Thursday, September 4, 2008

How to make soccer more exciting

Now that football (soccer) leagues are back in play, let us consider the old question of how to get more goals scored. As the play has become more defense oriented, it is obvious that attack needs to be encouraged, thereby increasing the risk. Quite obviously, to reward risk taking, it must be that the expectation of a return from wining and losing must be higher than that of a draw. This can be achieved by awarding three points instead of two for a win, a practice that is now almost uniformly adopted, and Isabelle Brocas and Juan Carrillo confirm from a theoretical point of view that this is a good way to increase risk taking.

The latter paper also recommends to have a 20-minute golden goal extra time in case of a draw: the first to score wins. I am not quite sure I follow the intuition there. Knowing that there is this extra-time, it gives less incentives to play offensively during the regular time. This is at least my observation of NHL hockey games.

What else could encourage offensive play? One could go the American football way, which is to basically regulate when a team can only play offense. But soccer is too fluid for that. But ice hockey can be very exciting when teams are short-handed due to a timed penalty. Having fewer players, even temporarily, is a disadvantage that can lead to have more goals scored. But more importantly, the fear of time penalties would lead defenders to be less aggressive (face it, yellow cards are not much of a threat), thus opening the play to attackers.

That said, one can still discuss whether more goals are really needed. If a game can be decided by a single goal, and this goal could happen at any moment and not necessarily be scored by the dominating team, this can also make a game exciting.


Random African said...

The latter paper also recommends to have a 20-minute golden goal extra time in case of a draw: the first to score wins. I am not quite sure I follow the intuition there.

May be someone should remember that Golden Goal had been used and the result was that both teams were scared of loosing so they atacked less.
Then they tried the silver goal (in which only one half of extra-time is played if someone scores), hoping that the team who conceeded a goal would attack and once again, it didn't work.

The (very american) obsession with more goals is sort of annoying. What is exciting is more attacking play , not the results.

And you're right on the uncertainity.

VIlfredo said...

Several years ago, the French league had a rule where an additional point was in play for a three goal difference. This made that even if a team had a comfortable two goal lead, it would still attack.

Quite the opposite from the mercy rules in little league baseball and in softball.

Soccer dad said...

Soccer is exciting for those who understand it. There is no need to cater to Americans that request high scoring. Baseball is boring to non-Americans, Cricket excites Brits and Indians, chess is fun to watch in Russia.

sport economist said...

SOme people are striving to win at all cost, in particular in sports. SOme suffer from loss aversion. I have difficulty seeing how marginal chnages in rules could affect such people. If it has an impact (hich has to be aggregated up to a team), it must be small.

T-Bone said...

Regarding an extra time golden goal period... if the teams automatically get 1 point each for being tied at the end of regulation, but can get 2 more points with no risk in the extra time, it'd definitely make the game an attacking spectacle in that last time period. There would be no worry of teams not attacking.

But like you said, it might make teams more cautious in regulation time. Would teams basically agree to do nothing for 90 minutes to get a point, and play only the last 20 minutes?

I think a team that is favored would still attack early, and increase the aggression as the game goes on (as they normally do) because they'd have a better chance of winning over a longer time period. Normally they would never throw caution to the wind even in the final minutes (because they still want at least the 1 point) but would definitely do so in the final minutes of extra time where they are guaranteed 1 point. The favored team wants 3 points. The extra time should mostly just delay their desperation so they aren't so frantic as the end of regulation nears, and they'll be extra aggressive in extra time. But the game should still be high quality either way.

The question is what will happen to evenly matched teams. Certainly the extra time period would be exciting. But will they be more likely than normal to play defensive for regulation time?

I think the advantage for evenly matched teams goes to the more defensive team. If you're aggressive on defense and press the attackers, you stretch your defense. If you're aggressive on attack, you risk a counterattack. That's like hockey, where a 4 on 4 is more likely to score than a 5 on 5. Congested space hurts the offense. And that's why they are defensive.

But the problem is that these games can be boring already. But at least with this extra time, you know it'll have action at the end.

Though one other thing I think they can do to make the games more exciting is to give more yellow cards for unnecessary/overaggressive fouls. Players can be too willing to give up harmless free kicks in order to stop the attacks. Choppy play where attackers are tripped up, held up, pushed around, and so on makes it harder to string attacks together. I mean, they often let defenders run over and trip up an attacker who's shielding the ball. If they force defenders to play really clean, attackers would have a much easier time.

BTW, I am a fan of soccer wish the US had a relegation/promotion system like the English leagues. It's a lot more interesting if teams have to worry about being demoted. It'd be nice in other sports as well.

Economic Logician said...

T-bone: excellent analysis. And I am also with out about the promotion/relegation system. It annoys me to no end when teams out of play-off contention start offloading players and writing their season off.