Home Field Advantage

Most sports fans know home teams have an advantage over visiting teams even though they have never seen any hard facts which prove it.

While fans believe in the home field advantage, they hotly debate the reason for its existence. Over the years, I’ve heard a variety of explanations from not having to travel, to playing in familiar settings, to being in front of supportive fans. In addition to these psychological explanations, some people claim the formats of the games themselves are the cause for the home field advantage. For example, in baseball the home team bats after the visitors giving them one last chance to win while in hockey the home team is allowed to make player substitutions after the visiting team which can create better match-ups.

In the book Scorecasting, the authors compile won/loss percentages for each of the major U.S. sports league and show the home field advantage really exists. To make the point clearly, I’ve recreated a table from the book showing the percentage of home wins for each of 5 largest leagues in North America. While the edge is minimal in baseball, it’s pronounced in major league soccer – nearly seven in ten games are won by the home team.

However, the authors debunk the commonly held theories around travel and familiarity with the surroundings. Instead, they claim home teams get slightly preferential treatment from the officials which gives them an edge in winning games. Despite allegations of corruption in officials, the bias is likely unconscious and perhaps even involuntary. Every once in a while officials get caught up in the emotion of the crowd and make a call which pleases the home team. As this article points out, the increased home field advantage in soccer might be explained by the fact an official in soccer has more opportunity to influence a game’s outcome than in other sports.

If the home field advantage exists in sports, it’s natural to wonder whether it exists in business as well. Are M&A deal prices influenced by whether they are negotiated at the acquirer’s office or in a neutral location? Sales calls are typically held at the customer site but would vendors achieve a higher close rate on their own turf?  Should job candidates avoid salary negotiations in their future boss’ office?

In this vein, researchers conducted a series of experiments to determine if people were more successful in negotiations that happened in their own offices than in unfamiliar locations. As might be expected, home team negotiators outperformed those in ‘away’ or ‘neutral’ locations. This suggests you shouldn’t ask your boss for a raise in her office but rather in your own office or even in a neutral location like the cafeteria.

Unlike sports in which the home field advantage is attributed to the officials, the researchers believe psychological factors are at work here. If changing offices isn’t possible, the researchers suggest improving your confidence:

In our study, we gave some of the visitors a fake negotiation skills test and then provided them with false feedback. Irrespective of how they did on the bogus test, we told them that the results suggested that they are gifted negotiators. Sure enough, this confidence booster helped visiting parties overcome the home-field advantage that the office residents enjoyed.

You can be confident that in business, like sports, the advantage goes to the home team.

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One Response to Home Field Advantage

  1. Paras Rawal September 20, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    Just a thought, I believe there are two variables which can explain the pattern:
    1) Low scoring vs. High scoring (Impact of a referee decision in favor of home team will be highest in low scoring games): Explains high for MLS while Low for MLB as one wrong decision in itself doesnt lead to a score usually.
    2) Distance of supporters(& the percieved threat of supporters causing harm) from the referee: Explains high for NBA.

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