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Home Field

With the winners of the NFL championship games determined, the debate will rage on for the next twelve days as to which team will emerge from Las Vegas as the 2024 Super Bowl champ. Both opinions and money will flow freely as it is estimated between 20 & 25 billion dollars will be wagered on the outcome. Only one thing is fairly certain: the bookies in Sin City will benefit the most from the big game being played in their hometown.

Another winner not wearing pads will be CBS. The network has already sold out its entire allocation of commercial time, and, based upon what Fox raked in last year ($7 million for a 30-second commercial), cash will be flowing as the costs keep rising. For the last three Super Bowls, the 30-second commercial cost has jumped from $5.6 million in 2021 to $7 million last year.

Given inflation and the NFL’s increased ratings this season, CBS expects to command more than $7 million this year. Times have changed, and the price tag has been growing for years. In fact, until Super Bowl XXIX in 1995, ad spots cost less than $1 million.

Getting to the big game is much harder than betting on it, and for the first time since the NFL playoffs began, home field advantage will not be a factor in determining the outcome. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, the home team won six of the eight games played. Only the Green Bay Packers dominating in Dallas and ending the Cowboys’ 16-game home winning streak, and the Kansas City Chiefs winning in snow-plagued Buffalo defied the betting line while winning on the road.

In professional sports, just how important is the home field? Researching the topic, an article by Barry Wilner on “The 33rd Team” revealed that home-field advantage in the NFL exists, but it’s not as overwhelming as many may think.

Wilner’s findings revealed that during the last decade, “hosts won 55% of 2,580 games played.” It also noted, “Home field advantage is mercurial and depends on various factors such as strength of the team, weather, noise in the stadium, quality of the turf or grass, and time zone.” He concluded that during the time of his study, the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs had been the toughest teams to beat at home.

A separate ESPN article ranks the Baltimore Ravens as having the greatest home-field advantage in the NFL, claiming the Ravens have a statistically unrivaled edge at M&T Bank Stadium.

Among professional sports in the United States, soccer has the highest home winning percentage, 69%, followed by the NBA at 63%, NHL at 59%, NFL at 57%, and MLB at 54%.

Regardless of the sports or what statistical data may suggest, most professional teams would rather be playing at home.

Many sports fans believe that crowd noise directly impacts a player’s performance. It’s unknown what may be going on in a professional player’s head, but boos don’t particularly faze them during an away game.

While the crowd appears to have little effect on a player’s performance, research presented by a University of Pittsburgh study suggests that a large portion of the home edge is due to officiating bias in favor of the home team in the form of subjective calls. The study’s author, Konstantinos Pelechrinis, cites the following findings:

“In baseball, during a full count, more pitches are called strikes for the home team’s pitcher. In the NHL, referees call 20% fewer penalties for home teams, which is equivalent to about 0.25 goals. In the NBA, on average, more free throws are awarded to the home team. In soccer, referees add more stoppage time when the home team trails by a goal compared with when the home team is ahead by a goal. Interestingly, referee bias is reduced when there is a track field separating the pitch and the fans.”

Buy it or not, over the years, there does seem to be a declining advantage for the home team. This trend can be attributed to changes in officiating, more comfortable travel, advances in nutrition, and technical and electronic advances. Since the NFL introduced instant replay, the home team’s winning percentage has dropped from 58.5% to 56%.

Baseball fans rooting for the home team have been the most affected by diminishing home-field returns.

During the 2023 season, home teams won 53% of the games during the regular season. During the postseason, highlighted by the Texas Rangers 11-0 record on the road in winning the World Series, home teams won only 36%, the worst in any postseason since 1970. Not long ago, in the 2019 World Series between Houston and Washington, the home team went 0-7.

The Rangers stand as the perfect example of the diminishing home field advantage. They entered the playoffs as a wild card, had to travel to Tampa Bay, which owned the best home record in the league — and swept two games. Next up was a trip to Baltimore, owner of the best record in the American League, and swept them. Down 3 games to 2 to Houston in the ALCS, they beat the Astros twice on their home field. Their ultimate test came in the World Series as they traveled to Phoenix, winning three straight games to stand atop the baseball world.

“Home sweet home” has sentimental appeal, but getting into the dance is what it’s all about. After that, it’s just ‘win baby.’