The Home Team Mystery

Mateo Brekalo
Mateo Brekalo
Published: 3.11.2023.


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In the realm of sports betting, understanding the dynamics of soccer matches is crucial for making informed decisions. One significant factor that often plays a pivotal role in the outcome of soccer games is the concept of "Home Team Advantage." This phenomenon has been a subject of intrigue, debate, and statistical analysis for years. In this text, we will delve into the various aspects of home team advantage in soccer, exploring its origins, the psychological and physiological factors at play, and how bettors can leverage this knowledge to enhance their sports betting strategies.

What gives the advantage to the home team

If you seek that answer, it will be almost impossible to accurately determine what exactly gives the advantage to the home team. You might believe you have the answer, and there are some provided explanations from many experts that seem more than obvious; we will list them. However, we will also attempt to debunk them. If you think logically, the first thing that comes to mind when considering what gives the home team the advantage is the well-known home field and familiarity with the conditions in the home stadium or arena. Fan support would likely be one of the initial responses. Afterward, some physiological factors, such as fatigue in away teams due to travel and potential referee bias, may come into consideration.

Familiarity with the conditions

Playing in familiar surroundings can contribute to a sense of comfort and confidence among players. From the dimensions of the field to the layout of the locker room, the familiarity of the home environment can provide a subtle but meaningful advantage. Teams often develop routines and rituals associated with home games, further enhancing their sense of comfort. Is it all just a myth, or is it a fact? It can be both. You will see later in the text that some leagues might be affected by certain factors, while others won’t.

Referee bias

Another intriguing aspect is the influence of home crowds on referees. Studies have shown that referees may be unconsciously swayed by the emotions of the home crowd, leading to decisions that favor the home team. This potential bias can be a crucial factor in close matches and may contribute to the overall advantage experienced by teams on their home turf.

Crowd support

The impact of passionate fan support cannot be overstated. The energy and encouragement from a home crowd can elevate the morale of players, providing them with an extra level of motivation and confidence. This psychological boost may manifest in increased effort, better decision-making, and a heightened sense of unity among teammates.

But can the crowd have more than just a psychological impact on their supported team? Whether it can influence referees' decisions is one of the most important questions.

Research

From a research document written by Marek Endrich (Institute of Law and Economics, University of Hamburg, Germany) and Tobias Gesche (Center for Law & Economics, ETH Zurich, Switzerland), where they analyzed ghost matches from Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. The aim was to investigate whether referees issued fewer or more fouls and yellow cards to the home team compared to the away team.

Home team favored by referees

If there is a large crowd or a high number of home supporters in the stadium, it affects the referees' decisions. We could observe a higher number of fouls being whistled against the home team during the COVID season compared to before. Home teams received, on average, about 0.6 fouls fewer than away teams in the pre-COVID-19 period, indicating a referee bias in favor of home teams. However, during ghost matches, the relative number of fouls against the home team increased by about one.

Before Covid19, the average home team received 0.4 cards fewer than the away team. This difference changes to about 0.2 more cards for the home team during the ghost matches.

Fig. 1. Difference in fouls and yellow cards over the season


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Supporter effect

Endrich and Gesches research showed also how impactful was the audience in referees decisions. A historical analysis shows that from the 2005/06 to the 2018/19-season, home teams received, on average, 1.1 and 0.2 fewer fouls and yellow cards, respectively. Their results from the Covid19-induced ghost matches in the 2019/20-season show that these historical differences could well have been caused by pressure from the audience and that a home bias still matters.

Covid time stats Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2

Another research compared the number of wins for a home team during the pre-COVID times relative to the COVID times and ghost games. It will show us that crowd support plays a significant role in whether the home team will have an advantage or not. Bundesliga matches were taken into consideration from the season 2011 till 2021. It will show us how the number of matches won by the home team significantly dropped during the covid period and games being played without supporters.


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But if you observe the recovery line trending upward even though the matches are still being played in empty stadiums, it suggests that the crowd effect will only have a short-term impact. When the team adapts to the conditions, the home team advantage will regain its strength.

Differences in leagues

Why was Bundesliga 2 not affected by COVID and played without spectators? It seems that, as Bundesliga 2 has lower crowd occupancy, the impact of matches being played in front of an empty stadium is smaller for this league. The results show that teams which are used to playing in the presence of large crowds were more exposed to an aggregate loss in the home advantage as they recovered at a slower pace.

Conclusion

No one can definitively state which factor is the primary one, or perhaps they all combine to make the team stronger when playing at home. Whether played in an empty stadium or in front of full crowds, the home team will undoubtedly have some advantage.


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