What happens to home advantage when the corona virus empties football stadiums?

Most European football (soccer) leagues completed their season playing on empty stadions. What happened to the home advantage?

The concept of home advantage is taken for granted in certain sports, and perhaps most established is the advantage of being the home side in football (soccer). The traditional rule of thumb is that playing at your own stadium is worth half a goal per match. This obviously varies from country to country.

One of the explanations behind the home advantage is the added energy and motivation experienced by the team having the majority of the crowd behind them, the comfort and safety of playing in your own “home” and last, but certainly not least, that referees unconsciously are affected by crowd noise to penalize the away side more in form of cards, free kicks and penalties.

There’s certainly nothing positive about the Covid-19 pandemic, but sports bettors and other football fans have gained an unique opportunity to learn how home crowds affect team performances in football matches.

The betting expert Joseph Buchdahl, the author of several interesting books on sports betting, has examined many of the largest European football leagues before and after the outbreak of covid-19.

He reveals his findings after looking at data from this season in leagues such as the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A, the Spanish La Liga and several others, in an article published on his website Football-Data.co.uk. All of these had seasons in play both before and after the corona pandemic and thus offers statistics both with spectators and from matches played on empty stadiums.

In the article " Is Football Home Advantage Reduced Playing Behind Closed Doors?" Buchdahl compares 2,924 matches played before the coronavirus with the 1,074 played after.

Findings: Makes little difference

Buchdahl’s collection of league statistics shows that there in general is little difference in playing performances whether the stadium is empty or filled with fans:

The home teams scored on average 1.48 goals per match before corona, 1.45 after. Away teams scored 1.18 goals on average before corona, 1.23 after. The home advantage translated to goals is somewhat reduced, but not enough to be statistically significant and thus draw conclusions.

The home win percentage was 43% before corona, 42% after. Draws went from 28% to 26% while away wins increased from 29% to 32%. This is in line with the assumption that home advantage is reduced at empty stadiums, but again are the differences so small that they might be a coincidence.

However, one could say that the home teams on average create less scoring opportunities when the stadium is empty; the number of shots on goals on average has changed from 13.07 per game to 11.85 for the home teams. Home team corner kicks have chnaged from 5.61 on average pre-corona to 4.89 after. These changes are significant enough not to be a coincidence, claims Buchdahl. As for the away team, the changes in scoring opportunities and corner kicks is negligible.

The data also show that the two teams now receive a more equal share of yellow and red cards. Before the corona virus the away team received a larger portion of reactions from the referees.

Read the whole article at football-data.co.uk.