Home advantage remains in football matches played without spectators

Wunderlich F, Weigelt M, Rein R, Memmert D (2021) How does spectator presence affect football? Home advantage remains in European top-class football matches played without spectators during the COVID-19 pandemicPLoS ONE 16(3): e0248590.

We are used to thinking that spectators are the main reason for the advantage of playing home games. This research highlights that the effect of the lack of spectators due to the pandemic is less than we would expect.

More than 1,000 professional games played without spectators and more than 35,000 games with spectators before the pandemic in top soccer leagues in six countries -Spain, England, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Turkey- during the 2010/11 to 2019/20 seasons were analyzed.
The absence of spectators resulted in a slight decrease in home advantage, as measured by the number of goals and points scored. The difference is not statistically significant.

Over the last 10 seasons, with spectators, home teams won 45%, away teams won 28% while 27% were tied.
During the pandemic, home teams won 43% of games, away teams won 32% and ties were 25%.

Overall, the study highlights the role of other factors behind the “home advantage” phenomenon, such as a team’s familiarity with its facility, as well as defense of its territory.

Travel fatigue was advanced as an explanation, but a separate analysis was conducted that examined differences in outcomes before and during the pandemic among German amateur teams, which generally play within the same city, ande found that home advantage was comparable to professional teams that travel much farther.

While the teams did not suffer much in their overall results, there were a few aspects that declined significantly. Home teams experienced a statistically significant decrease in measures of game dominance assessed in the number of shots.
Additionally, home teams received fewer disciplinary sanctions than away teams.

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