The economics of soccer penalty kicks

Raymond Chen

I’m fascinated by economics, specifically the application of economic theories to things you wouldn’t normally consider as economics. Back during the World Cup, Slate’s undercover economist column took a look at the economics of penalty kicks. Steven D. Levitt, co-author of another paper on the subject, writes in more detail on the unusually low percentage of penalty kicks taken straight ahead. I wasn’t aware of the “straight ahead” strategy, but the more I read about it (and watched a video of a successful execution) the more fascinated I was by this rarely-used strategy.

Levitt highlighted the “anti-straight-ahead bias” of the press, pointing out that the second Swiss shooter hit the crossbar and was not lambasted. But isn’t that worse than shooting straight ahead and being stopped? I mean, if you hit the crossbar, it means that the opposing goalie didn’t even have to be there. He could’ve been playing Nintendo or picking his nose. You’d think the cardinal rule of taking a penalty kick is at least make it a shot on goal.


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