There’s No Place Like Home

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks

Home field advantage can be defined as the psychological advantage that causes the home team to have a better chance at winning.  It’s an easy concept to buy into- if you’re performing in front of a supportive crowd and familiar field, you’re already more comfortable from the get go.  So, how strong is this advantage, and is it different for each major sport?  Also, is there a way that a team or franchise can increase the effect of home field advantage?

I looked at the effect of home field advantage for each of the four major sports: football, hockey, basketball and baseball.  I took data from the the top four ranked teams from the most recent completed season (NFL: Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks, Packers; NHL: Bruins, Ducks, Avalanche, Blues; NBA: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Pacers; MLB: Angels, Nationals, Orioles, Dodgers).

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This graph shows the additional percentage of winning games teams would have, if all games in the regular season were home games.

These percentages mean that each season, NFL teams would win approximately 3 more games, NHL teams would win an additional 4, NBA would win 9, and MLB would win 3.  So, now that we have concrete proof that there is such thing as a home field advantage, we can try to figure out why it seems to have a stronger effect in some sports over others. University of Chicago economist Tobias Moskowitz and Sports Illustrated writer chalk it up to referee bias, and debunk myths of tiring travel, crowd support, and field familiarity.

I wonder if an individual team could increase its home field advantage if, for example, they raised ticket prices.  By increasing the cost of a ticket, the people who would continue purchase them would be more invested in the game.  Also, they would care more about the team’s performance, which could cause them to be more vocal in showing support.  Since home field advantage is strongest in the NFL, I took data from football teams.  So, I looked at the NFL teams with the highest and lowest initial ticket prices for the 2014 season.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 1.14.04 PMI then compared these values to each team’s calculated home field advantage, defined as the additional percentage of games a team would win strictly playing home games.

ticket_prices_vs_home_field_advantageDoes size of the metropolitan area have anything to do with home field advantage?  I thought that if a team was in a more densely populated area, it would have a stronger following, and games would garner more attention.  So, I compared home field advantage to the size of the metropolitan areas.

metropolitan_area_population_vs_home_field_advantageFinally, I thought that revenue per fan would might be a good indication of the strength of home field advantage.  If fans are spending more money on team merchandise and gear, there is a stronger sense of team spirit.  And if a team has a greater following, fans become more involved at games.  So, I compared revenue per fan (data taken from with him field advantage.


With each of these three graphs, there were not any strong correlations between a single variable and my measurement of home field advantage.  Basically, there is not a simple solution to increasing the effect it has on a particular team.  Another point worth noting is that a team’s standing doesn’t translate to its home field advantage.  It is an advantage that can be seen in all teams, more or less.

-Charlie Elwart