Empirical Economics

, Volume 56, Issue 5, pp 1769–1796 | Cite as

Do sunk costs affect expert decision making? Evidence from the within-game usage of NFL running backs

  • Quinn A. W. KeeferEmail author


The presence of the sunk-cost fallacy in expert decision making is tested by examining the within-game usage of players in the National Football League (NFL). Using the exogenous variation in compensation from the NFL’s free agency rules, we show that compensation, which is a sunk cost, significantly increases the number of rushing attempts for NFL running backs. The relationship between rushing attempts and compensation is estimated to be unit elastic. The increase in compensation from being eligible for unrestricted free agency has an equivalent effect on the number of rushing attempts as an additional 174–222 rushing yards in the previous season, which has a value of 13.9–17.8 offensive points.


Sunk-cost fallacy Compensation Free agency NFL 

JEL Classification:

J31 J41 D90 Z22 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares he has no conflict of interest.

Data and computer code availability

The datasets (1. code and programs, 2. data, and 3. readme files) used in this paper are available as electronic supplementary material of this article.

Supplementary material (319 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (zip 318 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsCalifornia State University San MarcosSan MarcosUSA

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