Cost of referee decisions at World Cup

For those of you waiting to watch the match between either Germany and Serbia or the U.S. and Slovenia on Tivo or on video because you missed it today, stop reading this post.  Today was quite an exciting day of World Cup matches, and the referees are coming under heavy scrutiny after a number of calls which the press have described as being too harsh or outright wrong.  The first notable call was the sending off of German striker Miroslav Klose, who was given a second yellow card in the first half, leading to an automatic red card and one match suspension.  Germany went on to lose the match to Serbia, meaning that Germany could win their last match and still potentially not qualify for the knockout round (if the other teams also pound on weak Australia and advance on goal differential).  The second notable call, which seems to be the talk of every U.S. media outlet, was the referee’s decision to award a foul in the box against the U.S. a split second before they struck home what would have been the third, and possibly winning, goal in the 85th minute.  The match ended in a draw, and England also went on to tie Algeria, throwing Group C into great confusion.

These calls got me thinking about the cost of being knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages, and the knockout round.  Digging a little deeper, I found that this year’s World Cup prize payouts were 60% higher than in previous years.  Additionally, the prize money paid to teams begins to increase at an increasing rate as teams advance further into the tournament.  Being knocked out in group play nets a national team $8 million and making it to the first round of the knockout stage gets only a $1 million increase.  Looking at Wikipedia the full payouts are

The difference between qualifying for the knockout rounds and playing in the group stage really isn’t that great, especially considering prize money is divided among the entire 23-man squad, and most of the teams in the tournament are stocked with stars who make a lot of money.  However, for a team like the U.S., this difference is quite dramatic as the $1,000,000 difference is equivalent to about $43,000 per player.  For American squad members who play in Major League Soccer (MLS), this is close to their annual salary (and possibly more).  I can understand some American players being quite disgusted with today’s decision; not only may it cost them a chance at advancing further into the tournament, it may have also cost them a good chunk of change.

One other thing I noticed is that clubs are compensated for each day one of their players appears in World Cup competition, including the 15 days leading up to the World Cup.  While most of the American squad play in Europe or Mexico, there are three MLS clubs which are being rather well compensated for having players appear in the World Cup.  The Los Angeles Galaxy have two players in the World Cup (Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle).  If the U.S. is knocked out on the coming Tuesday, each player will have completed 21 days of paid play at the rate of $1,500 a day.  That’s $63,000 for the L.A. Galaxy even if the U.S. national team is knocked out.  Sure this isn’t a huge amount of money, but it is equivalent to selling about 2,100 tickets at their average price ($30).  Just an interesting side note of another way teams in the MLS might profit from the World Cup other than the increased attendance that might come from a World Cup year.  For teams like Manchester United or Real Madrid which have a plethora of stars in the World Cup, they will see a significantly higher payout, but compared to the annual turnover of these clubs, it is probably more like a drop in the bucket.  My best guess is that the J-League in Japan may see the highest payout from the World Cup, as most of Japan’s squad are domestically based, and the league has just barely made a profit for the last several years.

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One Response to Cost of referee decisions at World Cup

  1. jamesreade says:

    I happened to watch that as it happened (while supposedly working). It looked an odd decision at best, but I guess that’s the ebb and flow of football. You can equivalently argue that Robert Green handed the US the chance to even be close to qualifying in the England-US match, so maybe the referee is cancelling out the Rob Green effect. And of course Germany suffering at the hands of a referee sending off – they also benefitted from a somewhat harsh decision against Tim Cahill also in their first match. This is not to say all things that go around come around, but in the grand scheme of things, if these things are simply mistakes, then with a large enough sample they won’t influence anything – unless of course they are systematic, which is another story entirely…

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