Is the Return of Home Field Advantage Important?

Home field advantage is a key factor in sports. As fans return to stadiums, we discuss if home field advantage is important.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cover Image
By Sophia Li

When you watch a sports game at home, you seem to have it all: a great view of the action, all the food you want, and a clean bathroom. Yet, thousands of people go to each and every game, cheering on their favorite teams. Those people contribute to one of the most important concepts in sports: the home field advantage.

Home field advantage is exactly what it sounds like. It is the advantage teams get from playing at their own stadiums. That advantage comes from multiple factors. The first is the aforementioned fans. Whether it is cheering on players and bringing up the energy or distracting the other team, fans have the ability to change the course of a game and help their team get the result they want. The second factor is familiarity with the playing field. This aspect is especially apparent in sports like baseball where every field is different and has its own unique quirks. However, it is also apparent in other sports where factors like field quality and turf affect the outcome of the game. The last factor is the climate. This element could be the extreme cold of December football in the northeast or the brutal heat of Texas summer baseball. It could also be the mile-high altitude of Denver, the Green Monster in Boston, or the 16 mph wind in Buffalo.

Throughout sports history, the home team has always had an advantage. In the MLB, home teams have won about 54 percent of their games in both the regular season and playoffs. In football, this number jumps to 57 percent in the regular season and 65 percent in the playoffs. It only gets more extreme in the NBA, where the home team wins 60 percent of games in the regular season and 65 percent in the playoffs, all according to FiveThirtyEight. For a long time, it was unclear how important the fans were to home field advantage. However, with all its uncertainty, the pandemic afforded statisticians the perfect opportunity to determine that significance.

As mentioned earlier, NFL home teams win about 60 percent of games. With either nonexistent or tiny crowds in 2020, home teams went 127-128-1, going below .500 for the first time in NFL history, per The Ringer. Considering the fact that home teams have gotten well over 150 wins before, it is clear that the fans had a huge impact across the league. However, the impact of fans is clearly not equal throughout the league. The Kansas City Chiefs, whose fans set the record for the loudest stadium of all time, had their only two losses in 2020 at home. Detroit had four of its five losses at home. San Francisco had five of eight losses on their turf, while Las Vegas had six of eight.

The NFL is not the only league that has seen this trend in recent years. The NBA’s reduced crowd sizes in 2021 saw home teams turn in their worst winning percentage of all time, as well as the most teams with a losing home record in a single season. Again, however, teams across the league were not affected consistently. The best team at home was the upstart Utah Jazz, who had a 31-5 home record. At the end of the regular season, they had a seating capacity of 13 thousand. While this number is far below their arena’s actual capacity, it was still the most in the NBA. Considering their immediate exit from the playoffs and the lack of all-stars on the roster, it is fair to say that their higher fan count certainly influenced their performance in having the best record at home. To support this claim, the Jazz had 10 more losses away than at home, despite playing the same number of games. In fact, of the 20 teams that made the playoffs, 16 had a better record at home.

Lastly, you can look at the MLB. As mentioned earlier, the MLB is unique due to the differing fields across the sport. A great example of this variety is Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium’s right field fence is 314 feet to right field. The fence is also very short, making hitting home runs to right field very easy. This construction has led the Yankees to load their lineup with power hitters, making their playing style perfect for their stadium, which means that even without fans, they have a distinct home field advantage. This edge was reflected by their 2020 season when they compiled a 22-9 record at home and an 11-18 record away. This advantage is also seen in the Colorado Rockies’ stadium. They play in Denver, also known as the Mile High City, which has an altitude of 5,280 feet. The air pressure at this height makes the ball fly farther than it usually would, which has allowed the Rockies to construct a hitter-first roster that does well in Denver but does not perform as well elsewhere. Consequently, the Rockies have struggled out to an 18-50 road record, a staggering drop from their 43-22 home record. In fact, if Colorado was 43-22 on the road, they would be the best team in the MLB.

So, how can we answer the question of the importance of home field advantage? Well, the answer is that it depends. It can make a huge difference, or it can make no difference at all. Regardless, as fans refill the stadium, leaving their couches for the thrill of the game, they will again become part of the true sports experience we all know and love.