Biases and Strategic Behaviour in Performance Evaluation: The Case of the FIFA's best soccer player award

Publication Date01 April 2018
Date01 April 2018
AuthorTom Coupe,Abdul Noury,Olivier Gergaud
©2017 The Department of Economics, University of Oxford and JohnWiley & Sons Ltd.
doi: 10.1111/obes.12201
Biases and Strategic Behaviour in Performance
Evaluation:The Case of the FIFA’s best soccer player
Tom Coupe, Olivier Gergaud‡ and Abdul Noury§
Kyiv School of Economics and the University of Canterbury, Christchurch,
KEDGE Business School & LIEPP, Sciences Po
§New York University Abu Dhabi
In this paper, we study biases in performance evaluation by analysing votes for the FIFA
Ballon d’Or award for best soccer player, the most prestigious award in the sport. Our find-
ings suggest that ‘similarity’ biases are substantial, with jury members disproportionately
voting for candidates from their own country, own national team, own continent and own
league team. Further, we showthat the impact of such biases on the total number of votes a
candidate receives is fairly limited and hence is likely to affect the outcome of this compe-
tition only on rare occasions where the difference in quality betweenthe leading candidates
is small. Finally, analysing the incidence of ‘strategic voting’, we find jury members who
vote for one leading candidate are more, rather than less, likely to also give points to his
main competitor, as compared with neutral jury members. We discuss the implications of
our findings for the design of awards, elections and performance evaluation systems in
general and for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award in particular.
I. Introduction
For a long time, economists havebeen studying incentive mechanisms ranging from mone-
tary compensation to fringe benefits and, more recently,awards. For these incentivemecha-
nisms to be effectivein making people work hard, they must reward people for performance
rather than luck or other non-performance-related outputs (see Prendergast, 1999). In prac-
tice, however, organizations often reward people not just for performance. For example,
Bertrand and Mullainathan (2001) show that the amount chief executive officers (CEOs)
are paid depends on luck, such as fluctuations in oil prices or changes in industry perfor-
mance. Similarly, Blanchard et al. (1994) find that firms use part of their cash windfalls to
increase executive compensation. One of the reasons for such ‘pay without performance’
(Bebchuk and Fried, 2004) is that the people in charge of evaluating performance are
JEL Classification numbers: D72, Z2.
Biases and strategic behaviour in performance evaluation 359
often biased and take into account factors other than past (or expected) performance when
judging how good performance has been (or is likely to be) or who performed best (or is
likely to perform best).
In this paper, we investigate the size and direction of biases in performance evaluation,
by analysing the voting process for the most prestigious best player award in soccer, known
as the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball),1awarded annually by the International Federation of
Association Football (FIFA). Many major sports associations use awards to reward and
promote performance. FIFA and the National Basketball Association (NBA), for exam-
ple, use elections to choose the best athlete of the year, while the Association of Tennis
Players (ATP) and the International Cycling Union (UCI) use a mathematical formula that
gives more weight to victories in more prestigious tournaments than those gained in lesser
Awards also play an important role for many international organizations, and in some
cases, giving an award is a key element of their functioning (see Frey and Gallus, 2015).
Awards are a popular incentive mechanism in various fields of business, particularly where
information asymmetry is important, ranging from advertizing and finance to medicine,
public affairs, technologyand transpor tation.According to Awards,Honors &Prizes (Gale,
2015), a primary source of information on awards first published 36 years ago, the number
of awards has been growingsteadily over time, with the 2015 edition containing references
to some 20,000 awards and prizes.
Despite this increase in the importance of awards as incentive mechanisms, economists
and other social scientists have only recently begun to study the various dimensions of
awards. In a workplacesetting, awards have been shown to reduce absenteeism (Markham,
Dow Scott and McKee, 2002), improve call centre workers’ performance (Neckermann,
Cueni and Frey, 2014) and positively affect health worker trainees’ exam scores (Ashraf,
Bandiera and Lee, 2014). Awards can improvethe welfare of both the giver and the receiver.
For the awarding bodies, they can provide a way to promote their values, while awardees
can use them to reveal or signal their talent. Other economic agents who are engaged in
the activities covered by the awards can also benefit as they can bask in the reflected glory
and adoration of the receiver (Frey and Gallus, 2015). Biased decision-making serves to
impair these positive impacts, resulting in a series of undesirable effects, not onlyreducing
incentives for current or future applicants but also damaging the reputation of the institution
organizing the award.
In this paper, we focus on two kinds of biases in performance evaluation, which have
been identified by the academic literature. First,we evaluate how ‘similarity’between voters
and candidates affects evaluations.3A largebody of social sciences literature indicates that
subjects tend to be attracted to people who are similar to them (e.g. Montoya, Horton
1According to the FIFA’s‘r ules of allocation’(2014), this award is ‘bestowed according to on-field performance
and overall behaviour on and offthe pitch’.
2In soccer, there is also a best African player award, a best South American player awardand a best Asian player
award. L’Equipe, the leading French sports newspaper, and the Guardian, a major UK newspaper, also both publish
their own ranking of the top 100 best soccer players of the year.
3Other studies have focused on biases not related to similarity.For example, for musical competitions, Van Ours
and Ginsburgh (2003) find that jury members are influenced by the order of appearance of candidates, while Tsay
(2013) documents that judges are influenced more by what they see than what they hear. Similarly, for academic
awards, Hamermesh and Schmidt (2003) find that descriptive characteristics of candidates (such as affiliation or
©2017 The Department of Economics, University of Oxford and JohnWiley & Sons Ltd

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