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COVID-19 leaves football stadiums without a crowd and reduces advantage of local teams

UA researcher analyses major league matches played behind closed doors and claims that home teams’ advantage has been halved

According to the results of the study, referees seem to be not biased towards local teams during the pandemic period



Carlos Cueva, UA Department of Principles of Economic Analysis. (Photo courtesy of Carlos Cueva)



Alicante, Tuesday 27 October 2020

Covid-19 has had an impact on all areas and sectors worldwide. But how has the pandemic affected football matches played behind closed doors? Carlos Cueva, a researcher from the University of Alicante Department of Economic Analysis has carried out a study to assess the effect of empty stadiums on football during the pandemic. In particular, the expert economist has deepened the impact on the advantage of local teams, both in results and in refereeing decisions.

The data reflected in the article "Animal Spirits in the Beautiful Game. Testing social pressure in professional football during the COVID-19 lockdown" point out that the home team's advantage is halved. Before the stadiums were closed to the public, home teams won 45% of the matches compared to 29% for visiting teams, a difference of 16 percentage points. After the closure of the stadiums, local victories go down to 41% and visitors’ to 33%, a difference of 8 percentage points, as Cueva explained.

Another significant result of this research work is the difference between the number of cards received by the local and visiting teams: yellow, red, fouls... The pandemic period is the only one in which referees do not punish visitors more than locals, the economist said.  In this sense, as far as refereeing decisions are concerned, the study shows that local teams’ advantage - which was significant with the public - completely disappears. With an audience, the visiting team is called 3% more fouls and gets 17% more yellow cards and 33% more red cards than the local team. After the closure of the stadiums, these significant statistical differences disappear, University of Alicante researcher added.

As shown in the blue graph (Fig.1), a team playing at home is 4% less likely to win than before the pandemic, and its opponent 4% more likely. In the green, yellow and red graphs (Fig.1), the behaviour of the referees on the pitch significantly varies when there is no pressure from the stands. It goes from a clear inequality in favour of the home team to equal the chances, Cueva pointed out.

In the picture, football stadium. Photo by Consu G.H. (Flickr).



In order to carry out the study, Carlos Cueva, with the support of University of Alicante student Ignacio Mas, has collected data from over 230,000 games from 1993 to 2020 from 41 leagues and 30 countries. They have compared the proportions of wins, draws and losses, as well as average number of fouls and cards of local and visiting teams before and after the pandemic, the UA economist reported. In addition, they have controlled for other potentially relevant factors such as the league calendar, the season, or whether the stadiums were totally or partially closed, Carlos Cueva said.


Reference: “Animal Spirits in the Beautiful Game. Testing social pressure in professional football during the COVID-19 lockdown” Cueva, C. (2020).




Match results and referees' fouls per season (Article by Carlos Cueva)





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