Why do teams play better at home? Home advantage has been the subject of much research, and proposed explanations include crowd effects, travel effects, familiarity, referee bias, territoriality and tactics.
An intriguing feature of home advantage is it varies widely between countries. In his 2006 paper, Richard Pollard measured the home advantage for first-tier football in 72 countries and found a spread from Andorra, where 49% of points are earned at home, to Bosnia, where 79% of points are earned at home. (The Premiership sits right in the middle with 61%).
It is now pretty well established that a key component of home advantage is the influence of the home crowd on match officials – and that’s where my research starts. I wondered if the different levels of home advantage could be explained by variance in the social and cultural norms that regulate the relationship between spectators and match officials.
I compared Pollard’s data with some standard indicators of national culture, and found there were some significant relationships. The full study is in press, but I present a few highlights here.
First, home advantage tends to be higher in collectivist countries than in individualistic ones. In collectivist countries, people tend to be more conformist than people in individualistic countries. This suggests match officials in collectivist countries would be more likely to go along with the views of the majority – i.e. the home crowd.
Secondly, I found that home advantage is high in countries where governance is prone to corruption and where the rule of law is not strictly adhered to. Probably, match officials in such countries are more easily swayed by the home crowd than officials in countries with high standards of official integrity and adherence to the law, because their are fewer social prohibitions against bending the rules.
Finally, home advantage is higher in countries where people make sharp distinctions between in-groups which they favour, and out-groups. In such countries, the home crowd might be especially hostile to the away team, putting additional pressure on the officials.
These findings suggest that a football match is not just an athletic contest in which two teams pit their competing skills against each other, but a communal melodrama in which the audience plays a role, and may even shape the plot. Perhaps that is why football is so addictive.
The full study will be published in Cross-Cultural Research.
Pollard, R. (2006). Worldwide regional variations in home advantage in association football. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24, 231 – 240.