Was Gallagher Premiership home advantage reduced without crowds?

Whilst sports stadiums remain mostly empty around the world, the concept of home advantage has been put under the spotlight. The first football to return, the German Bundesliga, saw a significant increase in away wins. Early analysis by EPSN showed the percentage of home wins had halved. Recently, the English Premier League saw Leicester City win 5-2 at Manchester City; a highly unexpected result against a team who rarely loses at home. Then just this weekend, Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford. So what of Gallagher Premiership home advantage?

The away win statistics

Rounds one to 13 of the Premiership, played until the March lockdown, saw a total of 28 away wins out of 78 games, or 35.8%. This included two rounds including four away wins, in rounds 10 and 12. It cannot be forgotten though that clubs were missing international players at the beginning of the season, away at the World Cup.

Post-restart, there were 26 away wins out of 54 games, or 46.3%. N.B. this includes the two cancelled matches in round 22, automatically resulting in one home and one away win. Round 18 saw five away wins out of six, with only Gloucester successful at home. Of course, there are several caveats to this. All teams were trying to cope with the new protocols put in place to manage the covid-19 situation. Relegation had already been decided, so some teams further down the table had the chance to experiment. 2020/21 agreed transfers went ahead in July so squads were often different to those that began the season. Furthermore, the congested fixture list and midweek matches stretched squads and dictated selection much more than usual.

No home comforts for Northampton Saints

One team who has not benefited from any Gallagher Premiership home advantage in recent times is Northampton Saints. A dismal second half of the season post-restart saw them win one out of nine, gaining only seven points. Saints’ last league win at Franklin’s Gardens was unbelievably all he way back in December, against Gloucester on the 28th. They end the season on a seven game home losing streak, and will have to wait until 28th November to try and end that against Harlequins.

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Despite this awful collapse to a previously promising season, they held onto a Champions Cup place, event after being forced to forfeit their final match against Gloucester.

Has Gallagher Premiership home advantage been maintained without crowds?

Comparing the raw figures, it would seem that away wins are becoming more common without supporters in the stadium. It must be stressed that the overall sample size of games is smaller, but comparable to an extent. The record of 26 from 54 (almost half) strongly suggests the total would pass the pre-lockdown total of 28 with another 24 matches (or four rounds).

Another factor to consider is how the fixtures were drawn. If there were more home wins in the first half of the season, we could reasonably expect a good percentage of these teams to win the return fixture. Given the large gap between the top five (plus Saracens, in terms of wins), there have been several doubles completed.

In terms of league position, perhaps only London Irish’s win at Exeter in Round 21 was a real shock away win, and can be almost fully explained by the circumstances of the match timing.

Home crowds needed back soon

Some teams are known, and indeed pride themselves on their home support. The likes of Leicester, Gloucester, Bath and Exeter regularly fill grounds towards capacity and feed off the “16th man”. How much a home advantage is actually due to supporters, or more due to “home comforts”, or familiarity with facilities and less travel is still hard to quantify.

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As it is looking increasingly likely there won’t be any crowds returning until at least the new year, there will be further data to examine when the 2020/21 season begins. Again, this will have to be considered in the context of a new season, with internationals missing for the vast majority of early games for all teams. In short, results are likely to remain as unpredictable as everything else for a good while yet.

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