Crowd and the home advantage
Posted by Dean Holden at May 6th, 2013
by Daniel Shaw, February 2013
A definition of home advantage describes it as a phenomenon in which the home teams in sport win over 50% of games played under a balanced home and away schedule (Courneya & Carron, 1992). The existence of home advantage in team orientated sports has been established in baseball (Adams & Kupper, 1994), American football (Pollard, 1986; Nevill et al., 1996) Ice Hockey (Agnew & Carron, 1994) and basketball (Varca, 1980; Moore & Brylinsky, 1993). Schwartz and Barsky (1977) provided research on the phenomenon and demonstrated that advantage is most evident in indoor events such as Basketball and Ice Hockey and the least in Baseball and American Football suggesting location may have an impact on how much advantage a team has.
A large proportion of research associated with home advantage has examined the crowd as causality. This research has taken several differing routes into how crowd may affect the game directly or indirectly and has had findings showing home advantage as a result of officiating influences from the crowd (Nevill, Balmer & Williams, 2002; Dohmen, 2008; Agnew & Carron, 1994) influences on the players (Thirer & Rampey, 1979) and also how the crowd is presented (Nevill, Newell & Gale, 1996; Dohmen, 2008; Zeller & Jerkovac, 1988; Schwartz & Barsky, 1977) has effects of the outcome of the game.
Structure of the Crowd
Agnew & Carron (1994) found that the only significant predictor of game outcome was crowd density. It was indicated that as crowd density increases, home advantage increases. Nevill, Newell & Gale (1996) observed significant home advantage with larger crowds in football. The largest home advantage however was found in the English first division compared to advantage in the premier league. This involved the percentages of wins, away players being sent off and home penalties scored. Interestingly the English first division have considerably less crowd sizes but more advantage, suggesting that once the crowd has reached a certain size or density, a peak in the home advantage is observed. Schwartz & Barskys (1977) research found that the advantage in Major League Baseball increased with crowd density, increasing from 48% in relatively empty (less than 20% capacity) stadiums to 55% when the stadium was between 20-40% capacity and increasing further to 57% when the crowd density was greater than 40% capacity.
It has been suggested that the crowd may influence officials in subconsciously favouring the home team (Nevill & Holder, 1999). Dohmen (2008) concluded a study on the decision making of German professional referees by stating that referees tend to make home biased decisions when the home crowd has a stronger interest in decisions that favour their team, eg. When the margin is close and their team is behind in score. Dohmen (2008) however, also found that home bias is mitigated when the fraction of supporters of visiting teams rises. This provides further support for social forces having effects on individuals’ decision making. Nevill, Balmer & Williams (2002) assessed whether decisions of qualified referees could be influenced by the noise of the crowd and discovered that the presence of crowd noise did have a dramatic effect on the decisions made by the qualified referees with further investigation into this effect finding crowd noise did not actually have an effect on penalising away players more; but rather penalising home players less. It was also found that when you silence crowd noise, home advantage is virtually eliminated, again suggesting that social factors play a part in influencing decision making of officials. Similar social forces were observed in the Dohmen (2008) study whereby referees displayed bias in stoppage time decisions and make fewer correct penalty kick decisions if the match is played in a stadium without a running track separating the stands from the pitch. This indicates that social pressure is more intense when the crowd is closer to the referee like Gymnastics, Diving, Boxing and Judo therefore creating a possibility of home advantage through subjective judging and crowd influences.
The effect of the crowd may also extend to affecting the players/ athletes behaviour in their particular event. Thirer & Rampey (1979) discovered that during normal crowd behaviour the visiting teams committed more infractions, however during crowd antisocial behaviour the home teams committed more infractions. The authors concluded that “anti-social behaviour from the crowd had a detrimental effect on the home team”. Greer (1983) observed that during normal crowd behaviour, home teams scored more points, turnovers, turnovers and had fewer violations and during instances where the crowd was booing for more than 15 seconds, the home teams’ superiority increased further. The result was speculated to be an effect of decrement in away teams’ performance or to referee bias as a result of imitation from the crowd. Dohmen (2008) provided evidence that crowd characteristics such as crowd composition and distance to the football field impaired referees decisions in a way that is consistent with the social pressure hypothesis in that social forces influence individual behaviour.
Subjective vs Objective Scoring
With a clear display of social factors affecting the decision making of officials (Dohmen,2008; Nevill, Balmer & Williams, 2002; Nevill & Holder, 1999) questions arise of how home athletes may benefit from favourable judging. These biased effects will not be seen throughout every sport, as events such as swimming and weightlifting are objectively judged (using exact times and weights) and therefore cannot be affected by home bias. However in events that are subjectively judged, this home bias may serve as an advantage for athletes competing on ‘home territory’. Subjective judging allows for an individuals’ feelings, influences or opinions to be reflected upon the score they may assign to an athletes’ performance. As discussed, Nevill, Balmer & Williams (2002) provided experimental evidence in soccer referees being influenced by crowd noise with 15.5% fewer fouls against the home team when audio (crowd noise) was present. Since referees have to judge a situation based on a split second decision having very little time for deliberation; their decision making may be heavily influenced by cues picked up from influences such as the environment, atmosphere in the stadium or own opinions . Therefore events such as Gymnastics, Diving and Boxing amongst others, may actually be influenced by this home advantage phenomenon. Nationalistic and political bias has been Observed in subjectively judged sports such as Olympic Skating (Seltzer & Glass, 1991) gymnastics (Ansorge & Scheer, 1988; Whissell, Lyons, Wilkinson, & Whissell, 1993) and Olympic diving (Park & Werthner, 1977) whilst substantial evidence for home advantage within objectively judged sports have not been found (Balmer, Nevill & Williams, 2003).
The facility in which the crowds and game is held may also have effects on players and officials judging or refereeing the game/ event. Zeller & Jurkovac (1988) analysed more than 35,000 Major League baseball games between 1969 and 1986 and reported that teams playing in a domed stadia won 10.5% more games at home than on the road. This was comparable to teams playing in open-air stadium which was 7.2%. The researchers attributed this difference to the effect of crowd support inside an enclosed stadium. They stated that
“Teams perform better and win more games when they receive more enthusiastic crowd support. Since the domed stadium holds the noise in the stadium, teams that play under domes win more games” (Zeller & Jurkovac, 1988, p.20). This observed effect has a distinct similarity to the stadium running track findings (Dohmen, 2008) and suggest that the architectural features of a home venue play a part in effecting game outcomes and decision making.
Nominal Evidence of Influences
Using an example of Team GB’s performance in the Olympic Games and medals attained at London 2012 in comparison to Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, there appears to be dramatic differences in the said subjectively judged sports. In boxing, the 2008 Olympic Games placed Team GB 6th with 1 gold and 2 bronze medals. However in the London 2012 games, team GB boxing placed 1st with 3 gold medals (Nicola Adams, Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua), 1 silver (Freddie Evans) and 1 bronze medal (Anthony Ogogo). The same pattern can be found in Gymnastics, another subjectively judged sport. The Beijing 2008 games saw Team GB Gymnastics (Artistic) placing 13th overall with 1 bronze medal from Louis Smith. London 2012 however, Team GB Gymnastics placed 11th in 2012 with 4 medals; Louis Smith attaining 1 silver and 1 team bronze medal ( along with Sam Oldham, Daniel Purvis, Kristian Thomas and Max Whitlock), Max Whitlock attaining a bronze Medal and Elizabeth Tweddle also attaining a bronze medal. Additionally, these events that are subjectively scored also place the judges and officials close to the crowd in an enclosed environment, giving way to Dohmens (2008) proximity to the crowd finding and also Zeller & Jurkovacs (1988) perceived crowd support through the amount of noise within an enclosed stadium. Combined, these observations and research may explain how home advantage in such subjectively scored sports plays a role.
With this brief look at social influences that may occur in competitive sport, psychologists and coaches are able to dissect the reasons for losing away from home and also the phenomenon known as a ‘fortress’ at a home stadium rather than simply assigning the causality to a drop in performance. Further justification is also available to be drawn from the literature for referee decisions that appear to go ‘the wrong way’.