How does spectator presence affect football? Home advantage remains in European top-class football matches played without spectators during the COVID-19 pandemic

Publication: Contribution to journalJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


The present paper investigates factors contributing to the home advantage, by using the exceptional opportunity to study professional football matches played in the absence of spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. More than 40,000 matches before and during the pandemic, including more than 1,000 professional matches without spectators across the main European football leagues, have been analyzed. Results support the notion of a crowd-induced referee bias as the increased sanctioning of away teams disappears in the absence of spectators with regard to fouls (p < .001), yellow cards (p < .001), and red cards (p < .05). Moreover, the match dominance of home teams decreases significantly as indicated by shots (p < .001) and shots on target (p < .01). In terms of the home advantage itself, surprisingly, only a non-significant decrease is found. While the present paper supports prior research with regard to a crowd-induced referee bias, spectators thus do not seem to be the main driving factor of the home advantage. Results from amateur football, being naturally played in absence of a crowd, provide further evidence that the home advantage is predominantly caused by factors not directly or indirectly attributable to a noteworthy number of spectators.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0248590
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 31.03.2021

Research areas and keywords

  • Athletic Performance/statistics & numerical data
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Crowding
  • Decision Making
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Soccer