Home Field Advantage

Over in this thread, http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=113631, Colibri stated that

What accounts for the difference in home field advantage among various sports?

Is it simply how close the fans are to the players?

Several factors enter into this.

For one thing, the Kings and the Mavericks will have the exact same starting lineups whether they play in Sacramento or Dallas. But baseball teams will have different starting pitchers every night, and that alone makes a baseball game a very different thing from a basketball game.

When Randy Johnson is pitching for the Diamondbacks, and he has his good stuff, it’s pretty much irrelevant whether the Diamondbacks are playing in Arizona or in San Francisco- he’s probably going to win.

It’s also worth remembering that basketball teams may have to fly to a new city, check into a hotel, get a few hours rest, then race to practice, play a game, then race to the bus, then head to the airport to fly to yet another city. The travel get wearing in a hurry. But when the Diamondbacks travel to San Francisco, they’re going to stay in San Francisco for a 3 or 4 game series. They may be tired for game 1, but they get to relax a bit more between games than basketball teams do. Jet lag and travel fatigue are less of a factor, in a longer series.

We had a thread on this some time ago. The relative home-field advantage for major-league sports is baseball<football<hockey<basketball.

My own take on it is that relative home-field advantage is correlated with how much each sport depends on concentration versus intense exertion.

Baseball, for both pitchers and batters, depends largely on focus, timing, and skill. Having the home crowd shouting support doesn’t help all that much when pitching or batting, and in fact can be almost as distracting as abuse from an enemy crowd. Exertion will help a bit on the basepaths and in running down fly balls, but that’s not as critical as hitting/pitching.

Basketball, on the other hand, depends a lot on constant intense activity - hustling down the court, rebounding, etc. Here a home crowd can spur you on to even more intensive effort. Making a shot from the field does require skill, but not nearly as much as pitching or batting. (It would be interesting to see whether there is much less home-court advantage on free throws vs. field goals).

Hockey is a lot like basketball regarding the relative contribution of skill vs. effort. Football requires a lot of effort on the part of offense and defense, but also requires skill and concentration on the part of the quarterback when passing and on kicks.

Good point. This could be part of it too. Basketball and hockey players are much more exposed to the encouragement/heckling of the crowd than baseball or football players are.

I believe there is a connection between what has been said about the fans and what I am going to say.

I heard recently that the difference in being at home and away comes from the “this is my territory” concept. So if in baseball the fans do not play as big a part then there is less of a feeling of “territory”. Also the duel between pitcher and batter is pretty much over who owns the plate, so in that sense baseball shifts the conflict in a way that it does not matter what town the teams are in.

I disagree with the idea that fans are not as involved in football. I personally hate it when the crowd gets yelling so that the opponet’s quarterback can’t call signals, but it definitely is fan participation. In any of the sports if the home team is doing so bad that it has lost the crowd, it is in trouble and probably in some cases this has a reverse effect, helping the visitors.

I wasn’t suggesting that football fans are less involved. I’m saying that because football fans are farther away from the players, and because the performance of the players depends less on pure adrenalin, the support of home fans in football has less impact on a player’s performance than it does in basketball or hockey. (And the home advantage in football is substantially less than it is in those sports.)

In some sports they’ve done studies indicating that game officials are influenced to favor the home team due to the presence of the crowd. This could be one of the reasons why there’s a bigger home advantage in basketball, where referees have to make calls quickly without consultation with other officials, whereas in football a flag can be thrown but then the officials have time to confer (and now even consult television replay if necessary) before deciding to give a penalty.

Baseball would seem to be an exception, in that it would seem to be most susceptible to being affected by the officiating (home plate umpire’s ball/strike calls) but has a small home field effect. If one buys into the crowd-intimidation-of-officials theory, though, maybe the effect is less because in baseball the fans don’t usually don’t have a major reaction to plays where umpires must make a close call until after the call is actually made. Who knows.

Where does soccer fit into this picture? IIRC, especially in international matches (such as World Cup qualifiers) there is a huge home field advantage. At least so in CONCACAF. Fans are known to encircle the opposing team’s hotel the night before and beat drums all night to keep them from sleeping. Also in many countries the opposing players can be regularly pelted with debris from the stands.

If soccer does have a big home field advantage, that would tend to fit the pattern I proposed, because it depends a lot on exertion and adrenalin - racing up and down the field. The crowd is farther from the field than it is in basketball and hockey, however.

What’s interesting is that baseball is the only sport that has an intrinsic home-field advantage. Batting second is a distinct advantage, especially in extra inning games. Then there is the factor of familiarity. An NL team in Fenway would be lost; the outfield has crazy bounces, the foul territory is oddly shaped and the guy chasing a foul is at a loss. But mainly, a team builds a lineup for its home field (and, occasionally, vice versa; Babe Ruth has already been mentioned, but then there were Kiner Gardens in Pittsburgh in the late 40s). If you are the Rockies, you are going to get a load of sinker ball pitchers and guys like Larry Walker who can benefit from an extra 25 ft on his fly balls while if you are playing in a field with lots of wide open spaces, you can have pitchers that give up a lot of flies and generally “little baseball” hitters. I wonder if teams take as much advantage of these things as they should. Of course, they have to play half their games elsewhere, but you can’t build a team for that and the other fields should average out. So why is baseball’s home team advantage so small?

As others have stated, baseball’s lack of home field advantage stems from the increased number of variables in play for each game.

There are more games played. Teams also play more than one game in a city before moving on, so they can become acclimated to the conditions in the new environment more easily.

But if you run into a team’s best pitcher, it may not matter where the game is played, you are at a disadvantage.

Outside of fan influences, you also have familiarity with your surroundings.

Football–kickers/QBs have more knowledge of wind tendencies at home

Baseball-outfielders know how the ball will carom off the wall…how the wind will affect fly balls, etc. Plus, most teams will build their team around their park(large outfield=speedy players to take advantage of the gaps, small park=ground ball pitchers and power hitters)

Basketball-although all rims are 10’… I can tell you that it takes time to get used to the backdrop behind the goal. I always loved playing in gyms with a wall close behind the goal, I hated huge open spaces behind it.

Hockey also has rules that favor the home team. The visiting player must put his stick in the circle first during a faceoff.

Also the visiting team must be the first to choose what line to send out on the ice following a stoppage of play.

There are doubtless some other rules that fall into this category, but those are the two that get mentioned the most often.

Part of the issue is the concentration/exertion thing that Colibri was talking about. Part of it is that the fans in basketball stadiums are a lot louder than the fans in baseball stadiums (I think louder is a lot more important than closer).

Another important reason is that baseball games are by nature more closely matched. Any MLB team has a good chance of beating any other team, regardless of the circumstances. This NBA season, 14 teams finished with winning percentages that were below .400 or above .600, compared with only 5 MLB teams last season. If being the worst team in baseball just means that you lose 62% of your games, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that visiting teams only lose 55% of their games.

Just a quick note about crowd noise. Baseball fans are much more likely to be relatively quiet for a good part of the game, with the occasional upswell in noise, but this is usually only when a run is scored or an exciting or close play happens. Plus, baseball has A LOT of downtime, when no action is taking place, so the fans tend to go and get another beer at the concession stand.

I’d think frequency of dates has a big influence on it.

In baseball the schedule involves,usually, a consecutive 3 or 4 game series.You’re happy with a 2 out of 3 series win,or a split in your 7-12 day road trips.

All the other sports (except for the playoffs) are a one time thing,and home should be a huge advantage.You’re sleeping in your own bed,keeping regular hours,etc.

Obviously,tho, as others stated in some sports like the NFL,some teams couldn’t show a home advantage if they bought the refs and filled the visitors shoes with lead weights.

The old St Louis Browns, Philly A’s,and Washington Senators of the late 40’s early 50s,were baseball versions of this,and the current Tiger squad is doing a respectable job of imitating this phenomenon.
Washington Senators,first in the hearts of their countrymen,last in the American league.

I spotted this AP report on the effect of the home crowd in refereeing UK soccer matches:

Wow-hadn’t thought of that, kk. It’s definitely worth taking another look at the original statistic … It looks like the home field advantage, whether in basketball or baseball, has a bit over half as much effect as relative overall playing ability. Given the skill ranges involved, that is. It would take a much more in-depth analysis to be certain, which people who like to spout off single-sentence statistics probably would not be interested in, though. :slight_smile:

Also to be taken into account is that most baseball stadiums today are constructed to the 330-foot-on-foulline/400-foot-in-center field standard specifications, but there remain things like Fenway Park’s Green Monster and Coors Stadium’s dry, thin air fostering greater prodigies of hitting.

Is the current average home field advantage in baseball smaller or larger than it was in the past?