Sports Corner: Basketball Referees Redux

by robekulick

In response to my post on racial bias in the NBA, Camp W. commented and mentioned that he thought a more major source of referee bias was favoritism towards star players. At the time I agreed that while economically speaking referees would certainly have an incentive to favor star players, I wasn’t aware of any evidence suggesting that referees respond to such incentives. However, a new paper by Price, Remer, and Stone finds just that:

The abstract reads:

“This paper empirically investigates three hypotheses regarding biases of National Basketball Association (NBA) referees. Identification of basketball referee bias is typically difficult as changes in observed statistics may be caused by either changes in referee bias or player behavior. We identify bias by exploiting the fact that referees have varying degrees of discretion over different types of a particular statistic – turnovers. This allows us to conduct a treatment and control-style analysis, using the less discretionary turnovers as the player behavior control. The results provide evidence that referees favor home teams, teams losing during games, and teams losing in playoff series. All three biases are likely to increase consumer demand.”

While not specifically about star players, the fact that referees manipulate turnovers, home teams, underdogs, and teams losing in the playoffs suggests that referees to respond to consumer demand in making calls. So nice call Camp!