Home advantage

Home advantage

In team sports, the term home advantage (also called home field/court/diamond/ice advantage) describes the advantage–usually a psychological advantage–that the home team is said to have over the visiting team as a result of playing in familiar facilities and in front of supportive fans. The term is also widely used in "best-of" playoff formats (e.g., best-of-seven) as being given to the team that is scheduled to play one more game at home than their opponent if all necessary games are played.

In many sports, such designations may also apply to games played at a neutral site; as the rules of various sports make different provisions for home and visiting teams. In baseball, for instance, the team designated the home team bats second in each inning, whereas the "visiting" team bats first.


Advantages of being the home team

In most team sports, the home or hosting team is considered to have a significant advantage over the visitors. Due to this, many important games (such as playoff or elimination matches) in many sports have special rules for determining what match is played where. In association football, matches with two legs, one game played in each team's "home", are common. It is also common to hold important games at a neutral site. In many team sports in North America (including baseball, basketball, and ice hockey), playoff series are often held with a nearly equal number of games at each team's site. However, as it is usually beneficial to have an odd number of matches in a series (to prevent ties), the final home game is often awarded to the team that had the most success over the regular season. In most sports, this tends to be a significant advantage which can be decisive.

A good example of home field or home court advantage exists in NBA basketball where the home team in deciding games has won 78 of 97 contests up until the second round of the 2007 Playoffs.(*CITATION NEEDED) Another example is UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League home and away legs, with weaker teams often beating the favourites when playing at home. The World Cup victories of Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966), Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1998) are all in part attributed to the fact that the World Cup was held in the winner's country. A 2006 study by The Times found that in the English Premiership, a home team can be expected to score 37.29% more goals than the away team, though this changes depending on the quality of the teams involved.

In recognition of the difficulty in winning away matches, cup competitions in association football often invoke the away goals rule. Away goals can also sometimes be used to separate teams level on points and goal difference in league competitions.

Causes of home advantage

Factors related to the location and the venue

There are many causes to home advantage ranging from crowd involvement to travel considerations to environmental factors. The most-commonly cited factors of home advantage are usually ones whose advantageous effects are difficult to measure and thus even their existence is debated. Most of these are psychological in nature, such as familiarity with the playing grounds, the ability for participants to lodge in their homes rather than in a hotel, less likelihood of travel immediately prior to the game, and the psychological support of the fans in attendance.

Other factors, however, are easier to detect and can have noticeable effects on the outcome of the game. In American football, for instance, the crowd often makes as much noise as it can when the visiting team is about to run a play. This can make it very difficult for the visiting team's quarterback to call audible play changes, or for any player to hear the snap count. In basketball, when a visiting player is making a free throw, home fans behind the backboard typically wave their arms or other objects in an attempt to break the visiting player's focus on making the shot. Environmental factors such as weather and altitude are easy to measure, yet their effects are debatable as both teams have to play in the same conditions. However, the home team may be more acclimated to local conditions with difficult environments such as extremely warm or cold weather, or high altitude (such as the case of the Denver Broncos).

The stadium or arena will typically be filled with home supporters, who are sometimes described as being as valuable as an extra player for the home team. The home fans can sometimes create a psychological lift by cheering loudly for their team when good things happen in the game. The home crowd can also intimidate visiting players by booing, whistling, or heckling. Generally the home fans vastly outnumber the visiting team's supporters. While the visiting fans may travel to attend the game, home team fans will generally have better access to tickets and easier transport to the event. In some sports such as association football, sections of the stadium will be reserved for supporters of one team or the other (to prevent fan violence), but the home team's fans will have the bulk of the seating available to them. In addition, stadium/arena light shows, sound effects, fireworks, cheerleaders, and other means to enliven the crowd will be in support of the home team. Stadium announcers in many sports will emphasise the home team's goals and lineup to excite the crowd.

Ryan Boyko, a research assistant in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, studied 5,000 English Premier League games from 1992 to 2006, to discern any officiating bias and the influence of home crowds. The data was published in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggested that for every additional 10,000 people attending, home team advantage increased by 0.1 goals. Additionally, his study proved what many football fans already suspect, that home teams are likely to be awarded more penalty kicks, but crucially, this is more likely with inexperienced referees. So building referee profiles can clearly be a very telling refinement for HFA figures.[1]

There are also factors having to do with players being accustomed to peculiar environmental conditions of their home area. The city of Denver, being a mile (1609 m) above sea level, has thinner air; enough so that it affects the stamina of athletes whose bodies are not used to it. Although baseball is less aerobically demanding than most other sports, high altitude affects that sport's gameplay in several important ways. Denver's combination of altitude and a semi-arid climate (the city averages only about 16 in/400 mm precipitation annually) allows fly balls to travel about 10% farther than at sea level, and also slightly reduces the ability of pitchers to throw effective breaking balls. The low humidity also causes baseballs to dry out, making it harder for pitchers to grip them and further reducing their ability to throw breaking balls. Consequently, the Colorado Rockies have a very large home advantage, with a 30% better home than away record. This anomaly has been countered with Colorado's innovative use of humidors to keep the baseballs from drying out. [1] The national association football team of Bolivia also enjoys the advantage of playing at high altitude: at home during World Cup qualifiers at the even more extreme 3,600 m (11,800 ft) altitude of La Paz they have even been known to beat Brazil, a team regularly ranked number one in the FIFA World Rankings. More recently, Bolivia beat Argentina, who were ranked sixth in the world, 6–1 on April 1, 2009, Argentina's heaviest defeat since 1958.[2]

The weather can also play a major factor. For example, the February average temperature minimum in Tel Aviv, Israel is 50°F, while the average at the same time in Kazan, Russia is 10°F, with snow being common. This means that when Rubin Kazan played at home to Hapoel Tel Aviv in the 2009-10 UEFA Europa League, Hapoel needed to acclimatize and were therefore at a disadvantage. Hapoel duly lost the match 3-0

Sometimes the unique attributes of a stadium create a home-field advantage. The unique off-white Teflon-coated roof of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome traps and reflects noise to such an extent that it can become distracting or even harmful. This, combined with the color of the roof, can cause opposing baseball players to commit more errors in the Dome than in other ballparks. While this is no longer an issue for opponents of the Minnesota Twins with that team's 2010 move to the open-air Target Field, it remains important to the many college baseball teams that play games in the Dome today. The parquet floor at the Boston Celtics' former home of Boston Garden contained many defects, which were said to give the Celtics, who were more likely to be familiar with the playing surface, an advantage. During the 1985–1986 season, the Larry Bird-led Celtics posted a home court record of 40-1; this record still stands in the NBA. Memorial Gymnasium, the venue for men's and women's basketball at Vanderbilt University, was built in 1952 with the team benches at the ends of the court instead of along one of the sidelines, a setup that was not unusual at the time. However, the configuration is now unique in U.S. major-college sports, and has been said to give Vandy an edge because opposing coaches are not used to directing their teams from the baseline.

Sports Illustrated, in a 17 January 2011 report, reported that home crowds, rigor of travel for visiting teams, scheduling, and unique home field characteristics, were not factors in giving home teams an advantage. The journal concluded that it was favorable treatment by game officials and referees that conferred advantages on home teams. Sports Illustrated stated that sports officials are unwittingly and psychologically influenced by home crowds and the influence is significant enough to effect the outcomes of sporting events in favor of the home team.[3]

Factors related to the game rules

There also exist some advantages for the home team which are actually written into the rules of the game. In ice hockey, during stoppages of play, the home team is allowed to make player substitutions after the visiting team, allowing them to obtain favorable player matchups. This rule makes the home team designation important even in tournament games played on neutral ice. Also, when lining up for each faceoff, the away team's centre must place his stick on the ice before the centre of the home team. This gives the home team's centre the ability to time the faceoff better and gives him greater odds of winning the faceoff.

In baseball, the home team gets to bat last in each inning. If the game goes into extra innings, this can yield very real advantages when deciding strategies regarding base-stealing and sacrifice hits. In addition, in Major League Baseball, the home league's rules concerning the designated hitter are followed during interleague games, including the World Series. This puts AL teams at a disadvantage when they play in NL parks, as AL pitchers are typically not used to having to bat. NL teams at AL parks are at a disadvantage because a player who does not play often will have to bat an entire game, usually on consecutive nights. The NL team's DH is a pinch-hitter who bats perhaps once every two or three games during the season, or alternates in a platoon system with other players (such as a catcher who does not start because the starting pitcher uses the other catcher), while the AL team's DH bats three or four times a game throughout the season.

In baseball, there is always a psychological home advantage when the game is tied or close in the 9th or in extra innings. The visiting team, if they are leading after batting in their half of the inning (the top), must face and record three outs against the home team in order to finish off and win the game. But the home team, upon scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 9th or an extra inning, wins in sudden death without having to take the field defensively following their period at bat. If the home team is in the lead following the top of the 9th, the game ends at this point, and the bottom of the 9th is not played at all. There is no clear-cut, physical advantage because both teams are given the same number of opportunities (i.e. innings). The advantage is knowing how well you have to perform in the last inning, if at all.

For games at home, the hosting team will have the advantage of playing with their first choice uniform/kit, rather than their alternate colors. A team's identity is often partly or mostly based on its home colors (for example, the All Blacks of New Zealand). In Major League Baseball, by tradition a team's home uniform has the team name on it (i.e. "Twins", "Mets", "Braves") and is typically white in color, while its away uniform has the name of its home city, state or region on it ("Minnesota", "New York", "Atlanta") and is grey or is the "dark" jersey (features the team's colors), although the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies have long followed an opposing tradition by wearing the team nickname on both the home and away jerseys. A recent innovation in baseball is the "Sunday" alternate uniform, which is the same color for both home and away games. Regardless, all members of a team wear the same uniform (home, away or alternate) in each game. In one early-season 2006 game, the Minnesota Twins, in the middle of a vicious slump, played in their batting practice uniforms.

Gaining or losing home-field advantage

During the regular season for a sport, in the interest of fairness, schedulers try to ensure that each team plays an equal number of home and away games. Thus, having home-field advantage for any particular regular-season game is largely due to random chance. However, in playoffs, home advantage is usually given to the team with the better regular-season record. One exception to this is Major League Baseball, which since 2003 has awarded home-field advantage in the World Series to the team representing the league which won the All-Star Game that year, to help raise interest in the All-Star Game after a tie in 2002. Prior to 2003, home-field advantage alternated each year between the National League and the American League. In MLB's first and second round of playoffs, home-field advantage is given to the team with the better record if both teams are division champions, and to the division champion if one of the teams is a wild card. For the first round in the NFL and NHL playoffs, home advantage is given to the team with a higher seed (which may or may not have the better record). The NBA is the only league that has home-court advantage based solely on which team has the best record (using various tiebreakers to settle the question should the teams finish with identical records). Rugby union's Heineken Cup also uses a seeding system to determine home advantage in the quarterfinals (though not in the semifinals, where the nominal "home" teams[4] are determined by a blind draw).

In many sports, playoffs consist of a series of games played between two teams. These series are usually a best-of-5 or best-of-7 format, where the first team to win 3 or 4 games, respectively, wins the playoff. Since these best-of series always involve an odd number of games, it is impossible to guarantee that an equal number of games will be played at each team's home venue. As a result, one team must be scheduled to have one more home game than the other. This team is said to have home-field advantage for that playoff series.

During the course of these playoff series, however, sports announcers or columnists will sometimes mention a team "gaining" or "losing" home-field advantage. This can happen after a visiting team has just won a game in the series. In playoff series format, the home-field advantage is said to exist for whichever team would win the series if all remaining games in the series are won by the home team for that game. Therefore, it is possible for a visiting team to win a game and, hence, gain home-field advantage. This is somewhat similar to the concept of losing serve in tennis.

As an example, suppose that a blue team and red team are about to play a best-of-seven series against each other. Four games will be played at blue's venue, while three will be played at red's venue. If the home team were to win each game, then blue would win four games, red would win three games, and blue would win the series, so we say that blue has the home-field advantage. However, suppose that the first game is played at blue's venue and the visiting red team wins. Red now has one win, and there are three games remaining at each venue. If the home team wins each of the remaining games, then red will have won four games, while blue will have won three. Since red would win the series in such a scenario, it is said that red has taken home-field advantage away from blue.

In some cup competitions, (for example the FA Cup in all rounds prior to the semi-final), home advantage is determined by a random drawing. However if the initial match is drawn (tied), home advantage for the replay is given to the other team.

Neutral venues

For certain sporting events, home advantage may be removed by use of a neutral venue. This may be a national stadium that is not a home stadium to any club (for example Wembley Stadium hosts the FA Cup Final and semi-finals). Alternatively the neutral venue may be the home stadium of another club, such as was used historically to stage FA Cup semi-finals. If the venue is chosen before the start of the competition however, it is still possible for one team to gain home field advantage: in the 1984 European Cup Final for example, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome was chosen as the venue well in advance of the start of that season's competition. Thus when AS Roma reached the final they were able to play the match in their own stadium.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ BBC (2007-05-06). "Study Reveals Referees' Home Bias". BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/6629397.stm. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  2. ^ Baynes, Dan (2 April 2009). "Argentina Loses 6-1 to Bolivia in Biggest Soccer Loss Since ’58". http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601086&sid=arDYSDfu9SEw&refer=latin_america. Retrieved 14 June 2010. "Striker Joaquin Botero scored three goals in La Paz yesterday as Argentina slumped to its heaviest defeat since losing by the same score to Czechoslovakia at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden." 
  3. ^ Moskowitz, Tobias J., and L. Jon Wertheim, "What's Really Behind Home Field Advantage", Sports Illustrated, 17 January 2011, pp. 65–72.
  4. ^ Heineken Cup rules regarding semifinal venues are:
    • The venue cannot be a team's normal home ground.
    • It must have a capacity of at least 20,000.
    • It must be held in the same country as the team drawn as "home". However, exceptions have been allowed. Most notably, French club Biarritz Olympique, located less than 20 kilometres (12 mi) from the Spanish border, have been allowed to take semifinals across the border to Estadio Anoeta in Donostia-San Sebastián, which is far closer to Biarritz than any acceptable ground in France.


Further reading

  • Repanich, Jeremy (January 27, 2011). "Scorecasting Tackles Sports’ Biggest Myths". Playbook: The Wired World of Sports (wired.com). Condé Nast Digital. Retrieved 2011-02-21. (Interview with L. Jon Wertheim, about his and Tobias J. Moskowitz's book, Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won, including "notions of home-field advantage".)

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