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Home Field Advantage?

Not At Cameron

August 24, 2020

Such a diverse student body. But I’m not going there. Fun article. Enjoy....

Sports are back... Kinda. And while I’m not the biggest sports fan, the current situation of games occurring in empty stadiums and arenas has offered an interesting opportunity for researchers.

Any sports fan knows that home teams are perceived to have an advantage. And many have long-speculated that referees favor home teams when making calls. The reason why isn’t hard to deduce: when you blow a whistle and know that 40,000 people are either going to love you or hate you depending on what you say, there’s no human on Earth who isn’t influenced just a little bit.

Yet, for years, the data on home-field advantage in sports has been mixed. It’s varied quite a bit by sport, by team, and by season. Some have argued that it has disappeared due to the widespread usage of slow-motion replays.

Well, the pandemic has conveniently provided what researchers refer to as a "natural experiment." Games are being played without fans present. It’s weird watching games with empty stadiums and arenas. But researchers have already scooped up the data and measured whether the lack of audience has much of an effect on the game or not. And the results are both cool, and not surprising.

It turns out that, yes, fans do influence the game.

One study found that in European soccer matches, referees give more yellow cards to visiting teams when the home crowd is present, versus when the stadium is empty.

Another dataset using Major League Baseball games found that, historically, home teams typically win 53-55% of their games. In 2020, that has dropped to an almost even 50/50—suggesting that the home crowd gives them the home-field advantage, not the fact that the team doesn’t have to travel.

So maybe you can’t see your favorite team right now. But know that when you can return to the stadium, your cheering does make a difference.

And, of course, as any Wahoo know, just watching a game can affect its outcome - in a negative way. Scientists have named it the “Wahoo negative bias.”

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