Empty stadiums and eerie silences after goals…the new season feels very different now that spectators have been stuck at home during matches. Here we have Peter Watton, from matched betting experts OddsMonkey, to tell us why football is nothing without the fans.

Earlier this summer, we saw players return to the pitch after Covid-19 caused a football drought. And, while fans were initially thrilled to see the beautiful game back in action, it soon became clear that these matches weren’t quite like anything we’d seen before. Even with fake cheers piped into stadiums to try and fill the silence, the absence of fans from stadiums was the elephant on the pitch. There’s simply no denying that there isn’t the same atmosphere and momentum without the roar from the stands after a goal.

With the latest government restrictions stating that fans won’t return to stadiums until March 2021 at the very earliest (BBC), it looks as though this “new normal” is set to stick around for most of the season. But what will the long-term of effects of this be, and could it cause something of a skills shortage at some of the top clubs? And will teams gain a renewed appreciation for the fans whose support means so much? In this article, I’ll explore the impact in more detail.



The lack of support could cause a skills shortage

The absence of fans is most obvious during those really exciting moments, like after a goal is scored or when a corner is taken. While the lack of atmosphere can be jarring for the fans at home, it must be even more disconcerting for those on the pitch, who have gone from playing for a roaring crowd of thousands to an awkward canned soundtrack. A number of Premier League stars have already admitted that it’s taking a toll on their game, saying that it’s just not the same without the support from fans in the stands.

If the effect on players is as profound as they say it is, there’s a possibility that this could have a serious impact on the talent at British clubs. Fans have already been allowed back into stadiums (at a reduced capacity) in the German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 games. For players considering a move to a European club, could the lack of fans in English clubs be a deciding factor? I suppose it depends just how long the ban on spectators goes on for — with any luck, everything will be back to normal by next spring.



Lower gate revenues could have a knock-on effect on performance

Fans do more than cheer at matches — they bring in much needed money, too. Ticket sales are a key revenue driver for English football clubs in all leagues. Gates accounted for 36% of total Premier League takings in the 2018/19 season (Deloitte), and in the English Football League, gate receipts contribute the vast majority of all revenue. And with those funds dwindling to nothing during the pandemic, it’s likely to have a severe knock-on effect on the overall performance of the club.

A pay cut that extreme is sure to take toll on facilities, training and salaries, all of which are likely to spell difficulty for the club as a whole — especially in Leagues 1, 2 and beyond. Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic received points deductions after going into administration, and financial strife spelled disaster at Bury FC and Macclesfield Town last year. It’s likely that money troubles will have an impact in all leagues, but for those near the bottom, lower gate receipts can be a matter of life and death.



Is the home advantage over?

It looks as though the lack of fans could be taking a toll on the home advantage, giving away teams a better chance of winning. That’s certainly what we’ve seen in the Bundesliga, where visiting teams have enjoyed more wins since the COVID-19 rules kicked in. There’s even solid evidence to suggest that referees might be more likely to give decisions to away teams when the home fans aren’t there, (SSRN). If the home advantage is really over, could teams which have traditionally performed well at home start to lose points over the course of the season?



Clubs will realise the true value of fans

With any luck, stadiums will be able to open their gates to fans in early spring of next year. But, even if fans could return to stadiums, would they want to? Until a vaccine is found, they might be too worried about the dangers of crowding into a busy stand to want to risk it. There’s also the financial aspect to consider: lots of people have also suffered financially as a result of the pandemic, and season tickets and following their team all over the country might be a luxury that many simply can’t afford anymore.

As a consequence, we might see a number of clubs taking drastic action to try and woo fans back into the stands. Exactly what form this will take is hard to predict — perhaps ticket prices will be slashed. At any rate, it's important that clubs do everything in their power to show the fans just how much they are valued.

It’s the fans that make clubs great, and if you take away the supporters and the ticket sales they bring in, even the top teams will be in trouble. As a result, I think clubs will realise that they really need the fans more than the fans need them.





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