Goal! LSE research scores impact

The deciding moment in a drawn football match should not rest on the flip of a coin
Champions League penalty700x520
Champion League penalty

The English Football League has adopted a fairer format for penalty shootouts, based on research by Professor Ignacio Palacios Huerta, from LSE’s Department of Management.

The newly adopted ‘ABBA’ format for EFL cup competitions and playoffs means that team A takes the first penalty, then team B takes the second and the third penalty, then team A take the fourth and so on. This pattern continues until ten penalties have been taken or the penalty shootout has been won.

According to Professor Palacios-Huerta’s research this reduces the psychological advantage which the team that shoots first experiences in a traditional ‘ABAB’ format  –  where each team shoots consecutively.

Professor Palacios-Huerta studied over 10,000 penalty kicks from the major national and international competitions between 1970 -2012. He found that the team that takes the first penalty wins 60 per cent of the time, while the team which takes the second 40 per cent of the time.

Professor Palacios-Huerta said: “The deciding moment in a drawn football match should not rest on the flip of a coin, so I suggested a solution which mirrors the tie break in tennis. This reduces the ‘first mover advantage’ that I identified by analysing thousands of penalty kicks.”

So far the ‘ABBA’ penalty format has been used in five official tournaments: the FIFA Under 20 World Cup and UEFA Euro Cup Under 17 and under 19, men and women’s, championships. It has also been used in the friendly preseason tournament Premier League Asia Trophy. 

The English Football League has announced that this approach will be used in all of its knockout competitions in 2017-18.

Read the original research:

“Psychological Pressure in Competitive Environments: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Experiment”  in the journal American Economic Review , co-authored with Jose Apesteguia

Tournaments, fairness and the Prouhet-Thue-Morse Sequence in the journal Economic Inquiry

Beautiful Game Theory,  How Soccer Can Help Economics, chapter 5 by Princeton University Press