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Determinants of home atmosphere in English football: a committed supporter perspective.

A consistent home advantage has been established across professional sports (e.g. Carron, Loughhead, & Bray, 2005; Courneya & Carron, 1992; Dowie, 1982; Nevill & Holder, 1999; Sutter & Kocher, 2004). The crowd was identified as the primary contributor to it (Neville & Holder, 1999), with the highest prevalence in football (soccer) (Courneya & Carron, 1992; Nevill, Newell, & Gale, 1996; Pollard, 1986; 2006a; 2006b). This increased advantage in football has been associated with the noise levels produced by the crowd, absolute crowd size, and crowd density (Agnew & Carron, 1994; Nevill, Balmer & Williams, 2002; Nevill, Newell & Gale, 1996; Pollard & Pollard, 2005; Schwartz & Barsky, 1977; Smith, 2003). Yet there is some mixed evidence for the crowd's influence. Dowie (1982) found little difference in home advantage across 4 English football leagues, despite considerable variability in crowd size. He implied it was not simply crowd size, for example, which impacted advantage; rather it was the relative balance of support between the two teams. This suggests the importance of the social interchange between groups of fans also has an impact. Pollard (1986) further strengthened this claim in a study of competitions from the English professional leagues from 1970-1981. At that time, partisan crowd size at matches between rivals of close proximity, known as local derbies, was approximately equal. Although home advantage was maintained, it was significantly lower at derby matches than those where the majority of crowd members supported the home team.

We may not know specifically how it impacts home advantage; but there is the perception that the crowd does influence the competitive outcome. According to supporters of English professional football clubs, their presence was the most important factor in home advantage and they felt accountable when the team lost if they were not in attendance (Wolfson, Wakelin, & Lewis, 2005). Additionally, 80% agreed with the statement 'home teams that fail to respond to the crowd's support will not perform well' (p. 371). Melnick (1993) summarised this with the statement, 'spectators share the collective knowledge that they are vital and integral to the action' (p. 50). Anecdotal references in post-match interviews to a 12th man (the crowd) affecting the outcome imply this view is shared by the players and coaches alike; and research has confirmed this to be the case (Gayton, Broida, & Elgee, 2001; Thirer & Rampey, 1979; Waters & Lovell, 2002).

Professional football, like other sports, has become increasingly commercialised over the past several decades. It is viewed as a money making enterprise, which attracts investors for its potential across an international market. Therefore, maintaining the loyalty of the crowd is essential to team success both because of the importance placed on the crowd's psychological contribution to home advantage, and the fact that sport fandom has become more commercialised (Guilianotti, 2002). When expectations were not fulfilled, members of the crowd left earlier from the event (Wakefield & Sloan, 1995), and even withheld support through nonattendance (Funk, Ridinger & Moorman, 2004; Madrigal, 1995). In some instances fans can turn against the team and negatively effect player psychological states (Waters & Lovell, 2002). The cumulative result of fan dissatisfaction can be income reduction through diminished gate receipts, sales of food, merchandising losses, and difficulty in attracting corporate sponsorships; which can have a knock-on effect for the financial reserve necessary to purchase the best players or build the facilities to ensure the highest probability of team success. However, to maximise the benefits that a crowd may provide, it is important to understand what it wants from attendance.

Van Leeuwen, Quick and Daniel (2002) proposed a Sport Spectator Satisfaction Model (SSSM) which built on traditional sports marketing models by the addition of win/loss factor. Using the Disconfirmation of Expectations Model, they theorised higher levels of satisfaction would be related to positive disconfirmation (i.e. doing better than expected) in regards to the likelihood of a win/loss and perceived performance. Borland and Macdonald (2003) substantiated this with further evidence that higher quality matches increased attendance across sports. Fans at collegiate sporting events in the US reported the competition itself (e.g. game quality and outcome) to be most important to the quality of their experience (Kelley & Turley, 2001; Wann & Wilson, 1999). Madrigal (1995) found that higher overall attendance satisfaction ratings for women's collegiate basketball games were indirectly related to expectancy disconfirmation and opponent quality. Fans of English football placed similar importance on match outcome and game quality (Forrest & Simmons, 2002), with 'floating' fans who do not attend regularly most focused on team success (Peel & Thomas, 1996). Though actions can be undertaken to ensure a competitive match with a higher probability of winning, there are no guarantees that this will happen. However, there may be the an opportunity to ensure fan satisfaction irrespective of the overall match quality or outcome, considered core aspects of satisfaction, by focusing on the peripheral aspects over which there is some level of control (FA Premier League [FA], 2006; Van Leeuwen et al., 2002).

Attendance and the duration of stay at sporting events have been associated with features of the stadium. Wakefield & Sloan (1995) found perceived crowding reduced the length of time at American football games, and cleanliness, parking facilities, and food service quality increased length of stay. In the case of Australian Rugby supporters, the overall set of stadium facilities (e.g. parking, cleanliness, catering, crowding) did significantly predict attendance for home fans; although individual stadium factors had limited impact on future attendance and varied based on whether the attendee was a home or away fan (Hill & Green, 2000). English football supporters confirmed that similar factors such as the sight line, cleanliness, and food service quality were also important to their overall match experience, and supporters of clubs with newer stadiums do report more satisfaction with these aspects of their attendance (FA, 2006; Waghorn, Downer & Munby, 2005).

From a psychological perspective, Warm and his colleagues have identified 8 motivations underlying sport fandom (Warm, 1995; Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001); and it could be argued several of these could be fulfilled through match attendance. The motivation for belongingness or group affiliation has been linked to attendance in across sports. The social benefit associated with the attendance was identified as a primary reason for original support of a team, the enjoyment of the event, and a lack of it was an important reason for the cessation of this support (Warm, Tucker & Schrader, 1996; Warm & Wilson, 1999). Behaviourally, this was confirmed when fewer than 30% of respondents reported they attended a sporting event alone (Warm, Friedman, McHale, & Jaffe, 2003). Opportunity for enhanced group esteem resulted in increased attendance at American football games and Japanese professional soccer leagues (Mahony, Nakazawa, Funk, James, Gladden, 2002; Murrell & Dietz, 1992), thus contributing to another sports fan's motivation: self-esteem reinforcement (Warm, 1995). It has been suggested that membership of a highly regarded sport group enhances individuals' social identity (Jacobson, 2003), allowing the individual to 'bask in reflected glory' when the team is successful (Cialidini et al. 1976; Sloan, 1979). Family-related motivations for sport fandom may also be fulfilled through attendance. Giuliannotti (2002) stated that, for the most dedicated type of football supporters, 'the individual has a relationship with the club that resembles those with close family and friends;' and continued support in English football has been directly linked with the family (Jones, 1997). Respondents to the EA. Premier League Survey (2006) said attending with family members as one of the best features of match, with 21% being accompanied by their spouse, 32% with another family member, and 8% with their children; thus further emphasising the importance of the family motive to football fans.

Atmosphere has also been linked to enjoyment of sporting events (Warm & Wilson, 1999). With the mandatory introduction of all-seater stadiums throughout England in the 1990's, football fans expressed concerns that atmosphere is now lacking (Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research [SNCCFR], 2002). Surveys of English football supporters indicated one of their top desires was to have a 'good home atmosphere' (FA, 2006; Waghom et al., 2005); and many of them would pay more for a ticket if that money was spent on creating a 'fantastic atmosphere' (Drivers Jonas, 2005). Yet what the crowd wants in terms of atmosphere has never been addressed.

Thus, the aim of the study was to develop a preliminary understanding of the factors comprising home atmosphere; and to approach this task from the perspective of football supporters. Atmosphere, rather than other peripheral factors associated with sport fan satisfaction, was chosen because it was identified as a key desire by the fans and is considered to be the one aspect which has the most opportunity for modification. This study centred on two research questions. Firstly, what role do the crowd factors previously associated with home advantage play in the creation of atmosphere? Pollard (2006a) presented a model for home advantage which included crowd support, a latent variable based on the combination of crowd factors including size, density, noise level and intensity. He also suggested that this variable should be measured so that controlled experiments could be used to further understand the home advantage phenomenon. It was not the purpose of this study to determine how atmosphere, which may be similar to his crowd support variable, impacts home advantage. Instead, the goal was to take the preliminary steps in quantifying the construct for future research. However, atmosphere was believed to be more than just the cumulative effects of these impersonal crowd factors. Several of the psychological motivations for sport fandom proposed by Wann and his colleagues also seemed relevant to the construct. Therefore, the second question focused on the interplay between these crowd factors and the more social aspects of match attendance in creating this atmosphere.



Respondents were recruited from three fan websites dedicated to one English premiership football club (n=442) and completed the survey voluntarily. The home stadium of these supporters has a capacity of approximately 50,000 with pub facilities in the ground. Average attendance for the club during the 2005-2006 season was just under 34, 000 which was 70% of capacity (

The majority of respondents were men (91.6%), which was slightly higher than a survey (85%) conducted by the football association for that season (FA, 2006). Most of the respondents had a season ticket (n=275), held from 1 to 35 years (M=9.01 SD = 5.86). Of those providing postcode information (n=414), nearly 65% resided in the Northeast of England, a small number of lived abroad (1.1%), and the remainder resided in other areas of England. Participants' were relatively evenly distributed across age groups: 16-24 (31.4%), 25-34 (22.2%), 34-44 (20%), and 45-54 (26%). Two people declined to provide their age. Responses from participants between the ages of 16-18 were included in analyses because 16-24 is considered a key demographic in English football. The data was collected in accordance with the British Psychological Society's ethical code of conduct (2005; 2006) and guidelines for internet research (2007) which consider 16 to be the age of consent for research participation.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73.2%) stated that being a supporter of the club was a large part of their social identity and that their allegiance to the club could not change (87.4%). Over half (51.8%) attended between 1 and 5 away matches per season, 18% attended between 6 and 10, a further 8% attended 11 or more, and 3% attended all away matches including cup fixtures. This dedicated group of participants was not fully representative of football fans across England. Giulannotti (2002) suggested 4 types of sports fans within football, of which this group approximates the most dedicated, the 'supporter'.

Materials and Procedure

Respondents were asked to choose the top 5 characteristics from a set of 10; and then ranked those 5 for their relative importance to the creation of home atmosphere, with 1 indicating the most important. These characteristics were chosen based on their prevalence throughout the home advantage, sport fandom, and sports marketing literature. It should be noted that the set of items presented here was considered as a starting point for defining the construct rather than an exhaustive list.

The first three items were considered to be primarily physical aspects of match attendance. Size of the home crowd (density as measured by full capacity), overall stadium size, and cheering and singing of fans (noise level) have previously been identified as the most important contributors to home advantage (Agnew & Carron, 1994; Nevill, Balmer & Williams, 2002; Schwartz & Barsky, 1977). These three factors were also considered important to atmosphere because English football supporters indicated singing/chanting and the crowd were the best features of the match (FA, 2006; Waghorn et al, 2005).

Several items were chosen as representative of the social comparative processes underlying football fandom. History with the opponent and opponent league standing were viewed as proxies for social comparison between clubs. According to social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954), social standing is determined by comparisons to others; in this instance supporters could judge their groups' standing based partially on the standing of the opponent. League standing of the home team impacted attendance at football matches (Simmons, 1996), and fans consider the potential match outcome when making attendance decisions (Borland & MacDonald, 2003; Forrest & Simmons, 2002; Peel & Thomas, 1995). The location of the away fans in the ground was included because Bale (1993) emphasized the location of away fans as a representation of group comparisons by letting people 'know their place' (p. 48). Away supporter representation within the ground has also been suggested as a key component to atmosphere within football stadiums (Guilannotti, 2004). Social comparisons can occur based on the individual's proximity to the pitch. Traditionally seating locations within football stadiums have implied social standing (Bale, 1993; Guilliannotti, 2004); and additionally, fans listed the site line as the most important factor in their match experience (FA, 2006; Waghorn et al 2005).

A further three items focused on the group-affiliation and self-esteem motives underlying sport fandom (e.g. Jacobson, 2003, Wann, 1995; Wann et al, 2001; Wann, 2006; Sloan, 1979). The first, a measure of belongingness, asked respondents to rate the feeling of connectedness with other supporters whilst at the match. According to Wann, Tucker and Schrader (1996), sports fans reported affiliation as one of the top reasons for originally becoming a fan, their continued support of the team, and ceased their support if they do not receive the group affiliation so desired. A place dedicated to club memorabilia was viewed as a means for achievement-seeking fans (Sloan, 1979) to perpetually bask in the team's past glory, known as BIRG-ing (Cialidini et al, 1976); thereby further enhancing their identity and esteem in a positive manner. Finally, an item regarding the presence of pubs and eateries was included because such a venue would provide a place for socialization and group affiliation. English football fans they stated would arrive earlier if better catering and entertainment options were available at the grounds and meeting family and friends was one of the best features of the match (FA, 2006; Waghorn et al, 2005).

Data collection lasted for six weeks. A brief request for participation was placed on each website, with a link to the survey. None of the sites were officially associated with the club and no incentives to participate were offered.


Table 1 provides a summary of the relative importance of each of the characteristics to the creation of home atmosphere. This table shows the percentage of respondents ranking each characteristic from 1 to 5, as well as the percentage that did not rank an item in their top 5 (item non-response). Approximately one third of respondents misunderstood the instructions and ranked all ten items between 1 and 5. However, as this still allowed the relative importance of each item to atmosphere to be determined, their responses were included in the table and subsequent analysis. None of the ten characteristics had completed item non-response, indicating that all items were considered to contribute to atmosphere.

The most important features to home atmosphere were two physical aspects: singing/ cheering and a full capacity crowd. An overwhelming majority listed singing as 1st with very few respondents (1.4%) not ranking it in the top five. Crowd size (capacity), as opposed to stadium size (maximum crowd size), was ranked as 1st by 35% of respondents. After these two features, no more than 15% of respondents ranked any other characteristic as the top contributor to home atmosphere. Approximately half of all respondents did not rank the location of away fans in the ground (45.3%), their own proximity to the pitch (48.9%), and overall stadium size (53.4%) amongst their top 5 most important factors; however, fewer people left 'opponent's league standing' blank (35.5%) than any of the three prior characteristics listed. This suggested that it was of more importance to atmosphere overall than any of the other three characteristics. The features viewed as having the least importance were pubs/eateries near the ground and a place with club memorabilia.


The purpose of this study was to determine the some of the factors that create home atmosphere at professional football matches in England, and to do so from the perspective of the supporter. A study of this construct was considered timely because research indicates that attendees value a good atmosphere (Driver Jonas, 2005; FA, 2006; Waghorn et al, 2005); yet there has been no systematic study of what they feel comprises it. Atmosphere was viewed similarly to the crowd factor Pollard (2006a) identified in his model of home advantage; but it was also expected that the more social components of match attendance which related to the psychological motives of sport fandom would be important to understanding the construct as well. The proposed characteristics of home atmosphere were identified based on the social psychological literature of sports fan motivation, the study of home advantage in sports sciences, and findings of English Football Association supporter surveys.

The results indicated the two most important factors were crowd noise (singing/cheering) and crowd size (density). Both history with the opponent and feeling connected with other supporters were considered more important to atmosphere than the potential for a very large crowd, as measured through stadium size. The location of away fans and proximity to the pitch made a lower relative contribution. This was followed by opponent's league standing; although overall, it was more important to the home atmosphere than these two characteristics or stadium size individually as indicated by its lower level of item non-response. The presence of pubs/eateries in or around the ground and a place with club memorabilia were rated the least important contributors to atmosphere.

It was expected that individual crowd features previously related to home advantage would be important to atmosphere (Pollard, 2006a) and the results supported this. It is interesting to note that a full capacity crowd, which could be considered a measure of crowd density, was ranked as more important than stadium size (potential crowd size). The greater importance of the full capacity crowd/density suggested that empty seats may affect atmosphere more than the sheer number of supporters. Sports fans consider their affiliation with a team to be a part of their social identity (King, 2000; Wann & Branscombe, 1993). For football supporters, attendance at a match with a sell-out crowd may add to the feeling that they belong to something others perceive to be quite special (Melnick, 1993); thereby positively reinforcing their social identity. However, large blocks of empty seats (i.e. low crowd density) may imply that their identity is being undermined in some way because others do not view supporting the team through match attendance as important. The lower importance of stadium size may also be explained within the context of the particular club, which plays in one of the newer, larger football stadiums in England. For this team, the club's attendance record for the season was 70% of its 50,000 capacity; so a full-capacity crowd would also be a large one, confounding the two factors.

Atmosphere, however, was not solely comprised of these factors related to home advantage. Singing/cheering of football fans, stadium density and stadium size were intermingled amongst aspects of match attendance which could be viewed as fulfilling the psychological needs proposed to underlie sport random (Warm, 1995; Warm et al., 2001). History with the opponent and connection with other supporters may represent the psychological self-esteem and group affiliation motives of sport random respectively. All the physical characteristics associated with home atmosphere appear to have some social component to them. The noise level created by singing and cheering probably does not impact on atmosphere simply because of the sheer decibel level. Instead, the higher noise level may represent increased feelings of belongingness amongst supporters because they see themselves as part of one voice, the 12th man, which positively reinforces that aspect of their identity associated with the football club. Even proximity to the pitch or the sightline has a social implication. Historically, location within a ground has indicated social standing amongst supporters (Giulanotti, 2004; Russell, 1999). Respondents did not find sitting in a particular location of the highest importance to the atmosphere, but it can reflect a particular social identity amongst supporters.

What was surprising was the relatively low value placed on locations with memorabilia and pubs/eateries at the stadium. Locations with memorabilia should provide opportunity for basking in the past glory of the team's success, providing an additional means of social identity and self-esteem enhancement. It could be the case that because this particular club has won very few accolades in the past, this was not considered as relevant. This would be consistent with cutting off from reflective failure (Snyder, Lassegard, & Ford, 1986). Instead of distancing themselves from the team, the fans just placed less value on what could be considered a widely accepted method of measuring success. For clubs with a strong tradition of winning league titles, cup competitions, and international championships, a place for memorabilia may be of greater importance. Pubs and eateries were expected to add to the atmosphere because it would provide opportunity for sociability with other supporters; thereby enhancing the group affiliative and family-related benefits of sport random (Warm, 1995; Warm et al., 2002). Perhaps these were ranked of lesser importance because the atmosphere during the match and secondary match day events such as this were considered distinct to most supporters.

The results of this study may be useful for future stadium design, sports marketing, and understand the complex factors underlying home advantage. Supporters stated that a full-capacity stadium with cheering/singing supporters was integral to atmosphere. Designing the stadium with acoustics that maximise noise level could be valuable to home advantage because it enhances atmosphere. Noise level has been shown to benefit the home side due the reduction in fouls awarded against them (Balmer, et al., 2007; Lane, Nevill, Ahmad, & Balmer, 2006; Nevill, Balmer, & Williams, 2002). The results also suggest that designs which minimise the appearance of empty seating areas could contribute to the atmosphere. A stadium with 50,000 capacity and 10,000 empty seats may be perceived as having less atmosphere (and threatening supporter identity) than a stadium which holds only 40,000 capacity but is filled to capacity. For sports marketers, understanding what a football supporter wants in terms of atmosphere is important. Clubs can take steps to meet these consumer demands; thereby enhancing the experience, enjoyment of the match, and potentially developing stronger ties with the team. Madrigal (2004), in a review of studies examining the purchasing behaviour of sports fans, reported that stronger links with the team resulted in greater attendance and merchandise purchases from both the club and its sponsors. The findings overall provide further support for the assertion (Dowie, 1982; Pollard, 2006a) that it is the interplay of crowd factors rather than any crowd factor individually making an impact on home advantage; and, it is the composite of these along with the social factors identified in this study that results in atmosphere and thereby competitive advantage. However, future studies would need to establish a direct link between atmosphere and home advantage.

Methodologically speaking, the results of this study have some limited generalizability. Respondents were web-savvy supporters of one premier league football club in a specific region of the country. Fans across sports have been classified into groups based on their loyalty to the club and consumption through attendance and merchandise purchasing (Giuliannotti, 2002; Tapp & Clowes, 2000); and it appears the participants in this study were the most dedicated group, the supporter or fanatic. This type of sport fan would be characterized by a self-image heavily influenced by their status as a football supporter. Therefore, this sample was clearly not representative of all football supporters throughout England. However, Giuliannotti (2002) noted it is this group which may be primarily associated with the creation of the atmosphere, which draws other, less committed spectators to attend. Additionally, this was an on-line survey which may further limit the generalizability of the results. Web respondents are self-selected and maybe different from the population (Kraut et al., 2004); although this research method is generally accepted within the social sciences (Gosling et al, 2004) and has been used successfully with football supporters in England in the past (Wolfson, Wakelin & Lewis, 2005). Finally, there was also an issue with respondents misunderstanding the ranking instructions. Some respondents ranked all 10 items on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being most important) rather and choosing 5 of the ten and ranking them in order of importance. As a descriptive study intended to initially explore the meaning of home atmosphere, this was not viewed as a serious concern because the relative importance of each characteristic could still be determined.

Future research should first confirm that the characteristics included in this study are the only primary contributors to atmosphere by providing a concrete definition of home atmosphere for respondents to comment upon, as well as the opportunity to identify additional ones. Preliminary results from another study (Charleston, 2006) indicated that the components of a good home atmosphere are primarily the same both at home and away, and across stadiums varying considerably in size; but it would be useful to further explore this in a more extended study. It would also be interesting to investigate how the important components of atmosphere vary by location within the ground, regionally, and across divisions of professional football. In other words, do supporters find the same characteristics contribute to 'home atmosphere' irrespective of location? Another line of future research would be to examine what role the culture of a football club play in determining atmosphere. Traditionally supporters of individual clubs have developed collective cultures (Canter, Comber, & Uzzell, 1989), for example the wit of Liverpool's KOP or the previously aggressive reputations Milwall or West Ham United in the 1980's and 1990's; and arguably this will have some effect on their views of atmosphere. Exploring the meaning of home atmosphere from the viewpoint of footballers and managers would further contribute to a clear picture of the construct.

To summarize, the perception of dedicated supporters at this north eastern English football club was that a variety of social and physical characteristics combined to create home atmosphere, with primary emphasis ascribed to singing and cheering amongst a full stadium of supporters. They do not necessarily need a large stadium for the best atmosphere as indicated by the lower ranking of overall stadium size; but do want a feeling of belonging or connectedness with other supporters (perhaps as expressed through singing and cheering) in a context of history between the sides and league standing of the opponent. Neither the crowd features associated with home advantage nor social aspects of match attendance were solely responsible for home atmosphere in English professional football. This exploratory study provided a starting point from which future research can confirm and refine the components of home atmosphere, from a variety of perspectives (i.e. supporter, player, manager), and across divisions of professional football.


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Stephanie Charleston

University of Sunderland

Address Correspondence To: Stephanie Charleston, Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Sunderland, Sunderland, SR6 0DD, United Kingdom, Phone: 0 191-515-2601, E-mail:
Table 1. Relative Importance of Characteristics Related to Home

 Percentage of 1-5 rankings per
 characteristic (a)

Characteristic 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th ranked (b)

Cheering & Singing 59.7 21.9 4.5 5.0 7.5 1.4

Crowd Size 35.3 29.9 13.8 7.7 8.8 4.5

History w/ Opponent 14.3 12.9 17.5 15.2 11.8 28.3

Connect w/
Supporters 10.6 17.0 18.8 16.7 12.0 24.8

Stadium Size 6.3 7.9 13.1 8.8 10.6 53.4

Away Fan Location 6.1 9.7 16.1 11.1 11.8 45.3

Proximity to the
Pitch 6.1 9.7 17.0 8.8 9.5 48.9

Opponent Lg.
Standing 4.8 9.7 16.1 18.1 15.8 35.5

Pubs in Ground 5.0 5.9 9.5 9.0 10.2 60.4

Location 3.8 5.2 7.5 5.0 7.9 70.6

(a) Percentages may not total to 100 due to rounding.

(b) The values here indicate single item non-response.
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Author:Charleston, Stephanie
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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