Not having fans can help decide games. Just ask Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund

Let’s start by acknowledging Bayern Munich has bulldozed German competition for almost a decade. They’ve won the last seven Bundesliga titles by an average of nearly 15 points a season.

Bayern’s also won six of seven meetings with Borussia Dortmund, wiping the floor with their chief title rivals more often than not.

Their latest triumph, an entertaining 1-0 victory on Tuesday, silenced Dortmund’s title chances yet again.

But Bayern didn’t silence Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund’s home stadium. They didn’t have to. There were no fans there.

Such is the new reality, not just for soccer but likely all sports: empty stadiums marginalizing home-field advantages.

And boy did Borussia Dortmund miss it.

With respect to Bayern Munich’s supremacy, just imagine what could have been. A boiling cauldron with Dortmund’s famed “Yellow Wall” overlooking one end and thousands of exuberant fans packing the other nooks. Surely it would have been tougher for Bayern to get a result in that atmosphere, no?

Maybe they would have regardless. They’re no strangers to winning in hostile venues.

“When you play against Dortmund away from home, you're always motivated to the point,” Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said after the game.

Clearly. Still, you can’t shake the sense that, for the first time in the COVID-19 pandemic age, a significant sporting event was impacted heavily by the lack of fans.

Bayern Munich's visit to Borussia Dortmund was much quieter than usual. (Photo by Federico Gambarini/Pool via Getty Images)
Bayern Munich's visit to Borussia Dortmund was much quieter than usual. (Photo by Federico Gambarini/Pool via Getty Images)

Barring fans is the right call, too. Germany has confronted the pandemic as well as any nation, and the response has been built on the back of the government making measured, informed decisions based on science and expertise. Stuffing fans back into crowded venues simply isn’t smart, especially when the coronavirus transmits through air with frightening expediency.

So no one can sensibly argue fans should have been there to watch. But could their presence have turned the tide?

Let’s try to remove bias as much as possible. According to BetMGM, Bayern Munich opened as -125 favorites before moving all the way to +120 before kickoff. (Quick explainer: Plus odds are generally viewed as less likely outcomes, and in this instance, a line of +120 meant Bayern Munich closed as the underdog, meaning bettors won $120 on a $100 bet.) The public bet Borussia Dortmund hard, believing they would win, and that's what caused the significant shift in odds.

The initial BetMGM line is also revealing. Dortmund didn’t appear to be given a home-field advantage by oddsmakers, which is often built into opening lines before action comes in. Bayern not having to deal with a raucous atmosphere — which could have tilted play in Dortmund’s favor — might very well have factored into their victory.

Expect similar approaches in setting lines for American sports without fans. If you think sportsbooks aren’t taking notes from how soccer matches play out, you’re kidding yourself.

You’re also kidding yourself if you don’t consider what a home crowd would have meant. Signal Iduna Park is the largest stadium in Germany. Dortmund has the best home record of any Bundesliga side the past two seasons. On Tuesday, the shots on target were basically split, as was possession.

None of this is an attempt to take credit away from Bayern Munich. Their eminence is tangible. Their achievements are unimpeachable.

It is, however, an informative snapshot of the new sports landscape. Anyone coming for the crown will have to be that much better. Anyone defending it will have one less obstacle to deal with. Players and teams are going to have their flaws exposed in short order.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, that’s happening across all walks of life. We’re lucky we finally have live sports to distract us again.

Regardless of whether or not we’re actually there to watch.

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