Predicting In-Play Match Decisions Evidence from a Closed-Door Environment

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Leighton Vaughan Williams
Joseph Kennedy


We investigate the effect of the crowd on the decisions of match officials within a professional sports environment. We do this using data from 9,835 football (soccer) matches, comparing matches played behind closed doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic with those played before a crowd. We find that home advantage in terms of in-play decisions by match officials is significantly reduced in the absence of crowds. Examining the decisions of football referees, we find that away teams receive fewer yellow and red cards when playing in an empty stadium compared to matches with a crowd. This suggests the decisions of officials are influenced by the social pressure on match officials of a crowd, and that forecasts of match-related events and outcomes should be adjusted accordingly.

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