The Silence of the Fans: The Impact of Restricted Crowds on the Margin of Victory in the NBA

Henry Steinfeldt
Sören Dallmeyer
and Christoph Breuer

This study investigates the impact of restricted crowds caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the margin of victory of games in the NBA. Using 12,500 game-level observations from 11 NBA seasons from 2010/11 to 2020/21, the study first shows that during the COVID-19 season of 2020/21, games had a greater average margin of victory than any of the prior seasons. Regression results reveal that games played in front of restricted crowds were more likely to be won by a margin of 15, 20, or 25 points than games played in front of non-restricted crowds. The results indicate similar effects for games played in an empty arena or in front of a small crowd. Implications for the NBA and other major team sports leagues are discussed.