The Stackelberg leadership model is a strategic game in economics in which the leader firm moves first and then the follower firms move sequentially. It is named after the German economist Heinrich Freiherr von Stackelberg who published Market Structure and Equilibrium (Marktform und Gleichgewicht) in 1934 which described the model.
In game theory terms, the players of this game are a leader and a follower and they compete on quantity. The Stackelberg leader is sometimes referred to as the Market Leader.
There are some further constraints upon the sustaining of a Stackelberg equilibrium. The leader must know ex ante that the follower observes its action. The follower must have no means of committing to a future non-Stackelberg follower action and the leader must know this. Indeed, if the 'follower' could commit to a Stackelberg leader action and the 'leader' knew this, the leader's best response would be to play a Stackelberg follower action.
Firms may engage in Stackelberg competition if one has some sort of advantage enabling it to move first. More generally, the leader must have commitment power. Moving observably first is the most obvious means of commitment: once the leader has made its move, it cannot undo it - it is committed to that action. Moving first may be possible if the leader was the incumbent monopoly of the industry and the follower is a new entrant. Holding excess capacity is another means of commitment.