Sports are a very large part of my life. As great as it is to play sports, there is no greater feeling than a team you are a fan of doing well. As a fan of a team in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, NCAA basketball, and NCAA football, I am watching sports year round. Whenever your team is playing a home game, you feel a lot better about your chances. I’ve always wondered why this is, though. Whether your team is home or away, it is still the same game, played the exact same way. The field/court’s have the exact same dimensions. The same amount of people are playing on both teams. The only difference is who the crowd is rooting for. This leads me to the question, “Is home field advantage really an advantage”. I am also interested in finding out why (if proven that it is an advantage) and which of the major sports home field advantage is most apparent.
First we will look the the National Football League (NFL) from 1978-2013 (8,472 games). On average, the home team scores 22.26 points per game, while the visiting team scores 19.52 points per game, which shows that the home team outscores the road team by an average of 2,74 points per game. In this span of games, the home team has won roughly 57% of all games. When looking back to the past in the four major sports (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey), we observe every league’s winning percentage of home games. Going back to 1903, home teams in the MLB have won 53.9% of all games played. In the NHL, home teams have won 55.7 of their games. In the NFL, 57.3% of all games were won by the home team. In the NBA, the home team won 60.5% of all games played. All of these sports, some more than others, show an advantage of playing on home soil. Now let’s look at a different statistic. Sbnation.com formulated a statistic showing the additional percentage of games a team could have won if every game they played was a home game. The NBA leads all of the major sports, with a percentage of 10.11. The next closest is the NFL, where they would have won 6.1% of extra games had they all been at home. Following the NFL is the MLB at 5.46, which is then followed by the NHL at 5.22. All of these percentages are positive, meaning that every team would have won more games had they played all of their games on their home field.
As much of an impact as home field advantage has on pro sports, the impact it has on college sports are even more. In NCAA basketball, the median winning percentage for teams at home is a staggering 67.62%. This means that half of the 351 college basketball teams had a win percentage higher than this value, and half had a win percentage lower than this value. When we look at the 2010 and 2011 college football seasons, we see that home teams won 62.8% of their games. College football and college basketball are the two main NCAA sports watched by fans across the country, and both of these sports have higher win percentages at home than any pro sports.
So, after reviewing statistics of six major US sports leagues, it is evident that home field advantage is, in fact, a legitimate thing. In every league, the win percentage at home is above .500, while the winning percentage on the road is below 500.
Why is home field advantage real, though?
There are many reasons why home field advantage is though of as being a real advantage. The obvious reason is the fan support. When playing at home, you have an entire stadium cheering for you. This provides a lot of confidence for the home team, and a lot of nerves for the away team. Look at Penn State football for an example. When we host Ohio State this weekend, the stadium will be filled with 107,000 people, all wearing white supporting penn state. As a visiting team, winning in an environment like this is not an easy thing to do. When the stadium is roaring, the visiting team can often not hear each other talk, which hurts their ability to call plays. There are many other effects off the field that help out a team’s performance. One is just the comfort of your own home. When you are playing at home, you live in your own house, with your family, and get to sleep in your own bed. On the road, you have to stay in a hotel. Also, road teams often have to fly to the game which tires them out, while the home team does not have to go anywhere. The last major advantage of home field is the officiating. Although this is not supposed to happen, there is often a home field bias. If the referee has a difficult decision to make, they will often make it where it benefits the home team.