Friday, 18 March 2011

Theories Split on Home Advantage

Guest Writer: Kerry Gallagher
It seems to be true across the breadth of sport. When playing at home, teams seem to have an advantage. But why?

Theories about home advantage in sports range from biased referees to pressure on players. The latest is whether the crowd is close to the field.

Consider playing the Indian cricket team at M.Chinnaswamy Stadium, Barcelona FC at Camp Nou or the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

They are all formidable opponents anyway, but what makes these assignments all-the-more daunting, is the home advantage.

But why?

Theories about home advantage

There are many theories. Possible reasons include:

•The local teams is more familiar with its own conditions.

•Referees and umpires tend to favor the local team.

•The visiting team not being familiar with conditions.

•Travel fatigue

•Crowd intimidation of players

•The mind set of both the home and visiting players

But there seems to be little agreement over which is correct, or the most important.

Citing English soccer teams taking 64 percent of available points in their respective leagues, Richard Pollard in the Journal of Sports Sciences concludes that the familiarity of playing at home is the most likely cause.

Others, such as Martin Hagger and Nikos Chatzisarantis in Social Psychology of Exercise in Sport, attribute the stimulating effect of a crowd on the home players. Going further, they even suggest a possible ethological reason, with players defending their home ground more fervently, as an organism would defend its territory against attack from another species.

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Hostile crowds

In an article by the Australian Broadcast Corporation's Abbie Thomas, some top coaches explained how it was often 'intimidating' to play in a 'hostile' foreign environment.

Thomas cites former Australian cricket coach John Buchanan describing a hostile crowd environment in Dunedin, New Zealand, where an aggressive crowd shouted abuse. Meanwhile Australian soccer coach Frank Farina recalls his team having coins thrown at them in Uruguay.

Intimidating stadiums

But according to Stevin Levitt, in the "Why the world cup is an Economists Dream" podcast, based on the book 'reakanomics, the important factor is the nature of the stadium itself.

Levitt cited a study which grouped soccer teams into two camps - those with a significant home advantage, and those without.

The only differentiating factor between these two groups was the proximity of the stadium to the playing field, i.e. whether the crowd was close to the players and officials, or whether there was some kind of buffer, like a running track.

The grounds without the running track, and these are typically stadiums that are specialized in their sport, hosted teams with a better home-field advantage.

Referees under pressure

But rather than the pressure being on the players, Levitt suggests the pressure in these grounds without a running track, was on the officials.

One way this could be measured, was the amount of extra time that was played in a match. Depending on the ground, more extra time seemed to be added when the home team was behind. When the home team was winning, less extra time was added.

This suggests that the reason for home advantage comes under the 'biased officials' category - but by pressure rather than by choice, and sub-consciously rather than consciously.

HCE: What is your opinion? Leave a comment.