May 17, 2005 A tartan track separating the soccer pitch from the spectators' stands reduces the home advantage to a spectacular extent. This is the result of a study by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) and the University of Bonn, in which economists analysed more than 3,500 soccer matches.
One result was that the refs permitted appreciably more stoppage and injury time to home teams who were trailing their opponents when the game was played in stadiums without an athletics track. Thus home teams had more time to narrow the gap between the two teams. Expressed in figures, this meant that if the home team was one goal behind, the injury time was extended by almost one minute compared with when the home team was leading by one goal -- although this was only true in stadiums without a tartan track. Where, however, the pitch was separated from the stand by a running track, the injury time was not influenced by the result of the match. "Probably the referee is subjected to greater social pressure if the spectators are right next to the pitch," is how Dr. Thomas Dohmen interprets the result.
An additional observation also supports the theory that referees submit to spectator pressure: the closer the rival teams lived to each other, the smaller the preferential treatment given to the home team by the referee. "The closer the opponent, the more fans there are who go to an away match," explains Thomas Dohmen, who is an economist doing research at the Institute for the Future of Work (the Institut zur Zukunft der Arbeit or IZA) and the University of Bonn. "By contrast, far fewer fans travel to away matches which are much further distant. The influence of home fans in the stands is of course that much more overwhelming there and thus the pressure on the referee is greater.
When in doubt, for the home team?
For his study "Social pressure influencing individuals' decisions" Thomas Dohmen looked at a total of 3,519 first division matches between 1992 and 2003. As part of his study he used data from the company "Innovative Media Technology and Planning" (IMP). The IMP looks after the only German Football League data bank officially recognised by the German Football League and collects more than 2,000 individual facts per game -- among these, for example, the duration of injury and stoppage time. In addition it also assesses whether the referee decisions in the match in question were correct. For this purpose the IMP experts make use of video material, inter alia. "From the beginning of the 1992/93 season to the winter break in 2003/04 a total of 10,166 goals were scored," says Thomas Dohmen. "For all but three there is an IMP assessment on whether they were made according to the rules." According to IMP data five per cent of decisions on goals in favour of the home team were disputed or even incorrect. For the away team the figure was only four per cent. Here too we find that the referee tends to make a disputed or wrong ruling, the closer the spectators are to the action.
Yet in all this the referees can expect serious consequences if they "misjudge" a match: at every German league game an expert from the German Football League is present to assess the referee's work. If the referee does poor work he risks no longer being employed -- thereby losing 3,000 euros "salary" per match. There are not many cases of obvious misjudgements: the refs seem to work along the lines of "when in doubt, decide in favour of the home team" -- whether this is a conscious decision or not.
This is also true of penalty kicks: the referee ruled in favour of penalties 857 times from the beginning of the 1993/94 season to the winter break in 2003/04. Independently of the type of stadium, the IMP experts counted more incorrect or disputed decisions to the advantage of the home teams: in only 65 per cent of all "home team penalties" were the referees justified in awarding them. By contrast, the figure for penalties in favour of the visiting side was 72 per cent. In stadiums like Schalke's the referees intervened much more often than in stadiums like Bayern's. However, the home team did not gain any additional advantage from this.
The complete study is also available on the Internet: http://www.iza.org/dp1595.pdf
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