Home-Field Advantage Is Real, and Here’s Why

Theories about home-field advantage include the crowd, travel, familiarity with the stadium and referee bias


Home-field advantage is a long-running idea in sports. The home team knows the turf, they’ve got more fans in the stands, and they got to sleep in their own beds rather than some bedbug-infested hotel. But is home-field advantage really all it’s cracked up to be?

Whether or not home-field advantage exists is a pretty easy thing to test. Broadly, the answer is yes: teams tend to win at home more than they win away. This applies in women’s sports, and some Olympic sports (when the judging is subjective). But it seems to fall apart when the games are really important.

At SB Nation, they wondered whether people were too reliant on the home-field advantage. Jon Bois crunched some numbers, and found that had they played all their games at home, NBA teams would have won 10 percent more games, NFL teams 6.4 percent more, MLB teams 5.46 percent more and NHL teams 5.22 percent more. Bois writes:

I’ll leave it for you to decide why there is a significantly greater home advantage in the NBA than in other leagues, but I do find it interesting. The NBA’s environments don’t vary in playing dimensions, as is the case in baseball, and weather isn’t a factor. The only significant variables I can think of are the quality of the crowd, and the distance teams have to travel when they’re on the road.

This jives with the research available on why the home-field advantage might exist. One study tried to figure out just what created home-field advantage, and found that while a few things seem to impact the home team, the biggest factor pushing them to win is the crowd. Another study found that booing the away team actually worked, boosting the home team’s performance and hurting the away team’s. This might not be true in soccer though – where research suggests that it is familiarity with the field and conditions and referee bias that has the biggest effect on winning at home.

Bois goes on to analyze different sports and cities, concluding that Miami teams have a terrible time at home while San Fransisco and Minneapolis–St. Paul are nightmares for away teams. Overall, despite Miami, the home-field advantage stands, and it’s probably because of the fans. So keep rooting for the home team, because you could really make a difference.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How the Football Field Was Designed, from Hash Marks to Goal Posts

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