Home Court Advantage

So why does the home team win more often?

Frank Erwin Center

Interesting interview with Jon Wertheim1

I’ve long been befuddled as to home court advantage, and never quite understood how it could be possible that professional athletes would play better in one sporting arena rather than another, especially in today’s sophisticated sport teams. Turns out the key is how the referees/umpires react to the crowd (even subconsciously). So, it is good for the Chicago Bulls that they are winning their division (so far this year). So why does the home team win more often?

Wertheim: What’s really interesting is how consistent that truism is. The WNBA has almost the exact same home winning percentage as the NBA. A soccer league in Central America is almost the same as the Premier League. Japanese baseball has almost the same as MLB.

Before you even dig into the “why?” of home-field advantage, you see the data that 100 years ago the home winning percentage in Major League Baseball was almost exactly the same as it is today, and you find the same in other sports.

I think most people think, “Well, you’re playing at home and you’ve got people cheering for you and booing the other the guy,” but we didn’t find that to be the cause. Then you have the theory that home teams get to sleep in their own beds and road teams had to fly in the night before, but that didn’t seem to be the case either.

Wired: Right. You made the point in the book that travel has gotten so much better than 100 years ago, but winning percentage didn’t change from when teams were on buses to now, when they’re taking charters.

Wertheim: Yeah, and in games like when the Angels play the Dodgers or the Ravens play the Redskins — games where there’s negligible travel — the winning percentage stays the same. If you fly across the country, you’re not losing any more than you are when you’re the Chicago White Sox playing across town at Wrigley Field.

So we looked at how games are called and that’s where the data went berserk. Yellow and red cards in soccer, calls in the NFL before and after replay’s implementation, called balls and strikes in baseball — that’s where we saw games are called totally differently based on where they’re played. And the more attended the games are, the more striking the bias.

(click to continue reading Scorecasting Tackles Sports’ Biggest Myths | Playbook.)

  1. Jon Wertheim, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated (right), and Tobias Moskowitz, a finance professor from the University of Chicago, with their Freakonomics-influenced book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won. []

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