Home-field Advantage

There are many articles or blog posts about home-field advantage in popular leagues, for example in the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga and "The Big Five". No matter which article you consult, they all reach a similar conclusion: Home-field advantage exists, but it is declining. We here use our dataset of more than 800,000 games played in 225 top-tier leagues and international cups to analyse home-field advantage on a global scale. While our results confirm its decline, their are some interesting country specific surprises.

21.06.2017

How significant is (or was) home-field advantage in football? Using our data set of more than 800,000 games played in 206 top-tier leagues, we can quantify the home-field advantage on a global scale. Below are the percentages of home wins, away wins and draws by year, from 1888 until June 2017.

There seems to be a clear trend for a globally declining home-field advantage. Starting of at around 60% in the 19th century (which is mostly English and Scottish football), it dropped to an all time low in 2017 (44.9%). Wins by visiting teams are rapidly catching up. Did away wins only account for around 19% in the mid 70's, they are now almost on an all time high with 30%. Home-field advantage indeed seems to vanish globally.

But what is responsible for this decline? Various explanations have been offered, like better trained referees, easier access to tickets for away fans or more convenient traveling options. We do not have any data to search for evidence for these extrinsic factors, but as for the Premier League we get some clues by looking at the average home and away goals per games over time.

The global trend is very coherent with the one observed for the Premier League. Average home goals have decreased from once more than 2.5 to 1.5, while the average away goals are slowly increasing towards 1.2. The difference is now a mere 0.3 goals per game.

Home-field advantage is declining on a global level. But this aggregated result does not tell the whole truth. We will now go a bit more into detail to look for differences among countries.

Let's start with the most popular leagues, the "Big Five". Below you see the home/away win and draw percentages by year for these top leagues in Europe.

There are certainly significant variations over time (like the large percentage of draws in the 70's in the Serie A), but all values seem to converge to a common value. Is this a sign that football is close to an equilibrium state? Maybe at the very top level of football, but there is certainly considerable variety if we look beyond the Premier League and the like. Take the nine countries below.

Almost 80% of all games are won by the home team in Nigeria! This is by far the most crazy value in the whole dataset. Final home/away tables in Nigeria are fascinatinglyabsurd. Throughout a season of 38 matches, each team wins between 0 or 2 away games. With 3 wins you are already the best away team. There are certainly many reasons for this, but the most prominent seems to be corruption. Bribing refs and away teams, trading wins ("If you let as win at home then we let you win at home"). Even sabotaging the food and water and travel arrangements seems to be a common strategy as some sources suggest. If a visiting manages to win, there is often violence among the fans ("We didn't pay to see our team lose!") and especially the ref has to fear for his life.

The comical home winning percentage in the nigerian Premier League is one of the many fascinating peculiarities of football, but not the only one concerning home-field advantage. There are other leagues where the home team still wins way more than 50% of all games. But what about the other extreme? And what causes home winning percentages to drop over time? Experts argue that with increased professionalism comes a decrease of home-field advantage. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Romania could be an example for this, although the curve for Romania looks remarkably strange. The statement should however not be taken as a universal law. Take the low home-field advantage in Gambia, Somalia, San Marino and Liechtenstein. One would not necessarily count them to the most professional leagues.

Liechtenstein's low home winning percentage is simply due to the fact that there is only a cup being played. Amateur-level teams usually play at home against more professional teams with little chance of winning. In Gambia, there are on average only 1.7 goals per match. This is almost as low (and boring) as it gets in any league. Only Senegal with 1.63 has a lower average (More on this topic can be found in our article on goals and results). Few goals come with many draws in this case. Almost 40% of all games end in a draw (mostly 0:0 and 1:1) in Gambia. Why draws and few goals are so prevalent in Gambia is unclear (when in doubt blame cultural reasons), but certainly a good example that football does not follow universal laws around the globe.

If you are interested in other countries, check out the chart below. It shows the break down of home/away wins and draws of all games for 206 countries. Click on it for a high resolution version (not recommended on mobile). More details can also be found in our stats centre.