Playing Football behind closed doors: A natural experiment on the link between crowd support and home advantage
In football, as in many other sports, there is a sizeable advantage for the home team, found all around the globe, which means that home teams have a significantly higher chance of winning. While this effect has shrunk over the years, the exact reasons are unknown. They may include familiarity with the ground, travel burdens for the away team, and, of course, crowd support for the home team (directly, by affecting players’ performance, or indirectly, by pressuring referees).
Currently, due to the Corona-Crisis, all major leagues in Europe are suspended and it’s unclear whether professional football can resume any time soon. In Germany, preparations for re-opening the league have advanced the furthest. It seems possible that the Bundesliga might return to play in the second half of May, without supporters. There are still 81 games to play until the end of the season. While there is a public debate about the dangers of resuming the league, playing in empty stadiums would create a natural experiment on the effect of home crowd support on the match result: As no supporters are present, the home advantage should vanish or at least diminish significantly if crowd support is the major driver. Games played on neutral venues could serve the same purpose (as currently discussed in England).