968 season, for example. So I doubt that soccer is so traditional that it is optimal never to change the rules, although I gladly admit that my opinions should not count, since I know nothing about the sport.

But what surprised me was the reason that many fans defended rules that make it hard to score goals in soccer. Several commenters said that soccer would be boring if the best team always won, which makes the luck factor a good thing.

I agree that it is important for the underdog to have a chance. However, in the sport that I like, the underdog wins by playing better in that particular game or series. The Orioles did not upset the favored Dodgers in 1966 because of an arbitrary call or a bizarre mishap. The O's outplayed the Dodgers. Clearly.

I have my doubts about the case for giving the better team a high probability of losing due to bad luck just for the sake of making the games more interesting. That seems to me like wanting to tax rich people because you don't like people to be too successful. It sounds to me like soccer is the road to serfdom.


Comments and Sharing


CATEGORIES: sports economics



COMMENTS (35 to date)
Rayson writes:
It sounds to me like soccer is the road to serfdom.

If this was true, the road to serfdom is a wonderful thing that almost everybody will like. It is kind of surprising that especially defenders of free markets dislike the unpredictable outcomes of football (not "soccer") games. The game is nothing more and nothing less than a market test: Beforehand, we don't know who will be successful and which strategy will be the best. The only way to decide this question is the game itself.

The "luck" component doesn't depend on the score every successful move generates. Whether your effort will be rewarded with 7 points or with only one point is not important at all. Extreme referee blunders are not part of the game either way and should be abolished by appropriate technical means.

One last question: Is it so unbelievable that luck is responsible for individual success in market environments? Markets don't justify persons, they justify ideas.

Nicholas writes:

Maybe soccer fans are, but they might be following the wrong sport if that's the attraction. "Soccernomics" made the case that soccer is the most capitalist sport.

There are no salary caps. In leagues around the world, teams get promoted to higher divisions through good play and relegated to lower divisions for poor play. There aren't playoffs in most leagues which reduces the luck factor. There's no such thing as a draft. Wins are worth 3 pts while ties are only worth 1.

I didn't read through all of the comments, but I was thinking about your post, and I'm actually surprised upsets don't happen more often given the low number of goals (probably because goals are highly correlated to quality possession rather than a quick counter.*) The teams who are left are the ones we expected to be there. Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Netherlands...probably Spain will all be in the quarters. That's about as chalk as it gets in any sport. Comparatively speaking, the NCAA basketball tournament has many more upsets, and the number of teams in the tournament lends itself to luckiness helping to determine the winner.

* - The US victory over Spain in the Confederation's Cup last year is the classic counter example.

Hume writes:

It sounds to me like soccer is the road to serfdom.

Hahaha. Oh man. I cant wait to see the reactions to this one :)

Steve Sailer writes:

Low scores are good for gambling. You don't need a point spread like in American football, just odds.

But I've also come up with some new reasons why people around the world like the low scoring in soccer. See my article in www.Takimag.com on Tuesday morning for a statistical analysis of the divergent scoring trends in the NFL v. the World Cup, and why both have been successful.

Alex writes:

Hahaha, soccer is the road to serfdom?

I hope you're fishing for a fight or meant that completely in jest, what logic and support do you use to make the jump from soccer fans appreciating an imperfect game to soccer fans demanding utopian state control of industry and the means of production?

I agree with Nicholas (and many others, for that matter) - soccer seems much more capitalistic than other sports.

Russell writes:

Arnold,

I think your criticism of "soccer" is misplaced. Your talking about luck, but not considering the inane way champions are crowned in the major American sports (i.e., a "knockout tournament").

In the NFL, NBA, and MLB the entire regular season exists (almost) solely to seed for the knockout tournament at the end. That's a kind of nutty way to determine a champion - it's fun and exciting - but the team w/ the best record at the end of 162 games is really the best team, aren't they? Isn't that what your CLT argument tells us?

And yet, the 2001 Mariners are considered failures, but they won more games in one year than any team in history (save one)! So they were better over 162 games, but lost over a mere 7 games, and so the Mariners are losers. There is surely more variance/luck in 7 games than 162 (and the NFL is even worse).

Remember, at the club level (soccer), the most prestigious championship is winning the "regular" season (I'm ignoring Champions League, but at least they have group stages, home-aways to deal w/ luck/variance). There is an implicit recognition amongst soccer fans that you reduce the impact of luck by celebrating the winner over the course of a lot (38 in the EPL) of matches.

That recognition is sorely lacking in American sports!

Pedro writes:

I think it would be fair to say that this is not exactly Arnold's specialty but his niceness warrants taking his comments seriously. Football (soccer) does have rule changes. There have been several in the past decade but the most important one I can recall has to do with the offside rule, whereby now a player that has less than two of the opposition players between himself and the goal line can be deemed to be onside if he is not interfering with play. It adds a lot more ambiguity but also favours the attacking (or counter-attacking side, as it fits best that particular game scenario) team without reducing the whole game to shambles. It was sensible and widely praised. Among other, less recent, changes I can remember is the fact that goalkeepers now cannot handle a deliberate pass from a team mate. That has also valued attacking play while retaining essential features. So, as far as that goes, football does change and it does accept new ideas. They just need to be good, make sense and respect the basic principles of the sport, which, I must say, is not the case with most propositions stemming from the other side of the pond.

I apologise for the GYOBing of the post, but I don't think your second point is valid either. The low scoring feature of the game makes it easier for teams to rely on endurance, stamina, concentration and discipline to win matches. The best examples of this were the Switzerland-Spain match or any of the matches lost by Barcelona in the Champions League in the past 2/3 years. It's not about luck, but rather allowing the minnows a chance of getting a goal by taking advantage of a particular strength - set pieces, long shooting, pacy counter attacking football, etc.. - which is usually uncorrelated with possession of the ball. Being a game of continuity, obtaining longer periods of possession is the preferred (and most successful, in the long run) method for developing a winning side. However, in knock out tournaments, other strategies can have more of an impact and cancel out the advantage brought about by having more time on the ball and thus the low scoring feature allows these to be fully exploited, creating more diversity in the approaches of different teams and even in the physique and type of players on the pitch. I could go on for hours, but the essence is: football, being a game on continuity played on a relatively large surface, benefits teams who are good at retaining possession (Brazil, Netherlands, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Portugal or Chile, to name those teams who have displayed this ability in the current tournament). In a knock out tournament, this does not ensure a wining strategy as a team with a solid formation, good defence and some kind of edge in any of the major goal scoring situations can cause upsets. This is why, I think, most football fans enjoy this low scoring element and why I don't think it is necessarily socialistic. It's simply about creating more diversity in the different approaches to the sport.

Nicholas writes:

Question for Arnold,
Were basketball fans socialists the year they cheered GMU to the final four? ;-) Why would the NCAA set up a tournament where even mediocre mid major teams can get an invite?

Maybe it's the Road to the Final Four that's the Road to Serfdom.

John V writes:

I have heard that socialist argument before.

But the way I heard it was to explain why it not a sport that catches on in the U.S. the way it does elsewhere. It's about the fatalist side of it where there's something about the sport that attracts that kind of mind compared to the U.S. sports where the results tend to be more merit based and the better team tends to win because the little things usually add up to win while in soccer it may not always turn out that way.

Of course, being a libertarian, a soccer fan and U.S. sports fan, I find something lacking in that explanation. ;)

John V writes:

Arnold,

"In the NFL, NBA, and MLB the entire regular season exists (almost) solely to seed for the knockout tournament at the end. That's a kind of nutty way to determine a champion - it's fun and exciting - but the team w/ the best record at the end of 162 games is really the best team, aren't they?"

--------------------

I would tend to agree with that if every team played the same schedule. But since strength of schedule is different for each team, it's hard to say it's that simple. Look at some divisions in baseball and how much harder some are than others. Same goes for American Football.

In the major soccer leagues, you play every team twice...home and away. I'd say that's pretty fair for everyone...so such judgments about being the best are more appropriate in those cases.

DaveV writes:

Here is a good read on determining the respective roles of skill and luck in pro sports leagues.
http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/true_talent_levels_for_sports_leagues/#comments

The end of the post and the first five comments explain the methodology and give results for the major American sports. It takes 69 games in mlb for skill to explain the league's results better than luck. I used the same methodology for the English Premier League and found that only 40 games are required for the role of skill to exceed that of luck.

Alternatively one could look at the odds of today's games. Brazil and Netherlands were both greater than 75% to advance. There isn't a single baseball game today with a favorite greater than 67%.

I also agree with soccer fans who prefer a large amount of luck in sports. A 3-2 game in the 9th inning with a runner on second is far more exciting than a 12-2 blowout.

Sonic Charmer writes:

Ok so we have claims above both that soccer's low scoring encourages upsets, and that it doesn't because usually the best teams win anyway by adapting strategies to the low-scoring environment (indeed in one comment is claimed better teams win more not less in soccer).

So which is it? Seems like an empirical question. Before we decide soccer is 'socialist' because its low scoring redistributes wins to underdogs, perhaps it should be established whether that is indeed the case?

I have a suspicion the opposite will be found. In baseball for example, even the worst teams will still win 35-40% of their games and on any given day the worst team in the league could beat the best team in the league and this would surprise absolutely no one. Surely the same is not true of soccer.

I think the reason I don't like soccer's low scoring is the opposite of what Arnold doesn't like: upsets aren't common enough. If you're watching a 1-0 game, chances are you're looking at the final score. If your team is the team that's behind 1-0, well tough luck, there's almost no hope whatsoever.

What fun is that? Compare to a 1-0 baseball game or a 7-0 football game. Fans of the losing team can still watch at that point, have some hope, and not feel like chumps for doing so. A required ingredient for this to be true, of course, is that scoring not be as rare as the dodo bird....

hacs writes:

As I said in other post, soccer (football) is a game of long chains of nested "if" (long histories), so, it is very difficult to decompose teams performance. The winner is the team with more complete histories. But a team with frequent incomplete but long histories seems better for observers, and commonly used measures show frequencies of each "if" (not histories). In other words, a goal is usually a long walk on the razor's edge, which is sometimes better executed by the seemingly weakest team (momentum). So, a non delusional belief should state that team as the best team in that specific game.

Nicholas writes:


Alright...we need a Gini co-efficient for sports. In terms of parity, Soccer seems to have very little parity. At the international level, the likes of Spain, Brazil, Germany, and Argentina continually dominate at the World Cup. The difference between the 75th percentile club in the Premiership and the 25th percentile club is 35% in terms of winning pct. The best club, Chelsea, had a win percentage of 81.8% which trailed only the Indianapolis Colts in terms win %-age among Soccer, Basketball, Football, and Baseball.

Certainly, much of this has to do with the structure of the respective sports leagues. American sports have drafts which explicitely promotes parity (not very capitalist, IMO) whereas successful soccer clubs earn more money and can thus buy better players. I'm sort of veering away from the luck factor in pointing this out. Maybe if the parity factor didn't exist, the luck factor would dominate results, but is soccer socialist in its setup? Quite the opposite, actually.

Best Winning Pct (Last regular season played)
Soccer (EPL) Chelsea 81.8%
Basketball Cleveland 74.4%
Football Indianapolis 87.5%
Baseball NYY 63.6%

75th percentile
Soccer (EPL) 67.8%
Basketball 61.0%
Football 62.5%
Baseball 54.2%

25th percentile
Soccer (EPL) 32.8%
Basketball 34.2%
Football 36.0%
Baseball 45.9%

Worst Winning Pct
Soccer (EPL) Portsmouth 22.6%
Basketball New Jersey 14.6%
Football St. Louis 6.3%
Baseball Washington 36.4%


Difference between Best and Worst in terms of Win %-tage.
Soccer (EPL) 59.2%
Basketball 59.8%
Football 81.2%
Baseball 27.2%

Difference between 75th and 25th percentiles in terms of Win %-tage.
Soccer (EPL) 35.0%
Basketball 26.9%
Football 26.6%
Baseball 8.3%

Eli writes:

Arnold: Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player in the world right now, is 5' 7" and under 150 pounds. Other former great players, like Maradona and Romario, were even shorter.

Of course, if you don't like soccer, you don't like soccer, and that's fine. But it shouldn't be because small people can't play it.

frankcross writes:

As documented, this is a bizarre argument for baseball, the sport in which it is most likely that the inferior team will win a particular game. The 4 of 7 series mitigates this, but not as much as in basketball.

And the size thing also works against you, as noted, lots of great small soccer players.

I do think you are on to something with the luck thing. I think America is unusually meritocratic, and many foreign countries see "luck" (e.g., political favoritism) as part of what life is. Though of course lucky genes are what make all athletes great.

corafan writes:

There's a reason that poker is more popular than chess. In chess, a better player will often be a prohibitive favorite over a worse player. That's boring.

Sean A writes:

-The England and Mexico games were not "decided" by the bad calls--both teams lost by more than one goal; and bad calls do happen in baseball and American football. I recall the orioles being cheated by a Yankees fan who interfered with what was called a home run in the ~'96(?) playoffs; or Vince Young's knee being down on a TD scamper; or the St. Louis Cardinals, I believe, who got a man out by a few feet but it was called in the World Series a few decades ago. (I do think FIFA is corrupt, however; but I think the same about the NBA & Stern).
-This American preference for more scoring is meaningless. This is far and away the worlds most popular sport; the world does not need Americans as football fans and they certainly don't have to change the rules to pander to them.
-I would say a large portion of the fans are calling for rule changes such as the following two I would recommend: (1)-book players(similar to a technical foul)who feign injury on the pitch. (2) Replay for goal/non-goal calls.
-Any football (soccer) fan will know that that argument for the best team not winning isn't the reality of the sport. Of course such a generalization is subjective but for the most part, the top tear teams win all major club & country tournaments.

Arianne Ferrer writes:

I am not adverse to rule changes that significantly reduce referee errors, i.e., goal-line technology that detects whether the ball has crossed the line or use video replay to confirm whether there was indeed an offside. Many football fans have requested the adoption of such technology to facilitate referee decision-making, but have unfortunately been denied by FIFA for reasons unknown.

I still don't know what rules you would like to increase probability of scoring. If you mean removing the offside rule, it would create an incentive for goalkeepers to hoof the ball to his team mate furthest afield. There would be no need to play the ball through the midfield or flanks, thus decreasing the amount of technical skill on display and my enjoyment thereof. Or perhaps you were thinking of awarding different points for goals scored at different locations like in basketball so that a goal from thirty yards out is worth three points and one from right in front of the post is only one point? In which case, you might even increase the effect of luck (goals from that far out are rare) and decrease the effect of player skill (goals made at an acute angle from the goal are so awesome to see). Those types of rule changes are what I and a lot of fellow fans object to.

I dislike sports where you never find professional players whose height or weight is somewhat below average for the population.

A statistical study I did in my undergrad showed that football players' height and age (at least in the English Premier League) is normally distributed. Some of the top football players are outliers, e.g. Lionel Messi and Peter Crouch. Goalkeepers though are always above six feet for obvious reasons.

As Russell writes above, the effect of luck as an deciding factor of the game is reduced over thirty+ games played over a regular season. So though Barcelona or Madrid may occasionally be brought down by a smaller club, they tend to win La Liga. You might want to take a look at league games rather than knock-out tournaments like the World Cup if you want more consistency in your sports. :)

It sounds to me like soccer is the road to serfdom.

Further explanation required.

Mersault writes:

I thought Arnold's argument was pretty simple, and most of the commenters are missing it.

The outcome of a game is a function of three team factors: talent, effort, and luck. The rules of the game determine the functional form. In Arnold's welfare function, luck would play a relatively small role, while effort would play a large role.

Games in which there is frequent scoring tend to minimize luck.

These intersport Gini comparisions, etc., are missing the point because the rules of the games differ in so many other matters. It's not a fair comparison.

For instance, you get a lot of parity in baseball because there are so many games that teams cannot always play their best players. The Washington Nationals are a terrible team, but they are still fun to watch every fifth day.

Brennen writes:

As a long time fan and player of the game, I completely agree with you.

Elvin writes:

Rules for sports should follow some form of Occam's Razor: as few as possible to make the game easy to officiate and play.

My beef with soccer is the offside rule. Why does it exist? Why not eliminate it? (I thought I read somewhere that it came into being when English schoolmasters in the 1800s hated seeing some "lazy" boys hanging out at the other end of the field waiting for a long pass.) Eliminating the offsides would probably would not add much to scoring as defenses would adjust and we would see more medium passes mixed in with occasional long attempts at break-aways.

Steve Sailer writes:

I've got a new column up at Taki's Magazine on precisely this topic:

http://www.takimag.com/article/low-scoring_soccer_appeals_to_the_masses/

Jay Thomas writes:

What I find frustrating about Soccer is that there is less for me to second guess. When watching a baseball game I try to anticipate the next pitch, when watching football the next playcall. Baseball and Football are about a series of discrete tactical decisions.

I like to watch sports in bars where the game provides conversational fodder. Soccer gives me far less to second guess.

Watch a Football or Baseball game in a bar and the game provides endless opportunity for debate. It facilitates socialising.


Soccer fans seem focused solely on the screen because there is nothing to discuss.

Pedro writes:

Jay, you should try watching a football match in a country where the majority of the people actually understand the sport. You'll find there is plenty of discussion of tactical systems and what is happening on the pitch. Thus, plenty of socialising.

Lauren writes:

I've always assumed that most games and sports intentionally include elements of luck because it mirrors real life. If you reduce a game to remove all elements of luck, it's no longer interesting. Tic-tac-toe is lots of fun for children, but once the child realizes that going first and filling in the middle square is a guaranteed winning strategy, the game quickly loses its appeal. When we someday reduce chess to being a computerizable list of rules guaranteed to win, it will be an exciting solution, but it will end the game's appeal.

The luck of sport--of the hunt and kill, or war, or of success in anything we pursue in life, from academic achievement to politics to weightlifting to entrepreneurship--highlights how we deal with adversity. Bad luck happens in everyday life. Do you overcome it with resolve, forward-looking strategies, increasing your skill levels to meet the particular constraints, finding ways to make do with the lot you've been given, or perhaps by praying, or by whining, giving up, wishing there were less bad luck coming your way, etc.? In the luck inherent in everyday life, most of us can't convince God to change the rules. Dealing with that is life's most exacting and ultimate challenge.

The most successful games and sports seem to me to be models of reality writ small. They are a mix of luck or what appears to be luck, plus the opportunity to overcome adversity with some combination of skill, cleverness, practice, hard work, or strategy. The best games and sports achieve some equilibrium mix. Tinkering with the rules can improve--or destroy--the balance.

I am not a sports person. But I did watch some of the soccer games (with my deep thanks to the person who came up with the technology of filtering down the loud horns). I wasn't at all bothered by the low number of scores. There was plenty of action, plenty of trying and skillful plays by individuals and teams to watch! A score is only one moment; but exciting plays abounded, and certainly enough to keep my interest.

What I did find amazing though, was how civilly and in stride the teams took it when decisions went against them. In one way, it seemed quaintly and charmingly British--polite, accepting. On the other hand, it was very refreshing. No badmouthing the referree, no stopping the play and determining the definitive answer via technology. Just: So, you had some bad luck! Move on. Let's play. It's all about the play.

It's a testament to the equilibrium of the existing rules of soccer that it has stuck around and succeeded as a game. Sure, we can lobby, maybe successfully, to get the rules changed to reduce the luck involved with human error or bad calls. But does determinism really increase the influence of skill? I suspect it only changes the kinds of skills involved.

Near as I can tell, anyone worldwide is free to start a new kind of game or sport with a different set of rules. Entry in an economic sense is not precluded or monopolized. Got a great set of rules for a new game or sport? Go for it! The realization that one is on a road to serfdom is primarily a warning that one might effectively step off the road as an alternative. To avoid taxes, leaving one's country altogether might be costly. To avoid sports, just don't tune in the TV.

Nicholas writes:

Mersault,

Arnold isn't on the first argument with this post. He isn't talking about luck as a primary subject....he's reading the comments from the initial thread and extrapolating that soccer fans are socialists because they seem to have a preference for the underdog to win (and win via luck--as if that's easily determined).

If soccer fans are socialists, then their preferences aren't being met by the sport they love since it appears to be very meritocritous when compared to other sports. It's perfectly reasonable to examine the underlying structures of the various sports leagues, how players are acquired, and the competitive balance, in addressing these questions. A draft is, by far, the most socialist thing you can do in a sports league. The 2003 Cleveland Cavaliers had their 3rd worst season ever and were punished for that performance with the opportunity to select Lebron James. The Washington Nationals got the opportunity to select Steven Strausburg. If soccer fans are socialists because they like upsets, what are American sports fans for rewarding failures such as these? What would be their reason for liking drafts. Presumably, it's for competitive balance reasons. Drafts are abhorrent to the brutal capitalism displayed in soccer leagues around the world.

So, to your post, I don't think the point is being missed.

Brian Clendinen writes:

Basketball has the most ridiculous rules of any major professional team sport. The enforcement of rules is so arbitrary I never can get into the game unless the Magic are in the Playoffs. I herd one former NBA coach say if the rules were strictly enforced both sides would foul out by the first half. They have a lot more power than a Football Ref. However, the high number of points offsets that power. Funny how no one ever discuss the NBA is a lot like the federal government. There are enough laws that are almost never enforced that almost anyone can be found guilty. We know that is wrong in government so why would it not be just as bad for a sport. They still need instance replay and this world cup has been deplorable. However, I don’t think it is any worse that the many other Olympic sports which have the same issues.

fundamenalist writes:

At the professional level, skill determines the winners in the early rounds; luck determines the winners in the latter rounds. In the earlier rounds, the differences in skills and mentality matter more than luck, but in the latter rounds skills are pretty much equal and luck determines the winner. That's true in all sports, especially American football. I love football and watch too much of it, but I watch it because I enjoy watching people who are the best at what they do. A well thrown pass, an incredible catch, or a well-timed block are things of beauty to me, something like art. But I'm confident that in the finals and the Super Bowl, lady luck does more work than anyone.

Zdeno writes:

Soccer is just a simple, barbaric, unmanly sport. I will happily go kick a ball around with my friends if pretty girls are playing too, but the idea of devoting mental energy to actually watching it is ridiculous.

Soccer players don't have the toughness of (real) footballers or ruggers, the athleticism of basketball players, the finesse and subtlety of baseball players, or the combination of all three exemplified by hockey players. Watching soccer is slow, boring, and as Arnold points out, much too noisy in both the statistical and vuvuzela meaning of the word.

Soccer's increasing popularity is a leading indicator of our civilization's decline, as we reject sports that our meritocratic, intelligent, and beautiful in favour of one that is none of those things.

Worst of all, while the traditional way to start a game of flip-cup used to be some sort of witty drinking song or cheers, we've recently switched to mindless soccer chant: OLE... OLE OLE OLE OLE.

This post is only about ~25% tongue-in-cheek.

Cheers,

Zdeno


Ryan writes:

Your initial argument was to revise the game entirely. You miss the point in distinguishing between luck of a good goal and a goal determined by bad officiating. Maybe unbeknown-st to you, the rules of soccer are assessed yearly and have been revised over the years to increase scoring (see no pass back to the keeper with foot, no throw-in to the keeper, tie in offsides goes to the attacker). They will continue this evolution.

Tradition matters in soccer too.

You wouldn't seriously argue someone on housing economic policy who has only been alive the last 3 years; the same is true if someone's perspective on soccer is made up of the recent events, this world cup and few sensational articles read. Then again, this is what makes the blogosphere so great.

I did take a minute and seriously think about your charge to increase scoring in soccer and how to do so. I came up with only 3 revisions:
-1 increase the worth of a goal to 3 points
-2 dinging the crossbar or sidebar gets a team 1 point
-3 possession in the opposing teams' half** where some arbitrary number of passes are completed successfully provides a team with 1 point

** possession in your own half does no good to the game

Football fans alike, critique my revisions and/or supply some of your own.

Joshua herring writes:

The point that I think your posts are missing is that data obtained from polls of people who have a stake in getting their answer right are generally more accurate than polls of people who don't care. This argument is frequently advanced in favor of betting markets, for example: when people have a stake in the outcome, they put more effort into getting it right. Take away the financial incentive, and the accuracy suffers. Completely the appropriate analogy for Soccer. When points are scored cheaply - as in baseball or basketball - there is less incentive to defend. So I'm not sure your law of large numbers point holds at all - even on purely theoretical grounds. Soccer scores can be more accurate without being more numerous if the effort of the players over a series of games is enough to overcome the (admittedly costly) referee errors.

Matt writes:

This been covered before, and I'm in full agreement with you Arnold...

http://cafehayek.com/2004/05/football_vs_fut.html

http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2006/Sandersonbrains.html

Matt Flipago writes:

How come nobody is listening to the numbers. We don't know soccer requires less luck. The numbers shown above say that soccer rewards better team more often, but only a bit more then basketball, a sport where over a a 100 baskets are scored. Plus this also started by the lie that two bad calls severely affected those game, they didn't.(That is about bad officiating, not luck or chance)

Soccer also doesn't have drafts, and thank god they don't. Anyone familiar with the Pittsburgh Pirates shows how a team can abuse draft picks, so the team can be consistently bad, yet the owners reap tons of money.

Third, Arnold holds baseball as better, the sport that is barely an athletic sport, and mostly just a game, and relies heavily on luck. And Soccer is a sport that any body type can excel, thus every race does seemingly equally well.

Regarding role changes, the head of FIFA now wants goal line technology, something almost every wanted. People are upset that suggestion for rule changes are bad, like eliminating offside would result in plays almost always being like set pieces where the goalie punts down the whole field. Maybe you could get people to accept larger nets, but I don't think that the low scoring is a problem. Hockey isn't catching on too much even though they have much more goals. Soccer fans aren't religiously supportive of the rules, you just are completely changing the game to make it boring, not more exciting.

Lastly Americans just hates foreign things. Most countries have either hockey or soccer as the most popular sport. Plus it doesn't have stupid drafts or salary caps, the epitome socialist redistribution and idiotic rules that benefit the owners over everyone else(corporatism). Seems like Arnold Kling doesn't know enough about soccer to make an adequate case. No fault of his, but one shouldn't speak with such slander, even if it was tongue in cheek, as it seems other sports like football and baseball is the road to serfdom.

Maciano writes:

"But what surprised me was the reason that many fans defended rules that make it hard to score goals in soccer. Several commenters said that soccer would be boring if the best team always won, which makes the luck factor a good thing."

I've been watching and playing football since I was a kid and I have never ever heard any player, coach, football analist, expert or journalist claim such a thing. We like football because it's a thrilling sport to play ourselves. If you play football, you'll learn how hard it is to make a dribble past a good defender, give a defense-splitting, make a midfield rush or score a long distance goal. Therefore, we feel energized watching Zidane, Ronaldo or Maradona do what we all want to be able to do.

It has nothing to do with more chances for small guys to beat the big guys. The champions league, the elite competition of European top teams, is dominated with talented players. These teams play in a competition and then enter the play-offs (home and abroad); the best teams win. The American perspective on football is alien to me. Americans say it's boring -- OK, fair enough, I can see that. But baseball is your #1 sport, as if that's not a boring sport to watch.

Americans can't seem to like football. I don't know why, but they clearly don't. The fault lies not in football, methinks.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top