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What Is Home Advantage? Part 2

When you are a handicapping a team or a game, you need to take into account whether they are the home team or not.  In What is Home Advantage?  Part 1 of my series on home advantage, I delved into the different definitions of home advantage and what it means to be the “home” team.  While there are special cases where the “home” team may actually be playing away (such as a game where two baseball teams meet on neutral ground), usually the “home” team is playing on their own turf and has the advantage over the visiting team.

 

Why do home teams typically have this advantage?  Here are some of the contributing factors:

  • Environment.  While a team located at a high elevation or in a windy, cold, or snowy climate may be faced with more challenging conditions for all or many of their home games than a team located at a lower elevation or in a more moderate climate zone, they still have an advantage over visitors.  Their familiarity with the climate conditions and adaptations help them to perform at their best.  Players on a visiting team may be struggling with altitude sickness or may not be used to playing in the snow.
  • Travel.  Travelling is stressful and takes its toll physically and mentally.  Players who are on the road may be exhausted and distracted.  Players at home do not have this problem.  They get to sleep at home instead of in a hotel or on the road, and do not have to deal with fatigue from lost sleep or hours spent cramped up on a bus. 
  • Crowd involvement.  Players at home can enjoy the support of their loyal fans.  At away games, the stadiums will be dominated by fans of the opposing team, so they do not have the same moral support.  Opposing fans will make noise to distract visiting players while they are trying to make critical or difficult plays.  On this same note, the stadium announcers will side heavily with the home team, and the light and sound effects in the stadium will also be tuned to their advantage. 
  • Stadium design.  Some stadiums have idiosyncrasies which can throw off visiting players who are not all that familiar with them.  For example, if a basketball floor has defects and the home team is intimately familiar with them while the opposing team is not, that visiting team is going to be at an obvious disadvantage.
  • Referees and game officials are more likely to make favourable calls for home teams than away teams.  This is a concrete, easily measured factor that can impact the outcome of a game in favour of the home team.
  • Certain games rules confer an advantage on home teams.  A good example is ice hockey.  One such rule is called “last change.”  This means that the home team gets to make player substitutions after the team which is visiting.  This helps the home team to make the best match-ups.
  • Evolutionary psychology.  There is a theory that players who are defending their own turf have the advantage of evolutionary psychology over their opponents (see this book for more information).  In short, since they are defending their home territory, they experience a rise in testosterone and aggressive instincts.  This causes them to outperform their opponents.

 

Just how much of home advantage is “real” is often debated.  Factors like referee calls are easy to measure, but many of these factors are intangibles.  The best way to get a feel for them is simply by following sports for a long time and logging observations.  Over time, you can get a feel for how different factors may be influencing specific teams in specific locations.  This will help you to accurately gauge the impact of home advantage.

 

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