How has the world of football been impacted by fans being prevented from attending matches by the Covid-19 pandemic?
April 13, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably had a major impact on the world of football. One of the most major impacts it has had has been preventing fans from attending matches in most countries almost entirely for over a year.
With fans playing such a key role in the world of football their absence has had a significant impact on football in a number of ways.
Potentially the most intriguing way football has been affected by the lack of fans this season is the impact of team’s performances, acting as a positive in some cases and a negative in others.
The financial elements of football and fan-focused industries generated by matchdays, and even football writers have also been affected by the lack of fans in grounds.
Fans are often referred to as the 12th man in football, illustrating the influence they can have on the players on the pitch.
When they get behind their team they can provide the vital motivation to get the team over the line and create an intimidating atmosphere for the opposition. While the dissatisfaction of the fans can create a restless ambiance that undermines the home side and feeds the confidence of the visitors.
According to football magazine FourFourTwo, the “chances of a home team losing has risen by 4%” and the Premier League has seen a lot more shock results for away teams than in previous years.
Results such as 5th place Champions League-chasing Chelsea being battered 5-2 at home by 19th placed relegation-threatened West Brom is just the latest of shock results in a season which has seen surprising scorelines becoming more common occurrences.
Yet, the trend extends beyond individual matches, with certain teams far exceeding expectations across the entire season.
West Ham United
Being a West Ham United fan myself and seen several seasons of struggle in the past it’s a very pleasant surprise at the time of writing to find us 4th in the Premier League table with seven games remaining.
The team finished 16th last season narrowly avoiding relegation, but having seen their form improve slightly after games moved behind closed doors in June last year that has carried over to this season.
Recent seasons for the Hammers have been dominated by dissatisfaction towards the club’s owners and widespread protests which even spilled onto the pitch.
I have been a West Ham season ticket holder for nearly 10 years now and went to our last home game with full attendance, back in the pre-Covid days of February 2020, and while the atmosphere was improving there were still clearly negative feelings about the owners vocalised by the fans.
No matter how much the protests were about the owners, not the players, and how justified the fans were, the supporters’ unhappiness and the oppressive atmosphere inevitably affected players' performances.
This season West Ham have excelled and while the excellent coaching and players improving have been key, without fans in the ground the team seems to be playing with a flair and freedom which wasn’t there before and sees them competing at the top end of the table.
Conversely, the effect of no fans has been the opposite on Sheffield United. Last season they were a newly promoted team who surprised teams and impressed pundits with their fresh approach who challenged for Europe and finished 9th in the Premier League.
This season they are rock bottom and have looked doomed for the vast majority of the season.
David Anderson, a journalist who covers Sheffield United, explains what has gone wrong for the club this season and how big a role not having their 12th man has played.
The Matchday Experience
Football clubs, especially those lower down the league pyramid, rely on gate revenue generated by fans paying for tickets and making other matchday purchases.
It was estimated Europe’s wealthiest clubs have missed out on at least €2 billion in revenue, which matchdays significantly contribute towards, and Premier League teams were forced to give £250 million to Football League teams to help ensure their financial survival.
Smaller businesses have also been hit hard by the loss of matchday revenue. Lawrence Davis, a senior figure at fan engagement company Beyond 90, explains the impact of the lack of fans on what was a thriving business.
Across the world football journalists and football writers have been affected by the restraints of the pandemic. Due to heavy restrictions, it has largely only been those working for recognised news sources who have been able to report on games in person.
As an aside, this trend could well continue going forward which the Sports Journalists Association described as “concerning”.
Roberto Rojas, a US-based football writer, is one of the few independent journalists who has been able to cover a live game since the start of the pandemic.
He describes what the experience was like and how the lack of fans in attendance affected the game and his role as a football writer.
With the worldwide Covid-19 situation seemingly improving, next season could well see fans back in earnest.
How big an impact it could have on the world of football is yet to be seen, as is whether it can return the game to the pre-Covid status quo or if the pandemic’s impact on the sport could be a longer lasting one.