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Australian Football League: “home advantage”, “umpire bias” or both?

John Watson (UWA Business School, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia)

Sport, Business and Management

ISSN: 2042-678X

Article publication date: 12 July 2013



This study sought to clarify potentially conflicting results from two prior studies examining the “home advantage”, and possible “umpire bias”, in the Australian Football League (AFL).


Using categorical regression analysis, and controlling for team ability, the number of free kicks awarded to/against each AFL team during the home and away season of 2006 was investigated.


The findings support previous research suggesting home teams generally win more often and receive more favourable treatment from umpires. However, for games involving both a Victorian and a non‐Victorian team, there is clear evidence of “umpire bias” (beyond the traditional “home advantage”) operating against non‐Victorian teams.

Research limitations/implications

A major limitation of this study is that it only considers the number of free kicks awarded and not where, or when, those free kicks are awarded.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that the AFL should seriously consider appointing neutral umpires for all games (particularly those involving a Victorian and non‐Victorian team) and establishing an independent panel to oversee the development and selection of AFL umpires.


This is the first study of potential “bias” in the AFL that controls for team ability and, as such, helps to reconcile conflicting conclusions from two prior studies.



Watson, J. (2013), "Australian Football League: “home advantage”, “umpire bias” or both?", Sport, Business and Management, Vol. 3 No. 3, pp. 176-188.



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