Last Sunday, I had an article in the Boston Globe Ideas section on the underlying causes of home field advantage.
The Celtics are an extreme example of a sporting phenomenon known as home-field advantage: teams playing on their home field, or court, are significantly more likely to win. The advantage plays a role in every major sport. Home teams in the NBA have a 62 percent chance of winning, while those in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have a 53 percent chance of winning. (Football teams are somewhere in between, with annual ranges typically between 54 and 64 percent.) Although the effect has declined over time – in 1950, home teams in the NBA won 75 percent of all games – playing at home remains one of the most significant advantages in professional sports.
“Athletes spend so much time and energy looking for any kind of edge,” says Albert Carron, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Western Ontario. “But nobody’s found another edge this powerful.”
Personally, I was most surprised by the fact that playing on a familiar playing field seems to confer a large advantage, even in sports (like basketball) where the playing field is supposedly uniform.
For example, a 1995 study showed that British soccer teams playing on “nontraditional pitches” – fields that are either longer or shorter than normal, or consist of artificial turf – enjoyed a larger than normal home-field advantage. Another study compared the home winning percentages of NBA, NHL, and MLB teams before and after they moved to a new stadium. For 26 of the 37 teams, there was a decrease in the home advantage following a move. Because the new venue was unfamiliar – the players had yet to learn the secrets of the parquet floor – they were less likely to win.