How Much Does Home Field Advantage Matter?
Everyone who follows sports knows about the concept of home field advantage. It’s a natural benefit that home teams are supposed to have over visiting teams due to several factors.
Psychological effects stem from the supporting fans boosting the morale of the home teams and influencing the referees. Physical effects can be detrimental to visiting teams from time zone changes, travel fatigue, different comparative climates, or simply not being familiar with the stadium and its surroundings.
So how big of an effect does it really have? Does it make teams win that much more?
That’s what I investigate in this project while examining NFL teams’ records and how much their home field advantages really affect their ability to win.
What I Found
I began with recording all 32 teams’ full home and away records for the 2015 regular season
I looked at each team’s disparity between home and away wins and made a column called “win difference”.
Most teams predictably did better at home. However, 6 teams did better on the road than on their own ground. Also, 9 teams were neutral, meaning they won equally as much home or away. I graphed the teams in order of best records to worst (from left to right) and charted whether they did better home or away and by how much difference.
Note – teams who scored positive win-differences won that many more games at home. Negative scores indicate those teams won more on the road.
Predictably, the best teams were the ones who had the ability to both win at home and on the road (duh!) and had low volatility in terms of their win/loss percentage being dependent on whether they were home or not. Of the 5 teams who had high volatility when playing in different settings, only one managed to be in the top half of the league or have a winning record (the Redskins).
Furthermore, when all 256 regular season games were summed up, the total record of home versus away was only 138-118 with home games being won only 20 more times. If only 10 more of last year’s 138 home wins in the NFL swung to the visitors instead, there would be no statistical home field advantage on average in regards to winning.
So how much did home field advantage matter in the NFL last year?
I’d say not much. Of the 32 teams, only 17 did better at home compared to their records on the road. The other 15 were neutral or did worse at home.
In total, home teams only won 54% of the time, which signals an advantage, but a small one. The best teams win regardless of where or who they play. However, certain teams definitely fared better at home. I guess they missed their fans or didn’t travel well:
• Jacksonville Jaguars 4-4 at home, 1-7 on the road
• San Francisco 49ers 4-4 at home, 1-7 on the road
• Washington Redskins 6-2 at home, 3-5 on the road
• St. Louis Rams 5-3 at home, 2-6 on the road
Few teams appeared to fear playing on the road. The Bears, Titans, and Cowboys actually played horribly at home, each earning 1-7 records on their own turf despite collectively winning 10 road games.
The next time you’re watching football on Sundays, remember your team is probably going to win or lose regardless of who is home or away. Unless they’re the 49ers or Jaguars….
To view my excel spreadsheet on google docs click the link.