Study Finds That Empty Stadiums Have a Noticeable Impact on Home-Field Advantage

Data from Germany's Bundesliga found that home teams perform noticeably worse without fans in the stands

Coronavirus Bundesliga Fans
General view inside the stadium of a corner flag displaying the logo of a Corona app at Signal Iduna Park on June 27, 2020 in Dortmund, Germany.
Martin Rose/Getty Images

Perhaps it appears obvious, but after enough of a sample size, a new study has found that games played in empty stadiums due to coronavirus lead to a worse home-field advantage, affecting outcomes across sports that have already returned to action. The New York Times analyzed data from Germany’s top soccer league, the Bundesliga, and found that there is a quantifiable effect on home team victories in stadiums lacking fans.

The number isn’t insignifcant: according to the Bundesliga’s data, home teams’ victory percentages dropped by 10 points during the coronavirus restart: with fans in the stands, Bundesliga teams won 43 percent of their home games, compared to just 33 percent during the empty stadium era. Goals scored were also affected, with a drop of about .31 goals per game compared to when stadiums are packed with the home team’s faithful.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just that home teams performed worse; the inverse was also true, as away teams performed better than they usually would. The report by The New York Times found that, while home goalies performed noticeably worse, away goalkeepers actually saw their save percentages increase without home fans in the stands.

The other point of the game that seemed, to the eye test, to be affected was the refereeing, and the data backs it up. Without the pressure from thousands of fans screaming at them, referees penalized home teams more than ever, and with more yellow cards.

The full report also found other inconsistencies, such as players passing the ball more instead of choosing to go for bigger plays with the ball at their feet. One thing is clear from analyzing the Bundesliga’s data: players are statistically worse off playing at home without their supporters, and as more sports return without fans, it will be interesting to see if this data translates beyond the world of soccer.

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Read the full story at The New York Times


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