Referee home bias due to social pressure. Evidence from Spanish football
This paper analyses referee home bias due to social pressure with data from the matches played in the First Division of the Spanish football league between the 2002/03 and 2009/10 seasons. The aim is to assess the behaviour of the referee in relation to two decisions, namely free kicks awarded and players booked. The variables used to explain referee behaviour are the number of spectators attending matches, the percentage occupation of the stadium and the existence or not of running tracks, all of which are intended to represent social pressure, in addition to referee experience. Furthermore, two control variables concerning ball possession and shots at goal are included. Regarding methodology, two random effects panel data regression models are estimated. The first model explains the difference in the number of home team fouls and away team fouls, while the second explains the difference in yellow and red cards shown to local and away teams. The results obtained cannot confirm, at least in the period under analysis, that Spanish football referees have been biased in favour of the home team when it comes to awarding free kicks. However, once a free kick has been awarded, there does appear to be a referee home bias in the punishment a player receives for committing a foul. These findings suggest that when there is a large crowd in the stadium, the referee tends to find it easier to book away team players than home players. A sensible hypothesis that could explain this result is that the time the referee has to make a decision does affect the final outcome. While referees are not biased when it comes to awarding a free kick, they are when given more time to make a decision, allowing social pressure to work in favour of the home time.
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