What Is Hockey Stick Bidding?

What Is Hockey Stick Bidding?

4 Min.

The practice of hockey stick bidding occurs when a seller sets a price for a portion of their supply that is significantly higher than their cost. In cases where demand is highly or perfectly inelastic, and the supplier has enough control over the market to set a consistent market price, using hockey stick bidding can lead to the seller earning a greater share of profits than usual. The concept of hockey stick pricing is debated, with some considering it a form of predatory or anticompetitive behavior. In contrast, others believe it is a normal and advantageous market strategy for sellers to bid above their marginal cost.


An intriguing pricing technique known as hockey stick bidding has garnered attention within the business realm. This unorthodox practice involves sellers strategically setting exorbitant prices for a limited portion of their goods or services. The name "hockey stick bidding" is derived from the distinctive price curve it creates, resembling the shape of an upright hockey stick. However, regulatory bodies have historically considered this approach a potential infringement on fair competition.

The Strategy of Hockey Stick Bidding in Microeconomic Theory

In microeconomic theory, sellers are assumed to aim for maximum profit. Hockey stick bidding is an interesting strategy involving a market where sellers deal with highly inelastic demand curves. In this tactic, sellers can set their asking prices (bids) for scarce goods or services significantly above their marginal cost. This technique shares similarities with peak or congestion pricing, where suppliers establish notably high prices during periods of heightened demand.

Hockey stick bidding thrives when short-term demand inelasticity exists for scarce goods or services. Such occurrences are observable in markets for necessities like electricity or in the case of pioneering financial instruments. However, for this strategy to sustain profitability, the seller must possess sufficient control over the supply, making it challenging for buyers to seek alternatives from other suppliers.

Impact of Hockey Stick Bidding on Energy Prices in Emergency Situations

The practice of hockey stick bidding has notably led to soaring prices in energy shortages, evident in past occurrences in Texas and California. In public auctions where electricity prices are determined, a uniform price is set for each unit of energy sold within a given period. Due to the equal clearing price for every unit, a single hockey-stick bid can yield a remarkable windfall for all providers involved.

An illustrative case is the 2001 California energy crisis, during which numerous energy companies, including Enron, strategically submitted hockey stick bids to drive up energy prices. Enron specifically focused on bidding at the state maximum price of $750, securing substantial profits.

Likewise, during a severe ice storm in Texas, the state's energy provider needed to procure all available balancing energy for multiple hours. The clearing price for the acquired balancing energy was determined by a one-megawatt offer priced at $990 per hour. Consequently, settlements reached millions of dollars above what would have been the case had that last megawatt not established the clearing price.

Fair Practice or Exploitative Behavior?

The controversial concept of hockey-stick pricing has attracted scrutiny from regulatory bodies, with many considering it a practice that undermines fair competition and potentially manipulates markets. To curb excessive bids from suppliers, electricity regulators have implemented price caps as a preventive measure.

Conversely, proponents of this pricing strategy argue that elevated prices serve as crucial signals within a free market. They contend that price surges for essential goods or services reflect inadequate investment in the respective sector. According to this perspective, bolstering capacity for such goods or services would mitigate the risk of price spikes, and higher prices act as incentives for such investments.


Hockey stick bidding is a debated pricing strategy with potential implications for fair competition. It involves sellers setting significantly higher prices for a portion of their supply in markets with inelastic demand. Critics argue that it may manipulate markets, leading to the implementation of price caps by regulators. Proponents, however, view it as a signal for increased investment in essential goods or services. The ongoing discussion highlights the complex relationship between market forces and fair competition.

Hockey Stick Bidding
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