Football Without Spectators: Does Home Field Advantage Still Apply?

During the 2020 coronavirus crisis, most football matches will be played in empty stadiums. This takes away a lot of the passion, and surely many fans are longing to go back to the stadiums. However, sports bettors are probably most interested in knowing whether or not the typical home-field advantage still applies. Let’s have a look at it.

It sometimes happens that spectators aren’t allowed to attend football matches. In 2020, this has largely been due to the coronavirus pandemic, but in other cases, we see it too: Usually due to punishments instated by football authorities or safety risks at the stadium.

Note: We are not referring to matches played on neutral grounds here. We are talking about home teams playing at their usual stadium but without their fans.

The typical home-field advantage

Usually, we are very aware of the fact that home teams have an advantage.

If two teams are estimated as being equally good, but one of the teams is playing at home, this team will be the favorite according to the odds. Nothing new here.

In association football, it can be difficult to estimate the exact advantage of playing at home, but on average, a home team is expected to score between 0.25 and 0.4 more goals than the away team, when we measure across several leagues.

This home-field advantage is built into many professional betting models, with each team having a specific value of its own. For example, in the Portuguese league, an island team like Marítimo will most likely be allocated a better home-field advantage than a team like Moreirense. In the German league, a cauldron team like Borussia Dortmund will typically be allocated a stronger home-field advantage than many other clubs in the league.

These professional betting models usually try to calculate the expected amount of goals scored in a given match by using offensive strength, defensive strength and home-field advantage, putting these metrics up against the opponent. Then, by using a Poisson distribution scheme, it becomes possible to estimate the probabilities of any outcome in the match.

However, these models are less accurate when the value of playing at home is not known. And even for casual bettors who don’t use any model, it is obvious that the same home-field advantage does not exist when the fans aren’t at the stadium, making it harder to estimate what the fair odds should be.

A study gives us the answer

One study has looked into 191 matches played with spectators. The majority of them were played after 2002, and took place in Italy and France, although some matches were older and took place in other countries – or they were international matches.

In any case, the study shows that historically, an average home team wins 46% of its matches – however, without spectators, that number falls to 36%. The average home team also scores 21% fewer goals when lacking the support of the fans.

On the contrary, away teams win 26% of their matches under normal circumstances, but when the home team is not having its fans on the sidelines, that number rises to 34%. They score 8% more goals.

So what does that tell us?

Well, home teams are still winning more than the away teams, so they should be favored. However, they win less than usual. The amount of draws also increases slightly. The average amount of goals scored is lower – simply because home teams are performing that much worse without their fans.

Looking into the odds

The bookmakers aren’t dumb, so they are usually taking these things into consideration.

Meanwhile, you have to remember that the odds provided by the sharpest bookmakers – Pinnacle, SBO, IBC – are basically a representation of how the market is estimating the probabilities. When a big sharp or a betting syndicate places a large bet, the odds will move. The serious bookies always try to find the correct odds by moving their lines around based on the way their clients bet. This is also why closing lines are great for measuring your true skill as a sports bettor.

The German league was one of the first to start up during the coronavirus pandemic. And while the market did still believe in home-field advantage, the odds represented that it wasn’t as big as usual.

Furthermore, it’s important to take various things into account when estimating the odds. After all, this is a great way of finding an edge.

The thing is that we don’t truly know how large the home-field advantage should be in an empty stadium. The study gives us an idea, but it isn’t nearly enough. There are several psychological factors we have to consider ourselves:

  • Is it because of the fans that the typical home-field advantage exists in football?
  • Or is it because the players are familiar with the conditions?
  • How are the referees impacted by the lack of fans at the stadium? Less pressure?

Let us know your thoughts about home-field advantage in football – and how much you think it changes when the home team is suddenly playing without its fans. The comment section is open below.

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