Rethinking Home Field Advantage

Everyone seems to have a theory about home field advantage. Here’s one you haven’t heard before. 

Freakonomics says it’s the referees. There is probably some truth to this, but what about sports that do not have referees? Since 1983, the host team has won the Ryder Cup 70% of the time. So there is something else at play here.

There are more fouls in important games. But why? If we say that the referees are so crucial to the game outcomes, it’s probably because there is more pressure on them. FiveThirtyEight’s blog did a piece about the home advantage playoff “boost.” Strangely enough, hockey does not get a boost at all.

In baseball, playing at home is only gives you a 2.6% edge.  That’s really low if you’re thinking that crowd, umpires, and atmosphere play a major role here. Not to mention the added advantage of the home team batting last.

Soccer has the best home field advantage of any mainstream sport. The home team wins 49% of the time, and the away team only wins 29% of the time. Draws make up the other 22%.

Also worth noting, Denver athletics have the top home field advantage in every sport [Except hockey. Calgary has the highest advantage in hockey, and has an altitude of 3500 feet]. So altitude definitely plays a role here. 

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It’s clear that it’s the sports. Not the franchises.

So why the huge difference between home field advantage in soccer and basketball?

Being similar endurance sports, you’d expect similar results. The home team in soccer wins 49% of the time, the away team wins 29% of the time, and they draw 22% of the time. If we say that half of the draws are wins, and half are losses you get a home field advantage right on par with that of basketball [8%-10%].

Why doesn’t home field advantage in baseball matter much at all? 

Home advantage in baseball is under 3%. That’s almost a fair game. Take a look at the endurance athletes, that make decisions that impact the play of the game. It’s the pitchers, and they have much less control over a game than a quarterback does on a football field.  Not to mention, they may be pulled before they complete the game for match ups , poor performance, or if they just didn’t have good “stuff” that day. So even if pitchers had a decent control over the action, they may only throw for a couple innings.

Your batters and fielders in baseball are your speed and strength guys. They are less effected by the environment, and translate better to road games.

What conclusions can we make here? 

The main decision makers in the game, what type of athletes are they? If they are endurance athletes, home field advantage is much greater. For example, take the quarterbacks of the NFL. They are going to be the individuals most effected by the change in environment, and since they basically run the show, it’s a much more dramatic home field advantage.

In soccer and basketball, most of the athletes are endurance athletes and decision makers. The new environment has a small but measurable impact in the athletes, changing their timing, essentially. This is why the warm up is essential, even to players who have been at it their whole lives. Conditions are never exactly the same.

Your speed/strength athletes will be effected much less by the conditions. If you’re strong at sea level, you’re strong at 5000 feet. But timing is much more complicated than that. A basketball shot isn’t about how far you can shoot or how high you can jump. It’s a very precise, fluid motion. There’s a lot more room for error around the rim, so your “bigs” in basketball should be less effected by the environment. 

Translating this to football, the majority of the athletes are speed and strength guys. So naturally, the sport is much less effected by home field advantage. The quarterbacks are the athletes most affected by the new environment, and because in most NFL games they play a major role in the outcome, it comes to reason that home field advantage should be close behind soccer and basketball. Obviously, this line of thought has its limitations. Alabama has the biggest, fastest, and strongest players in college football, so the quarterback really doesn’t matter.

The sport is the most important factor in determining the strength of your home field advantage. The nature of the athletes controlling play is more important than altitude or the referees in determining how many wins you have at home. 

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_advantage
  2. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/in-126-years-english-football-has-seen-13475-nil-nil-draws/
  3. https://deadspin.com/which-teams-in-each-sport-have-the-biggest-home-field-a-1828880402
  4. https://statsbylopez.netlify.com/post/playing-at-home/
  5. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-home-playoff-game-is-a-big-advantage-unless-you-play-hockey/
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/sports/soccer/12score.html
  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2012/07/25/home-field-advantage/#6598fad73fdc
  8. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.sbnation.com/platform/amp/tennis/2013/8/9/4599096/tennis-home-court-advantage-us-open
  9. https://www.sbnation.com/2011/1/19/1940438/home-field-advantage-sports-stats-data
  10. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cbssports.com/fantasy/baseball/news/home-away-splits-factor-into-making-fantasy-pitching-decisions—but-theres-a-twist/amp/
  11. https://www.google.com/amp/s/gizmodo.com/the-surprising-way-jet-lag-impacts-major-league-basebal-1791521616/amp
  12. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.isportsweb.com/2016/06/29/mlb-analytics-statistical-discrepancies-home-away-games/amp/
  13. http://review.chicagobooth.edu/magazine/spring-2014/home-field-advantage-the-facts-and-the-fiction
  14. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1604854-how-much-does-home-field-advantage-matter-in-soccer
  15. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1520496-how-important-is-home-court-advantage-in-the-nba
  16. https://www.numberfire.com/nfl/news/7490/the-best-home-and-road-quarterbacks-of-2015