Home-Field Advantage

Home-field advantage, an often overlooked variable in sports, is where the home team has an edge over the opposition before the game even begins. The fans rally behind the home team creating a supportive environment, which aids their performance.

The audience plays a huge role in home-field advantage.  First, most of the hometown fans are rooting and cheering for their team.  The psychological effect of noise is monumental and can drastically change the outcome of a game.  Opposing players can be intimidated and rattled by booing and heckling from fans.  These actions distract the players from focusing on the game, which affects their performance.

The home of “the 12th man” is Century Link Field, the Seattle Seahawks’ stadium, where thousands of extremely loud fans inspire their players. The Seattle Seahawks’ fans take pride in this name, and they can be partially attributed to the Seahawks’ undefeated home game record in 2012.  On average, there are 2.36 false starts per game at Centurylink Field, which is 0.63 more false starts per game than the next contender since 2005.

On November 27, 2005, the Seahawks outlasted the New York Giants in an overtime thriller.  Thanks to the Seahawks’ fans, the Giants had eleven false starts and three missed field goals.  Their coach, Mike Holmgren, dedicated the game ball to the 12th Man vocal support.  No wonder the Seahawks fans are so well known.

On January 8, 2011, the Seahawks played the Saints in a closely contested playoff game, when an earthquake struck the stadium.  Well, not exactly an earthquake, but seismic activity was spotted by researchers during Marshawn Lynch’s 67 yard touchdown run in which he broke nine tackles.  This famous run is known as “Beast Quake,” because of the tremor that the fans created from screaming and shouting in response to Lynch’s run.

To test how loud Seahawks fans were, two sideline reporters tried talking to each other without their headphones during a game.  Just a couple of feet apart, the two commentators appeared to be mouthing vigorously at each other.  Neither one of them were able to hear the slightest sound from the other.  This test proved beyond reasonable doubt that the 12th man can really affect players’ communication abilities.

On December 2, 2013, the fans at Centurylink erupted into cheer and were recorded at 137.6 decibels.  To put this number into perspective, a normal conversation is 50 decibels and one can get severe hearing damage at 100 decibels.  All you need is 150 decibels to rupture one’s eardrum, and the fans were just 12.4 decibels away!

But, to your surprise this is not the record. The Kansas City Chiefs fans recorded an astounding 142.2 decibels on September 29, 2014 against the Patriots. The Chiefs have traded the world record of loudest crowd roar in sports stadiums with the Seahawks four times.

Lesser forms of an electric crowds appear all the time in sports, and these fans help encourage their players to play better and rise to the occasion.

Venues are huge factors in home-field advantage.  Climate, altitude, and travelling also affect away team’s players because they are not used to the conditions.

“Mile High Stadium,” the home of the Denver Broncos, affects the opposition because of the extremely high altitude.  The players encounter difficulty in breathing, which leads to them being uncomfortable, and inevitably causes costly mistakes.

A Russian soccer team, based in Kazan, Russia, hosted an Israeli team in the 2010 UEFA Europa League during the month of February.  In Kazan the average temperature during the winter is about 10 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 50 degrees in Israel.  The Israeli team was unable to successfully acclimate to the cold weather and lost their match 0-3.

Travelling is a disadvantage to the away teams.  Players are tired after long bus rides and plane flights, which produces poor performances in their sports.  If a star player gets a bad night’s sleep before their big game because the hotel’s bed is stiff and hard, it results in a poor performance from the player.  On the other hand, players of the home team can sleep in their own beds where they are comfortable.

Another example of home-field advantage is the Milwaukee Bucks basketball court.  Robert Indiana gave the Bucks an advantage at home by designing a very slick basketball court.  This court is so fast that opposing teams would try to get used to it by going to Milwaukee early to practice on the court, so come game time, their players would not slip as often.

In “America’s pastime,” baseball, home-field advantage gives the home team “last licks.”  This means that the home team gets to bat second every inning, so in the final inning, the home team knows what they have to accomplish in order to win.  Home teams win 54% of their games in Major League Baseball largely because of “last licks.”

A 2006 study by The Times revealed that in the English Premier League (EPL), home teams score 37.29% more goals than the opponents.  Moreover, six World Cup winning countries hosted the event the year they won the cup.

Sport NFL NHL MLB NBA EPL
Home Team Win % 57.3% 55.7%1 53.9%1 60.5%1 40%
Away Team Win % 42.7% 44.3% 46.1% 39.5% 30%

These numbers are a lot smaller than they used to be, though the home team still has a significant advantage. The NFL and NBA lead the field in win percentage of home teams with both at about a 20% difference.

The NHL and MLB do not have the most prevalent home field advantage out of the major sports, but their still is a significant advantage.

In the English Premier League, the other 30% of outcomes were ties. Now you may be thinking that soccer home field advantage is most prevalent in soccer than in other sports, but these statistics don’t match that. If you calculate only match results where a team won, the home team triumphed about 57% of the time, so home-field advantage still plays a large role in soccer.

Not only is home field advantage widespread in professional sports, but also at the collegiate level. College football and basketball both have huge fan turnouts energizing their teams to compete harder.

Astoundingly, NCAA Men’s basketball has an outrageously high home team win percentage at about 67%. Only 13 teams out of 351 Division 1 programs have a losing record at home, and 149 schools win over 70% of the time. This means that college basketball home court advantage is much greater and more significant than any major pro sports league.

Home-field advantage does not have as big of an effect in college football, but the home team still wins 60% of the time topping the NFL, which is at about 57%. With only about 12 games in a season, each college football program needs every opportunity it can get to win games, so being the home team is a huge boost.

Home-field advantage is a huge part of college sports, and even more so than for the professionals. Basketball has the highest win percentages at home compared to any other sport, and football comes in at a close second. It does not affect the other sports as much, but still plays a pivotal role in all sports.

In conclusion, home-field advantage plays an important role in the outcome of sporting events, and benefits the home team immensely.  Teams struggle to gain this edge for the playoffs when each individual game matters.  However, being the home team does not guarantee a victory.  While this fact is true, home-field advantage can even help the worst team defeat the best team, as seen this year when the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Golden State Warriors, who were expecting to easily win their twenty-fifth game in a row.  Again and again, the home team has an advantage even when the odds are stacked against them.

Watch my commentary on this article here: The Effects of Home Field Advantage

[1] http://www.thefixisin.net/homefield.html

[2] http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/home-field-advantage-english-premier-league/

[3] http://rpiratings.com/homecourtrec.php

[4] https://sites.google.com/site/sportsalgorithmresearch/football-statistics/home-field-advantage-college-football

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