Uncertainty of outcome and rule changes in European handball


In this article, a new set of rules in professional handball, introduced in July 2016 are discussed. The discussion is aided by a reasonably broad empirical analysis, comparing uncertainty of outcome between European handball and football (soccer).

This analysis indicates that European handball, already before the introduction of the new rules, may have had problems with severe lack of uncertainty of outcome. Given this fact, we discuss the new rules, and conclude that they may lead to further increased competitive imbalance (reduced uncertainty of outcome) in handball. Such a conclusion should be of interest for handball officials, especially when the new set of rules, here identified as possibly harmful for uncertainty of outcome, still are under debate.

Keywords: Uncertainty of outcome, Handball rules, Uncertainty of outcome measure


Handball is a team sport facing growing economic significance at the international championship level. According to IHF, the International Handball federation [Eurohandball, 2017], they reach large TV-viewing audiences for both EURO and World Championships. For instance, the 2014 female European championship reached 732 million TV-viewers, a 90% increase from 380 million viewers in 2012. Obviously, TV-viewer counts are hard to compare between sports, and such numbers do not necessarily relate directly to value creating potential. Still, handball is clearly growing at the international level.

However, at the national league level, the situation does not seem quite as promising. Looking at Norway as an example, the top male football league had an average of 6965 spectators/match in 2014, while male and female handball leagues had 765 and 630 respectively in the 2013/14 season, see [Wikipedia, 2017]. Hence, football had around 10 times as much (real pitch) audience demand as handball.

Recently, in July 2016, IHF introduced a new set of rules in handball. Some of these new rules have created public debate, especially a rule opening up for all teams to play 7 against 6 in attach, leaving an open goal – see [Olsen and Weiberg-Aurdal, 2017]. Most of these new rules have obvious negative consequences for uncertainty of outcome in handball. As our forthcoming analysis will show, uncertainty of outcome is not among “goods” readily available in handball, and as a consequence, these new rules may be seen as poorly planned or decided without relevant information available.

In this article, we will study uncertainty of outcome in handball closely, and discuss the new rules in such a setting. In section 2 we introduce relevant literature. In section 3, we present the new rules, and discuss them related to their possible consequences both on game play and most importantly, their impact on uncertainty of outcome. In section 4 we introduce our chosen measure for measuring uncertainty of outcome.

Section 5 provides results from an empirical analysis comparing football and handball with respect to uncertainty of outcome, while section 6 discusses these results in relation to the new rules and concludes.

Our main research question is hence to argue logically why the new rule set in handball should lead to a decrease in uncertainty of outcome. Given the already (critically) low values of uncertainty of outcome in handball, introducing such rules may be harmful to already low demand at the national league level.