Sunday, March 16, 2008


Home field advantage?

I’ve never understood the idea that the “home team” has any “advantage” in a sporting event, for being at its home field, or court, or stadium, or arena. One might say that that’s because I’m not much of a “sports” kind of guy, and so I don’t know these things, but it’s really never made sense to me. I play volleyball now, and have played other sports in the past, and I know that I play the best I can regardless of where I’m playing.

People have told me that the advantage come from the support of the fans, or because they “know the field” better, but can that really be it? One would think that major sporting venues would be pretty much standardized, at least as to the playing field, and that any differences would be known by all teams over time. And wouldn’t any pump-up that can be attributed to cheering fans of one team be counterbalanced by extra “adrenaline” in the other team, in a desire to give an “Up yours!” to the home team and their fans?

Well, wouldn’t you figure: a couple of guys in Germany have actually studied it, and written a paper (summary in New Scientist, abstract, full paper (PDF)).

Some excerpts from the paper, which is generally chock full of mathematics:

In typical soccer reports one can read that a team is particularly strong at home (or away) or that it is particularly successful in scoring goals (or has a particularly good defense) and that it is just playing a positive series (Lauf in German) or a negative series. Here we show that the actual data do not support all of these pieces of common knowledge of a soccer fan.


It will turn out that there is indeed no additional team-specific home fitness. In contrast, the concept of the goal fitness can be backed up by the data, but only as a minor effect.


Whenever a team plays better at home than expected (in terms of its ∆GH - ∆GA) this effect can be fully explained in terms of the natural statistical fluctuations, inherent in soccer matches.

And then this, from the concluding discussion:
Probably, for a typical soccer fan also this statistical analysis will not change the belief that, e.g., his/her support will give the team the necessary impetus to the next goal and finally to a specific home fitness. Thus, there may exist a natural, maybe even fortunate, tendency to ignore some objective facts about professional soccer. We hope, however, that the present analysis may be of relevance to those who like to see the systematic patterns behind a sports like soccer. Naturally, all concepts discussed in this work can be extended to different types of sports.

Well, there we go. My guess about the lore of the “home field advantage” is that it derives from confirmation bias: the fans tend to remember the home wins, and forget the home losses.


nina said...

You know, sometimes you just take the fun out of stuff. And I'm not even a sports fan.

Barry Leiba said...

Oh, well, poo-poo on you, then! Wait 'til you see today's post....

briwei said...

In some sports, there is a tangible advantage to playing at home versus playing away. Take football, for example. It's common strategy for the home crowd to make a lot of noise when the visiting team is trying to snap the ball. If someone moves too early on the offense because they didn't hear the count correctly, they get a penalty and it becomes harder for them to score.

I'll grant you it is not a decisive advantage and not likely to enable a bad team to beat a good team on a regular basis. But it is enough of an edge to spell the difference between two evenly matched teams.

There are similar examples to varying degrees in other sports. Perhaps I should apply for a grant to extend their research.