In football, many believe the home team have a significant advantage over the visiting team, more commonly known as the home advantage. However, since stadiums were closed to the general public in the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have seen home advantage gradually ebb away. We decided to take a look at home advantage and how it has been impacted by recent events.
The causes of home superiority
Home advantage in football is well documented as researchers have studied human performance during competitive sports for a long time. Though statistics show that the importance of playing at home in both individual sports and unbalanced competitions is negligent, home advantage has still been reported in a variety of different team sports, including football. Several studies support the existence and magnitude of playing at home being beneficial, and it is certainly not a myth.
Many causes have been attributed, such as crowd involvement and the impact on the referee, travel considerations, circumstantial factors such as the different climate and the stadium’s architecture. Even testosterone levels have an influence, as research shows that male players have a higher testosterone level when playing at home. Just like with animals, men seem to experience a higher level of testosterone when defending their territory.
Is home advantage on the decline?
When looking at how home advantage is changing, the results are intriguing. Home advantage in competitive team sports used to be a more prominent factor decades ago, when compared to the modern day and is on a downturn overall. In fact it has statistically been steadily declining since the English Football League kicked off 129 years ago.
A variety of factors appear to be contributing to a steady shift away from home advantage. Luxury travel arrangements for professional athletes are a vital determinant, differences in football pitch conditions have narrowed and technologies, like VAR, have made it so that the referee can make a more deliberated decision. In the 70s, professional clubs used to earn 75% of their points at home. This has since dropped to 60%.
Home advantage after Covid-19
Home advantage is partly due to the amplification of crowd noise and perceived proximity of the audience as the reverberation of sounds coming from the fans (potentially) affects the decision of the referee and the performance of the players. Studies show that referees unknowingly rely on cues from the crowd when making their decisions and potentially fear the response from the audience if they lean towards an unfavourable decision.
According to the International Centre for Sports Studies, home advantage has declined since the outbreak of the pandemic and the closure of stadiums to the public. Statistics show that the percentage of home wins decreased in 41 of the 63 leagues studied. The average goal difference per match diminished from +0.32 to +0.24.
Data gathered by the Financial Times shows home teams in the Premier League received 15 per cent fewer red and yellow cards for foul play than their opponents. But when fans were not allowed anymore, home teams were getting 7 percent fewer bookings than the away team.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, the home win percentage in the German top division had fallen from 43% to just 21% in the 56 games after. As reported by the CIES, the most significant decrease in the percentage of home wins was recorded in the Greek top division (-15.1%), followed by the Austrian (-15.0%) and German leagues (-14.1%).
The lack of fans in the stadiums does not mean that the benefits of playing at home advantage do not exist anymore, though. The University of Reading found that the advantage still applies to empty stadiums to a certain extent, even during the pandemic. They examined results for 6,481 professional football games in 17 countries before and after COVID-19 restrictions were put in place and, according to their research, it still exists to a degree even without fans in the stadium.
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