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More on familiarity and home field advantage

Posted by Doug on January 15, 2009

Yesterday JKL posted some intriguing numbers concerning visiting teams' fortunes the second time they play in a particular stadium in a year. The implication was that, possibly, a nontrivial portion of that rich stew we call Home Field Advantage might be due to familiarity with the peculiarities of the venue.

I decided to follow up on this with another quick study.

In the playoffs, Joe Flacco tells me, there are no more rookies. And in the second halves of games, there are no more unfamiliar stadiums. Or something like that. What I'm getting at is: if familiarity plays a meaningful role in home field advantage, we might expect it to be most prominent early in the game.

Now, home field advantage seems to be greatest in the first quarter for all games in general. But if familiarity is a meaningful factor, the first quarter advantage should be even more pronounced in games where the road team doesn't visit the stadium often.

I looked at all regular season games since 1978 that were either:

intra-division games, in which the road team should be fairly familiar with the surroundings because it plays there every year.


inter-conference games, in which the road team should be mostly unfamiliar with the surroundings. This has varied over the years, but in the current scheduling format a team will visit an inter-conference opponents' stadium only once every eight years on average.

I want to emphasize that this is a pretty sloppy study. I didn't do anything to account for new stadiums. I didn't account for the fact that the Jets and Giants share a stadium. I didn't account for divisional realignments, which could create some unfamiliar intra-division matchups. And so on.

Disclaimers out of the way, here is the summary table. This shows the average point margin between the home team and the visiting team for the given time period.

                   Qtr 1    rest of game
Intra-divsion       0.78       1.86
Inter-conference    1.20       1.76
Difference         +0.42      -0.10

Inter-conference hosts got about 40% of their home field advantage in the first quarter, whereas intra-division hosts only got about 30% of it in the first quarter. Interesting.

Here's another fact: in the intra-division games, the home team scored first 55% of the time. In the inter-conference games, the home team scored first 58% of the time. That may not seem like a big difference. And in fact it isn't a big difference. But it's probably a real difference, and not just noise (p =~ .02, if you're into that kind of thing).

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 15th, 2009 at 5:42 am and is filed under Home Field Advantage. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.