Home Advantage

The association of being at home with feelings of increased physical comfort, safety, and psychological  well-being  are  reflected  in  a  wealth  of  popular  expressions  and  sayings,  such  as  Home  free; Home  is  where  the  heart  is;  East–west,  home  is best;  Home  sweet  home;  There’s  no  place  like home.  Thus,  it  is  hardly  surprising  that  the  term home advantage has been adopted in sport to represent two related phenomena—both of which are founded on the belief that a team’s own park, stadia, or venue is, indeed, a good place in which to compete.

One  phenomenon  pertains  to  (for  lack  of  a better  term)  competition  location.  In  most  professional  sports  in  North  America,  for  example, teams play a full schedule of regular season games to  determine  final  league  standings.  Those  teams ranking higher in the final standings are awarded one extra competition in their home venue in every 3-, 5-, or 7-game playoff series. That extra opportunity to compete at home is referred to as a home advantage  (e.g.,  “New  York  will  have  the  home advantage  in  its  playoff  series  against  Boston”). If the team happens to lose one of its extra competitions at home, it is said to have lost its home advantage.  Although  competition  location  can represent  a  home  advantage,  it  does  not  always turn out to provide that advantage. For example, in the first round of the National Hockey League (NHL)  playoffs  in  2010,  home  teams  won  22 games  and  lost  27  games;  in  2011,  they  won  23 games  and  lost  26  games.  So,  certainly  from  the perspective  of  competition  location,  home  teams in those 2 years were not able to capitalize on their home advantage.

A  second  phenomenon,  flowing  directly  from the  first,  pertains  to  probability  for  a  successful outcome. In almost every instance where large sets of  data  have  been  examined—for  team  and  individual  sports,  for  female  and  male  competitors, for  international  competitions  between  nations, for  athletes  and  teams  from  across  the  age  and experience spectrum—the home competitors have had a superior winning percentage that is beyond chance (discussion of these findings in the section that follows).

During the 2011–2012 NHL season, ice-hockey fans  closely  followed  the  Detroit  Red  Wings  as they  obtained  an  exceptional  75.6%  success  rate at  home.  In  their  41  home  games,  they  won  an NHL-high  of  31,  including  a  league-record  23 straight.  This  success  rate  is  atypical,  of  course, but does serve to illustrate an exceptional instance of home advantage.

In this entry, discussion of the home advantage phenomenon is limited to results pertaining to an increased  probability  for  a  successful  outcome. To this end, discussion is focused on the extent of the home advantage in team and individual sports over  a  variety  of  contexts  and  the  explanations that have been advanced by fans, the media, athletes, and sport scientists to help explain its causes. Also,  the  implications  of  competing  at  home  for the psychological states and behaviors of athletes and coaches are examined.

The Extent of the Home Advantage

In almost every sport examined, teams have better results when they compete at home. In professional sport, for example, over a recent 5-year period, the winning percentage was 53.7% in baseball, 61.0% in English football (soccer), 54.6% in ice hockey, 58.2%   in   American   football,   and   61.0%   in basketball.

In  most  sports  examined,  athletes  competing individually  also  have  superior  results  when  they compete  in  their  home  territory.  For  example,  in World Cup Alpine Skiing, skiers competing in their home  country  on  average  improved  16%  from where they were seeded going into the race to where they  actually  finished.  Interestingly,  professional golf and tennis are the only two individual sports where a home advantage has not been found.

In terms of international competitions, there also seems to be evidence of a home advantage for host countries in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games,  as  well  as  the  Fédération  Internationale de  Football  Association  (International  Federation of Association Football; FIFA) World Cup. In the case  of  the  Winter  Olympics,  for  example,  host countries  showed  an  average  improvement  of about  four  medals  over  the  previous  Olympiad. The only host country in the history of the Winter Olympics  that  failed  to  improve  was  Italy  (in Torino in 2006); it won 11 medals compared to 13 in Salt Lake City in 2002.

In  the  case  of  the  Summer  Olympics,  host nations show an average improvement of approximately five medals over their previous Olympiad. This   respectable   improvement,   however,   is dwarfed  by  China’s  performance  in  the  2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing; China improved its medal count by 37 (for a total of 100 medals) from Athens in 2004.

The  FIFA  World  Cup  has  also  yielded  results that seem to show that host nations benefit from competing  at  home.  The  first  World  Cup  took place  in  Uruguay  in  1930  and  there  have  been 19  competitions  every  4  years  since;  the  most recent  World  Cup  was  in  2010  in  South  Africa. There  were  no  tournaments  in  1942  and  1946. The host nation has reached the semi-finals in 12 of  19  tournaments,  the  finals  in  8  of  19  tournaments, and has won 6 out of 19 times. (Given that FIFA  is  now  making  an  effort  to  provide  a  host opportunity  to  countries  and  regions  that  based on  their  world  rankings  have  minimal  chance  of winning a medal [e.g., United States, 1994; South Africa,  2010],  the  overall  results  are  impressive from a home advantage perspective.) The six host countries  that  have  won  the  FIFA  World  Cup include  Uruguay  (1930),  Italy  (1934),  England (1966), West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978), and France (1998). The runners-up include Brazil (1950) and Sweden (1958). Finally, Chile (1962), Italy  (1990),  and  Germany  (2006)  all  finished third when they hosted.

Causes of Home Advantage: Popular Beliefs

The benefits that accrue to host teams have given rise   to   considerable   discussion,   speculation, and  inquiries  among  fans,  athletes,  media,  and coaches about why. What are the principal factors that  underlie  the  home  advantage?  As  might  be expected, there is some overlap among the groups in the explanations advanced.

For example, crowd support was the first choice of  fans  in  one  survey  and  one  of  the  top  three choices advanced in another conducted with intercollegiate athletes. Two other choices (endorsed by athletes) were familiarity with the home court and the  elimination  of  the  need  to  travel.  The  belief that  greater  familiarity  with  the  nuances  of  the home  venue  provides  home  competitors  with  the major source of their advantage also was the top reason advanced by coaches.

After  working  for  years  as  a  sabermetrician  in major league baseball (sabermetrics is the specialized study of baseball through objective statistics), Craig Wright, with the assistance of Tom House, a major league pitching coach, offered his appraisal. Wright and House estimated that 5% of the home advantage  is  due  to  a  psychological  lift  from  the crowd, 5% results from the advantage of batting last,  10%  is  due  to  familiarity  with  the  stadium, 10% is due to the ability of the home team to select and use personnel best suited to its home stadium, 30% is due to a regime regularity, and 40% is due to an umpire bias that favors the home team.

Causes of Home Advantage: Empirical Analyses

Figure 1 is a framework Albert Carron, Todd M. Loughead, and Steven R. Bray offered to systematically examine the home advantage. As a starting point, they proposed that the location of the competition  (home  vs.  away)  differentially  influences four  main  factors—the  degree  of  crowd  support (and  through  crowd  support,  possible  favorable officiating  decisions),  the  need  to  travel,  learned familiarity  with  the  venue,  and  some  rule  advantages (e.g., batting last in baseball).

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Figure 1  Conceptual Framework of the Home Advantage

Game Location Factors

As  is  the  case  with  many  areas  of  scientific inquiry, results from studies examining the nuances of each of the game location factors have been consistent in some cases but have shown mixed results in  the  case  of  other  factors.  For  example,  studies that have examined the influence of the rules factor have been consistent; the home team does not have an advantage from the rules.

Insofar  as  crowd  support  is  concerned,  the results  have  been  mixed.  At  the  risk  of  oversimplification,  the  following  generalizations  seem reasonable:

  • Absolute crowd size is generally unrelated to the home advantage.
  • Crowd density is consistently positively related to the home advantage.
  • The nature of crowd behavior (i.e., booing versus cheering the home team) has no consistent influence on the home advantage.
  • Laboratory studies have shown that the home crowd has an influence on officiating decisions (i.e., home teams receive more favorable calls). However, field studies and archival research have not supported these results. In well controlled studies, there is no evidence that crowd support produces more favorable officiating for the home team.

The  need  for  a  visiting  team  to  travel  to  compete  has  also  received  a  great  deal  of  research attention. Again, the results are mixed. At the risk of oversimplification, the following generalizations seem reasonable:

  • Distance traveled (e.g., a 120-mile trip to compete versus a 100-mile trip to compete) does not influence the visiting team’s disadvantage (and, of course, the home team’s advantage).
  • The duration of the road trip does not influence the visiting team’s disadvantage in professional basketball and baseball. In professional ice hockey, visiting teams are less successful in the initial games of a road trip.
  • Travel across time zones can be a source of disadvantage for visiting teams. The adage “traveling west is best” does seem to have some validity. Professional teams traveling from western to eastern regions of North America are at a greater disadvantage than teams traveling from the east westward.

The  final  game  location  factor  in  the  framework  illustrated  in  Figure  1  is  the  home  team’s learned familiarity with its own venue. There are a  number  of  elements  that  fall  under  this  category; these can be categorized as either stable or unstable.  The  latter  are  elements  in  the  home team’s  environment  that  can  be  manipulated  to one’s  own  advantage.  For  example,  anecdotal accounts  in  the  media  have  reported  a  professional  baseball  team  competing  at  home  providing  excess  water  to  the  base  paths  to  reduce  the speed  advantage  possessed  by  the  visiting  team. Another  reported  a  visiting  professional  basketball  coach’s  concern  that  the  home  team  might overly inflate the balls to facilitate a higher dribble that would favors the preferences of its point guard.

Stable  elements  are  idiosyncratic  aspects  of the  home  team’s  venue.  The  Green  Monster  in Boston’s  Fenway  Park  would  be  one  example. Presumably Boston outfielders, as a result of their greater  opportunities  to  practice  and  play  in  that environment,  would  be  more  familiar  with  caroms. As another example, professional ice-hockey teams  competing  on  an  ice  surface  at  home  that is smaller or larger than the league average could benefit from increased familiarity.

The  following  generalizations  about  the  role that familiarity might play in the home advantage seem reasonable:

  • Professional soccer teams with a playing surface larger or smaller than the league average have a greater home advantage.
  • Professional baseball teams with artificial turf have a greater home advantage than those teams without artificial turf.
  • Professional baseball, basketball, and ice-hockey teams moving to a new facility (thereby temporarily losing their superior knowledge of their own venue) experience a reduction in their home advantage. This result is moderated by team quality. Teams with a superior home advantage prior to relocation (a home advantage greater than 50%) experience a temporary significant reduction. Conversely, teams with an inferior home advantage prior to relocation (a home advantage less than 50%) have a temporary significant improvement in their home advantage.

As Figure 1 illustrates, the game location factors are thought to contribute to different critical psychological states for the home versus visiting athletes and coaches.

Critical Psychological and Physiological States

There  is  relatively  consistent  evidence  that supports  the  conclusion  that  coach  and  athlete psychological  states  are  superior  when  playing  at home.  The  generalizations  that  seem  reasonable are as follows:

  • Both athletes and coaches have greater personal confidence and confidence in their team prior to competitions at their home venue.
  • Athlete emotions and mood states are superior at home. For example, cognitive and somatic anxiety, depression, tension, anger, and confusion are lower prior to a home competition.
  • Athletes feel more vulnerable at competitions held away from home because they know they will have to deal with the taunting of away fans (commonly seen in basketball).

Critical Behavioral States

As  Figure  1  illustrates,  competing  at  home versus away is also thought to have a differential influence  on  the  behaviors  of  home  versus  visiting athletes and coaches. A sense of territoriality, which refers to an animal’s occupation and defense of  a  geographical  area  where  it  feeds,  nests,  and mates, has been used to explain the home advantage. Athletes do have higher levels of testosterone prior  to  home  competitions.  They  are  thought  to compete  more  aggressively,  expend  more  effort, and persist longer.

The studies that have been carried out comparing  athlete  and  coach  behaviors  at  home  versus away contribute to the following generalizations:

  • From a strategy and tactics point of view, coaches adopt more defensive tactics for away games and more aggressive strategies for home games.
  • Home versus away teams do not differ in defensive behaviors, such as errors, shots blocked in basketball, or double plays in baseball, but home teams do exhibit more aggressive offensive behaviors like shots taken in ice hockey and basketball.
  • Home and visiting teams do not differ in number of aggressive penalties, such as penalties that have intent to injure, as their critical component.
  • Studies have found trends that away teams seem to  be  penalized  more  often  and  home  teams  get away with more. In addition, star players seem to get away with more at home.

Conclusion

The  aspect  of  group  territoriality  known  as  the home advantage has undoubtedly been one of the most  examined  phenomena  in  the  sport  context by  coaches,  athletes,  researchers,  administrators, and  consultants  alike.  Generally  speaking,  the home advantage seems to share some consistency in  prevalence  across  all  sport  types.  Although  it would  be  fair  to  say  that  while  the  home  advantage is enjoyed throughout all sport, it is not necessarily  enjoyed  by  all  teams  within  those  sports. Certain factors like team quality do moderate the effects  of  the  home  advantage.  Additionally,  it  is likely fair to assume that questions going forward surrounding the home advantage would not be to determine  whether  such  a  phenomenon  exists;  as outlined in this entry, the pervasive evidence demonstrating  a  superior  winning  percentage  for  the home team goes beyond chance. The fact that the home  advantage  has  also  been  well  documented over the last 100 years should calm any uncertainties.  Future  directions  on  investigating  the  home advantage  should  maintain  a  primary  focus  on why this phenomenon continues.

The  conceptual  framework  presented  in  this entry is intended as a useful guide to further investigation. No claim is made, however, that it encapsulates everything and all factors pertaining to the home advantage. What it does provide is a simple depiction  of  what  is  presumably  a  dynamic  construct  (in  that  it  fluctuates)  depending  on  a  wide variety  of  variables  and  factors  specific  for  each sport and each team.

References:

  1. Balmer, N. J., Nevill, A. M., & Williams, A. M. (2001). Home advantage in the Winter Olympics (1908–1998). Journal of Sports Sciences, 19, 129–139.
  2. Balmer, N. J., Nevill, A. M., & Williams, A. M. (2003). Modelling home advantage in the Summer Olympic Games. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21, 469–478.
  3. Carron, A. V., & Eys, M. A. (2012). Group dynamics in sport (4th ed.). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
  4. Carron, A. V., Loughead, T. M., & Bray, S. R. (2005). The home advantage in sport competitions: The Courneya & Carron conceptual framework a decade later. Journal of Sport Sciences, 23, 395–407.
  5. Courneya, K. S., & Carron, A. V. (1992). The home advantage in sport competitions: A literature review. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 14, 13–27.
  6. Pollard, R., & Pollard, G. (2005). Long-term trends in home advantage in professional team sports in North America and England (1876–2003). Journal of Sport Sciences, 23, 337–350.

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