An economic explanation of Bayern’s failure

Football and (the limits of) Economics (Photo by Anton via Wikipedia)

Yesterday’s Champions League final has not only been very embarrassing for Bayern Munich. When Bastian Schweinsteiger missed his penalty, I also met my Waterloo.

I had predicted earlier that Bayern would beat Chelsea because they were structurally the stronger team. I based my forecast on the fact that compared to Chelsea, the value of the Bayern squad is 30 percent higher.

My reckless claim was inspired by the German economic think tank DIW. Using the same method, they successfully predicted the winner of the Euro 2008 as well as the World Cups in 2006 and 2010.

Well, Saturday’s game showed that the economic approach to football has its limits.

However, the beauty of economics is its versatility. The dismal science not only explains why Bayern should have won yesterday. At the same time, the discipline is also able to point out why the team actually lost.

Potentially, the Germans faltered in the penalty shoot-out because they were playing on their home ground. This at least suggests an analysis by Thomas Dohmen, a German economist at the Univesity of Maastricht in the Netherlands.

In 2005, Dohmen analysed the performance of professional football with regards to penalties. He came to the conclusion that players of the home team have a significantly higher failure rate.

In his paper entitled “Do Professionals Choke under Pressure?”, Dohmen analysed all 3610 penalties that were awarded between 1963 and 2003 in the German Bundesliga.

The descriptive statistics of Dohmen’s data show how egregiously Bayern Munich failed yesterday. The German XI squandered 3 of their 6 penalties (this includes 5 in the shoot-out and one in the extra time). This failure rate of 50 % is twice as large as it is usually the case. As a rule, only about 26 percent of all penalty kickers do not score (19 percent of the kicks are saved by the goal keeper, 7 percent miss the target completely).

However, home teams have a worse track record than away teams: “Players are more likely to choke on a penalty kick when the action takes place at the home turf”, writes Dohmen.

This becomes especially clear with regard to penalties that are unambiguously missed due to the failure of the kicker because he either misses the goal completely or just manages to hit the woodwork.

This kind of mishap happens to the home team in 7.5 percent of all times. Away teams suffer this fate only in 5.6 percent of their penalties.

Dohmen argues that the high expectations of the home supporters paralyse the players. “They don’t want to disappoint their fans at any rate and try harder.” In some cases, the tremendous pressure and the high ambitions apparently turn into an obstacle and trigger chocking.

This is how Dohmen puts it in his paper:

“The finding, which is consistent with the hypothesis that positive public expectations or a friendly environment induce individuals to choke, has ramifications for questions of workplace design and performance measurement. The empirical result of this paper implies, for example, that workers who might feel being observed, especially by well disposed co-workers or spectators, perform worse than they otherwise would.”

Be it as it may. This won’t be any consolation for Bastian Schweinsteiger and the rest of the team.



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12 responses to “An economic explanation of Bayern’s failure

  1. How about this for a model, “shit happens”, and psychology is not economics last time I looked.

    Yup BM deserved to win on the night, but C deserved to win the competition, thats whats great about sport, its unscripted theatre.

  2. ank

    Here`s my version of your article.


    Done. (not a chelsea fan btw) 🙂

  3. Pingback: An economic explanation of Bayern’s failure | Economics Intelligence « Economic Interests

  4. Emanuele

    I guess this is meant as a tongue-in-cheek joke about economics, something related to the huge confirmation bias of economists and / or their need to explain chaos.

    However I will pretend it is not and I will try to answer seriously to it. I could point the writer to other studies like
    Reading that you could have said that Bayern had a 60% chance of winning, since they were the first to shoot. Accordingly to the numbers and narrative in that paper you could have also said, after Neuer stopped Mata’s penalty, that the probability was more then 80% for Bayern at that point. There is often a paper that is post hoc right in explaining an event with a binary outcome as “the most plausible outcome”.

    If something has a slightly higher / lower probability, it does not mean it has to happen always / never. You original prediction was right: Bayern had an higher probability to win. They lost. End of the story.

    The fact your prediction was wrong does not imply your method was wrong. Your best bet when forecasting the sum of two dice is still 7, and you are not wrong if it happens to come out a 5.

    It is important for people to have a narrative, a story of the world with nice causal relations, but that is not how the world works. The world is mostly about complex systems, chaotic dynamics, sheer random. You can try to say “Oh, I see a lion in the shape of those clouds”, but the lion is not in the chaotic placement of water molecules vaporized in the sky, it is in your mind and in its need of an order.

    • Andreas

      Fail predictions remain fail. Even if you find a scientific explanation why you failed. Besides… the prediction of a Bayern win based on the higher value of the team is not just epic fail but b**s**t.

  5. Funny. As an A.S. Roma fan I can unfortunately give you a second data point, the final Roma-Liverpool in 1984.
    So in Champions league finals, 100% of the observations confirm the (anti)home bias

  6. Chelsea won because Cech is smarter than Schweinsteiger.

  7. Pingback: Wirtschaftswissenschaften im echten Leben: Ökonomie betrifft das ganze Sein. So machen Blogger auch nicht vor der wissenschaftlichen Erklärung von katastrophalen Fußball-Ergebnissen halt. | Dr. Magdanz

  8. Based on the player valuations listed in your previous post, and the outcome of both of this game and Chelsea against Barcelona, my suggestion would be that defence is undervalued. And also that Germans should stick to an octopus for predicting football results.

  9. Pingback: Perché il Bayern ha perso la finale di Champions’ League « Sbagliando s’impera

  10. Pingback: Si possono prevedere i risultati delle olimpiadi? « Sbagliando s'impera

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