Sure, it's a small sample size, but it appears professional athletes have at least one reason to enjoy playing in front of crowdless stadiums and arenas, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Since fans can't attend games because of the coronavirus pandemic, NBA and European soccer players have been performing in mostly empty venues, which has increased their shooting percentages. After a smattering of games, NBA players are shooting both free throws and corner threes more efficiently than they were before the pandemic paused the season back in March. At that point, the league average from the free throw line was 77.1 percent, a figure that's up to 80.6 percent in the Orlando bubble, per the Journal. Corner threes, meanwhile, are finding the bottom of the net 42.8 percent of the time now compared to the previous 38.9 percent.
The Brooklyn Nets' Joe Harris, a known sharpshooter, indicated the lack of fans probably has a greater effect on free throw shooting, since players are no longer facing a backdrop of fans when at the line. He added he doesn't usually notice fans around him when he fires threes from the corner, suggesting the statistical difference there could be more random.
European soccer leagues have a little bit more data to work with, as they've been back in action for a couple of months. In the English Premier League, free kicks were converted just 6 percent of the time before the pandemic, compared to 10 percent after the restart. The difference is more striking when looking at the raw totals. In 288 pre-lockdown matches, 16 goals were scored on free kicks. There have been 10 in the 92 played since teams returned to the pitch. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.