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Year Two in a New Stadium

Posted by Jason Lisk on July 2, 2007

Note from Doug: please join me in welcoming JKL to the "staff." He'll be posting articles regularly, or semi-regularly, or whenever he has the time and inclination to bung something down. Glad to have you on board, JKL. [end of Note From Doug]

The Arizona Cardinals have some reasons for optimism entering the 2007 season. Matt Leinart is entering his second year as a starter, with good offensive weapons in the passing game in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Adrian Wilson is one of the best defensive players in the league. Gone is the coach who was exactly who we thought he was, Dennis Green. Entering is Ken Whisenhunt, who worked under Bill Cowher, and who brings former Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm with him.

However, I am not trying to convince you that the Cardinals will be the surprise team of 2007. Predicting a big turn around for the Cardinals is not exactly safe given their history. The Cardinals have been one of the most consistent teams, and it has not been a good consistency. What I will say is that IF the Cardinals turn things around, there will be another factor that could play a role. The Arizona Cardinals will be playing their second season in University of Phoenix Stadium in 2007, after having played the previous 18 years at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. If history is an indicator, the Cardinals will enjoy an above average home field advantage in 2007.

Using the very informative site Stadiums of the NFL, I looked at all teams since the AFL-NFL merger who (1) moved to a new stadium, and (2) were playing in the same metropolitan area as the previous season. I found 28 such cases since 1970. Here are the home and road winning percentages for those teams for a 10 year period that includes the two seasons prior to moving into the new stadium, and the eight seasons afterward. Year N represents the first year playing in the new stadium. The first number is the home winning percentage, the second is the road winning percentage, and the third number is the difference between home and road.

  • Year N-2 0.488 0.342 +0.146
  • Year N-1 0.549 0.413 +0.136
  • Year N 0.596 0.404 +0.192
  • Year N+1 0.624 0.397 +0.227
  • Year N+2 0.552 0.408 +0.144
  • Year N+3 0.639 0.454 +0.185
  • Year N+4 0.513 0.463 +0.050
  • Year N+5 0.548 0.477 +0.071
  • Year N+6 0.604 0.399 +0.205
  • Year N+7 0.583 0.417 +0.166

Just so you're reading this correct, Year N+1 is the second year in a new stadium, when the 28 teams won 62.4% of home games and 39.7% of road games for a 22.7% difference, the largest of any year in the period examined. The NFL average home-road difference is going to be closer to 15-17%.

I excluded relocated and expansion teams from this because I wanted to see the effect on home performance, and hoped to minimize the effect of changes in road disadvantage due to a team changing its geographic location and travel schedule, or learning a new league. As we can see, the road performance in Years N-1 (the last year in the old stadium) and N, N+1 and N+2 (the first 3 years in the new stadium) are very similar. The changes were to the home field performance, with an increase in home performance in year 1 of the move, and a further increase in year 2 before beginning to revert back in year 3.

There is a potential explanation for this. It has to do with the familiarity and comfort level of the road team.

From 1986-2005, home teams won 57.2% of divisional games, 58.7% of conference matchups, and 59.8% of inter-conference games. Further, in divisional matchups featuring similar climate rivals from the same time zone, the home team was 340-307 (0.526) for the period 1986-2005. When we look at AFC-NFC matchups between similar climate opponents, where the teams play at each venue less frequently, the home team was 143-101-1 (0.586). (NOTE: Similar climate rivals is defined as teams within 10 degrees of each other's average monthly (Sept. to Dec.) temperature, 72 degrees was used for dome teams, and the monthly average was used for outdoor teams.)

It also makes sense that home field advantage would not be at its strongest immediately upon opening the new stadium, if familiarity plays a role in home field advantage. At the start of year one in a new stadium, the home team is basically no more familiar with the nuances of the new stadium than the visitors. By the start of the year two regular season, the home team will have had at least 12 games experience (preseason and regular season) in the new stadium, while every visiting team will have played 1 or fewer games in the stadium.

Arizona's division rival Seattle presents an interesting recent case study on the potential role of familiarity in home field advantage and road disadvantage. In 2002, Seattle moved in to Qwest Field and changed conferences, moving from the AFC West to the NFC West. In 2003, the Seahawks had a perfect 8-0 record at home, and were 2-6 on the road. When teams traveled to Seattle in 2003, they were almost universally playing in a new situation, as prior to 2000, the Seahawks were a dome team. When Seattle went on the road, they were playing in stadiums they rarely, if ever, had visited in the previous decade. The AFC road opponents that year were Cincinnati and Baltimore, and Seattle had not played a road game in either of those cities since 1997. The conference road opponents were Green Bay, Minnesota, and Washington. Seattle had played at Washington in 2001 and at Green Bay in 1999. Seattle lost all 5 of those road games, and went 2-1 on the road within their new division.

This all leads me to believe that the Cardinals in 2007 will enjoy a better home field advantage. The new stadium alone is not enough to turn a bad team into a playoff team. But if the Cardinals can buck history and improve to an average level, the effects of playing in a new stadium in year 2 could mean the difference between a nice improvement, and a playoff appearance.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 2nd, 2007 at 4:05 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.