A new study carried out during the covid-19 pandemic suggests that the support of fans at the stadium is not a key factor when it comes to the advantage of playing at home.
Researchers have long been concerned with the supposed advantage of playing at home, which can be influenced by factors such as, for example, the support of the followers, the fatigue associated with the opposing team’s journey, familiarity and territoriality. However, no strong consensus was ever reached.
The emergence of the new coronavirus, and the consequent ban on having an audience in stadiums, has given scientists the ideal opportunity to measure the impact of supporters’ support.
Therefore, the newspaper tells The Guardian, a team of researchers decided to compare more than a thousand professional games played without an audience in the stands and more than 35 thousand matches with fans. The clashes, which took place between the 2010-11 and 2019-20 seasons, were played in ten professional leagues, including those from Spain, England and Germany.
In the study, published on March 31 in the scientific journal PLOS One, scientists explored the impact of spectators in four broad categories, including home advantage (measured by the number of goals scored and points won) and disciplinary sanctions (measured by fouls, yellow and red cards).
According to the British daily, without the thousands of fans cheering for the teams, the advantage at home fell about a third, but despite this, the decline was not statistically significant.
Matthias Weigelt, a professor at the University of Paderborn and one of the authors of the study, which takes place at the stadium of the German team Arminia Bielefeld, said he was surprised by the findings.
“I was always convinced that being at the games and supporting the team changed something, even if it was sometimes. But what can we do? It is science and the large data set, of the more than 40 thousand games that were considered for the study, cannot be ignored. Social support does not seem to be a key factor the advantage of playing at home ”, he declared.
Under normal circumstances, home teams receive less disciplinary sanctions and are able to create more offensive actions than the visiting team. But, in line with previous research, scientists found that the difference in disciplinary sanctions disappeared – or was even slightly reversed – when supporters were not on the benches.
According to the authors of this study, this suggests that the presence of spectators would probably be the only or predominant reason for the biased behavior of the referee.
“If a team asked me what I could do to gain an advantage, I would have to say to put as much social pressure on the referee as possible. The problem is that this is not fair play, so I really don’t want to be saying that. Although I think it is true and this is what this study is about ”, said the study’s lead author, Fabian Wunderlich, from the Higher School of Sports in Germany.
The researcher points out, however, that it remains unclear what are the main drivers of the advantage at home and that, in this research, the video referee (VAR) has not yet been considered in the analysis.