Changing rewards in contests: has the three-point rule brought more offense to soccer?

José Correia Guedes*, Fernando S. Machado

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


In the mid-nineties FIFA decided to increase from two to three the number of points assigned to the winning team of a soccer match played under traditional round-robin national leagues. Since a game of soccer can be regarded as a contest, FIFA's measure provides an interesting case-study for analysing how a change in the system of rewards (from a zero to a non-zero sum rule) may affect the contestants' equilibrium behaviour. In this paper we try to assess, both theoretically and empirically, whether FIFA's new point rule has changed soccer towards a more offensive game, in which teams adopt more risky strategies. In particular, we evaluate the "naïve hypothesis" according to which the measure would induce every team to play always more offensively, and we explore the extent to which the change in teams' behaviour may be affected by quality differentials between teams. Our most important hypothesis is that when the asymmetry between opposing teams is large enough, an increase in the reward for victory induces the weaker team to play more defensively, rather than the opposite. By looking at a subset of matches held in the Portuguese first division league, which approximate the conditions of our model, we find support for this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-630
Number of pages24
JournalEmpirical Economics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002


  • Contests
  • Incentives
  • Rewards
  • Strategy in sports


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