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July 5, 2011 2:21 AM   Subscribe


 
Thanks. That was a fun and interesting article to read.
I think I'm inclined to agree with Runciman.
posted by vacapinta at 2:51 AM on July 5, 2011


I'm reminded of the (probably apocryphal) tale of the physchology lecturer who's students all agreed to pay rapt attention when the lecturer was on one side of the auditorium & bored indifference when he was on the other. The lecturer found themselves corralled into the positive corner without even knowing why.

(Anyone have a source for that story btw? I'm sure it was told to me at university 20 years ago & it was a foaf tale even then.)

It seems entirely plausible that the positive or negative attitute of an entire stadium of fans can influence referees to favour the home side.
posted by pharm at 3:01 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


An Englishman's home is his castle.
posted by grubby at 3:17 AM on July 5, 2011


A great read.

It seems entirely plausible that the positive or negative attitute of an entire stadium of fans can influence referees to favour the home side.

Runciman doesn't disagree that referees are influenced by vociferous home crowds. I think he does disagree that the evidence for it being the main contributory factor to 'home advantage' is compelling, as Scorecasting seems to suggest (based on the review; I haven't read the book).
posted by WalterMitty at 3:50 AM on July 5, 2011


An Englishman's home is his castle.

More like a Portugese man's team's home is their castle, especially when said Portugese man instills an 'us against the world', 'everybody hates us' mentality in said team.
posted by kersplunk at 3:54 AM on July 5, 2011


WalterMitty: sure, it does seem likely that referee bias is not the only factor. Is this a classic case of "stopping looking when you get to the result you're looking for" which is a subtle bias in science which can be difficult to eliminate because you have to do even more work when it looks like you've just proved your result!
posted by pharm at 3:59 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]




Mourinho. He is a special one, is great genius with genius level IQ. You can keep books, book reviews, etc - Mourinho is greater than book, greater than famous journal of book reviews. Has book review won Champions League two times? No. Has book review won major title in three countries? No. Book is voyeur, always looking - looking - looking at Mourinho. Like Wenger! But they call him "the Professor"! Because of his books!!! So - you see.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:25 AM on July 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


Pharm :

The story you tell supposedly relates to B F Skinner, the father of Behaviourism.

The version I read said that before a Skinner lecture the students all agreed that when Skinner took a step to the left on that raised platform in lecture theatres (which I will call quite incorrectly a podium) they would smile, and when Skinner took a step to his right on the podium they would all frown.

After 20 minutes, Skinner fell off the podium.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 4:33 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


on average away teams only ever had a 10 per cent chance of beating one of Mourinho’s sides

Frankly, I would call 10% pretty impressive considering that Federation starship crews can hardly ever spare the time to practice soccer.
posted by Anything at 4:39 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think if David Runciman were to break wind loudly in a library, I'd probably stroke my chin and nod in agreement. (Check out this brilliant piece about the decline of Australian cricket and Ricky Ponting as George Bush from 2005 : http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n18/david-runciman/crickets-superpowers)

So its not surprising to find my biased ass agreeing with him here, but there is another factor (at least in soccer) which is relevant. When Arsenal moved from Highbury to their new state-of-the-art ground, their striker Thierry Henri spoke of his problems of adapting to a new stadium. His problem was that in the old ground he had a lot of visual reference points which told him exactly where he was on the field. If he saw that he was level with the the first column of seats in the far stand, he knew he was exactly 30 yards from goal and therefore within range of a curler into the top corner. When they moved to the Emirates, a lot of his shots were going over the bar or dropping short because he didn't know where he was.

But Runciman is clearly onto something. Belief is vital.

It is said by Man U fans who have mastered the power of speech that they know they are going to score the winning goal : its just a question of whether or not the referee will blow for full time before they do. The players don't so much believe as know. Its like the sun rising tomorrow - it is going to happen. This belief, or knowledge, appears to be infectious. Time and again this season opposition teams in strong positions melted away and an understrength Man U won the league a a canter.

One more thing : "Team spirit is an illusion glimpsed in the aftermath of victory" - Steve Archibald
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 5:20 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


When Arsenal moved from Highbury to their new state-of-the-art ground, their striker Thierry Henri spoke of his problems of adapting to a new stadium. His problem was that in the old ground he had a lot of visual reference points which told him exactly where he was on the field.

Very interesting comment. One could add that soccer fields vary in size, and teams will naturally be used to the size of their own ground, and will have adjusted their tactics accordingly. For example, Old Trafford is a big ground and therefore suits United's fast-paced, counterattacking style. In the late 1990s, Arsenal played their European Champions League home games at Wembley rather than Highbury - this meant they could sell far more tickets, but also meant that they were playing on unfamiliar territory - the large Wembley pitch compared to the small Highbury one. Some commentators suggested that this was the reason for Arsenal's poor home results at Wembley.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:26 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe they address it in their book, but taking field goals as a test of crowd effect in American football is insane. The point of crowd noise is that it makes it hard for the away offensive team to communicate on routine downs, which is central to the game; they don't really need as much communication on field goals, though. Plenty of players have complained about how it gets hard to be on offense in certain stadiums.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:40 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


So its not surprising to find my biased ass agreeing with him here, but there is another factor (at least in soccer) which is relevant. When Arsenal moved from Highbury to their new state-of-the-art ground, their striker Thierry Henri spoke of his problems of adapting to a new stadium. His problem was that in the old ground he had a lot of visual reference points which told him exactly where he was on the field. If he saw that he was level with the the first column of seats in the far stand, he knew he was exactly 30 yards from goal and therefore within range of a curler into the top corner. When they moved to the Emirates, a lot of his shots were going over the bar or dropping short because he didn't know where he was.
The current article seems to be at odds with this:
What about local knowledge? Every ground is slightly different, so perhaps teams take advantage of their familiarity with their home environment. Even football pitches vary: some are wider, some are narrower, some are blowy, some are sheltered, some are rough, some are smooth. The differences are most noticeable in baseball, where some teams play at stadiums that suit hitters, and others at stadiums that suit pitchers (it’s a question of size, shape and atmospherics). Yet even in baseball, Moskowitz and Wertheim find it makes no difference. Teams that play in hitter-friendly stadiums do not outhit their opponents by any greater margin than teams that play in pitcher-friendly stadiums. This despite the fact that managers can pack the team with sluggers, sure that they will play at least half their games in advantageous conditions. Knowing what you need to do well in your own yard doesn’t help you do it any better.
Also:
It is said by Man U fans who have mastered the power of speech that they know they are going to score the winning goal : its just a question of whether or not the referee will blow for full time before they do. The players don't so much believe as know. Its like the sun rising tomorrow - it is going to happen. This belief, or knowledge, appears to be infectious. Time and again this season opposition teams in strong positions melted away and an understrength Man U won the league a a canter.
It seems at odds with this, too:
Take basketball: when a player is fouled, he (or she) is awarded free throws at the basket from 15 feet. (...) The stats show that away players perform just as well as home players from the free-throw line, despite all the barracking. The same applies to goal-kicking in American football, and penalty shoot-outs in our version. The home side has no better chance of winning at penalties than the away team.
Granted, the article was specifically talking about the effect of fans in that last one, but it seems to support a stronger claim, about the general ability of the players to perform -- which would include the effect of their belief that they can perform -- rather than merely about the effect of fans.
posted by Flunkie at 5:53 AM on July 5, 2011


I frankly believe that referee intimidation certainly is the main factor in the home side's advantage.

Exhibit A: José Mourinho
posted by Skeptic at 5:57 AM on July 5, 2011


Ah, never mind, I just got to the part where the reviewer starts taking issue with the conclusions of the book.
posted by Flunkie at 6:00 AM on July 5, 2011


"Even if you calculate that on average away teams only ever had a 10 per cent chance of beating one of Mourinho’s sides (for some, like Gijón, it might be a lot less, but for others, like Sporting Lisbon, AC Milan, Manchester United or Barcelona, it would be a lot more), the odds against going unbeaten for 150 matches are more than seven million to one."

Then maybe you shouldn't calculate that away teams had a 10 percent chance of winning, hoss.
posted by escabeche at 6:27 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Teams that play in hitter-friendly stadiums do not outhit their opponents by any greater margin than teams that play in pitcher-friendly stadiums. This despite the fact that managers can pack the team with sluggers, sure that they will play at least half their games in advantageous conditions. Knowing what you need to do well in your own yard doesn’t help you do it any better.

Also, this makes no sense, so I hope for the sake of the book's authors that Runciman has misreported their argument. If your stadium is hitter-friendly overall, it helps the other teams hit home runs as much as it does you. What you might expect is that a stadium that advantages specific types of player might increase home-field advantage. E.G. if you have a short porch in right, you may tend to roster your lineup with lefties in a way your opponents will not, and this might -- might! -- show up in the home-road offensive splits.
posted by escabeche at 6:32 AM on July 5, 2011


Then maybe you shouldn't calculate that away teams had a 10 percent chance of winning, hoss.

Considering the teams and leagues in question, 10% sounds about right, as pulled-out-of-your-arse fingures go. Same as those 'how many piano tuners in Chicago?' style interview questions.
posted by kersplunk at 6:49 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The current article seems to be at odds with this [snipped quote re: baseball]

I think one problem with this article is that it jumps between sports without considering that different sports are going to be affected differently. Baseball may be the case where there's the most variability in playing fields, but it's also the case where it seems like there is the least possibility for a player to intentionally take advantage of those changes.

If a ballpark is hitter-friendly, it's hitter-friendly in an almost complete unbiased way. A given player isn't going to be able to change how he hits to take advantage of this -- he'll simply benefit from it passively.

Now, it's true that a team's management staff could choose to try to hire a lot of big hitters to take advantage of their home field's particular setup. But, for an individual player, there's not much he can do but perform to his ability. (I will grant you, it's possible to try to hit a ball to a specific spot, to get it lost in a particularly difficult section of the outfield or some such, but that kind of hit is incredibly difficult).

This is very different from how variances in the football pitch might change play. The team that plays on a given pitch half the time has both knowledge and experience of the type mentioned by Thierry Henri that can actively be used in order to play better -- knowledge of distances and position, as well as tactical options that play better or worse in wider or narrower play fields, etc.

I don't want to dismiss the article outright -- I think it's a fascinating topic, and a lot of what is said "feels" right. But, I think baseball as any sort of indicator (beyond the umpire aspect) is a red herring.
posted by tocts at 6:55 AM on July 5, 2011


Just read the January(?) edition of Sports Illustrated which had an article excerpted from the book in question. It's an interesting read.
posted by idb at 7:20 AM on July 5, 2011


Bill James has written about the effect of hitter friendly parks in baseball. One of the points he makes is that a hitter friendly park has had the effect of hiding poor offense. A team that plays in a hitter's park may believe they have a strong offense because their stats show the effect of playing half their games at home, so the team has a distorted picture of their performance and fails to make necessary improvements.
posted by chrchr at 8:40 AM on July 5, 2011


escabeche and tocts: it seems to be just barely possible that a team built around home runs could get an advantage by bringing the fences in a bit. Consider a "standard-sized" park, whatever that is. The slugging team is probably hitting more balls out to the warning track than their opponents. You move the fences in ten feet, that team gets more extra home runs from the change than their opponents.

Still, the difference in the number of extra home runs hit by the home team and the visiting teams -- which is presumably the quantity that we're interested in -- is the difference between two small numbers.

And given how teams tend to change over time, building a park for the team you have right now doesn't make sense either. Consider Citizens Bank Park, a "hitter's park", built in '04; this park was a great place for the Phillies of mid-last-decade built around Utley and Howard. But the current Phillies are built around their pitching; that's just how things evolved, given who was available, and you can't predict the future draft or free agent markets. The lifespan of a park is much longer than the career of an MLB player.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:36 AM on July 5, 2011


My problem with the article is that pop psychology already makes up 90% of sportswriting, and every single bit of it is driven by hindsight. That guy was too tense, so he choked. That other guy was too loose, so he blew it. The winning team was smiling and having fun before the game, and that means they're confident. The losing team was smiling and having fun before the game, and that means they don't care enough. It's pointless and silly and turns all of these arguments into contests about whose confirmation bias is bigger.

It does seem improbable that the entirety of home field advantage comes down to refereeing, but at least that's an interesting proposition. I also find familiarity with the home stadium a la Thierry Henry a compelling explanation. This team spirit/self-belief/comradery stuff is uninteresting, uninformative, and completely unprovable.
posted by Copronymus at 10:53 AM on July 5, 2011


This paper reckons that home teams have higher testosterone levels than away teams, and especially so when a close rival is the opponent. Whether belief causes aggression or vice versa appears to be left as an exercise for the reader, as is what happens in women's sport.

The consistently better performance seen by teams in various sporting contexts when playing at home is referred to as the 'home advantage'. Various explanations have been put forward to account for this robust phenomenon, though none has yet focussed on possible hormonal factors. In an initial study, we showed that salivary testosterone levels in soccer players were significantly higher before a home game than an away game.In a second study involving a different group of soccer players, this finding was replicated over two home games, two away games, and three training sessions. Perceived rivalry of the opposing team was important as testosterone levels were higher before playing an 'extreme' rival than a 'moderate' rival. Self-reported measures of mood in both studies were not linked to testosterone level. The present results corroborate and extend earlier findings on the relationships between testosterone, territoriality, and dominance in human competitive encounters and further suggest an important role for testosterone in the home advantage seen in various team sports
posted by Jakey at 11:01 AM on July 5, 2011


At the very least, and most certainly in Italy, corruption plays a major factor in deciding who wins; when and where.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:06 AM on July 5, 2011


I'm not sure where the claim comes from that there's not much home field advantage in Baseball. I'm looking at the 2010 standings in MLB and it's fairly wild.

Yankees? 52-29 at home, 43-38 away.
Twins? 53-28 at home, 41-40 away.
Tigers? 52-29 at home, 29-52 away.
Pirates? 40-41 at home, 17-64 away. (!)

Notably, there's no teams that play better away than at home -- something that does show up in American Football.
posted by effugas at 2:49 PM on July 5, 2011


Notably, there's no teams that play better away than at home -- something that does show up in American Football.

Football has shorter seasons. You'd need to compare a football season to, say, eight randomly chosen home games and away games for each baseball team. (I'd choose them randomly instead of looking at the last eight home and away games each baseball teams has played because MLB schedules consists for the most part of three-game series.)

Alternatively, compare for all the teams together: in 2010 the home team won 1339 out of 2430 MLB games, or 55.1%. The home team won 143 out of 256 NFL games, or 55.8%.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:01 PM on July 5, 2011


mad,

I don't know. Sometimes you have to look at the raw shape of the data. Switching to percentages:

Yankees -- 64% at home, 53% away
Twins -- 65% at home, 50% away
Tigers -- 64% at home, 35% away
Pirates -- 49% at home, 26% away

Sure, when you mix everyone together things average out. But I think that hides the fact that home field, for some teams, literally almost doubles their chance of winning.
posted by effugas at 3:19 PM on July 5, 2011


And there are some football teams for which home field literally triples or quadruples their chance of winning. Arizona was 4-4 at home, 1-7 away in 2010. Cincinnati: 3-5, 1-7. Sure, I'm cherry-picking, but so are you.

(A correction to my earlier comment: there were 1359 home wins in MLB in 2010, or 55.9%.)
posted by madcaptenor at 3:27 PM on July 5, 2011


mad--

Fair enough, and I think it's an important dynamic to see. Munge everyone together and it's just a 5% deviation; look at teams individually, and you see an overwhelming predictor for some cases. Unless of course the bias changes over time, something that would require deeper analysis than final standings.
posted by effugas at 3:34 PM on July 5, 2011


So I actually did the simulation that I referred to. In R, where "mlbhome" and "mlbaway" contain the number of home wins and away wins for each team. The code picks eight random home games for each team and away games for each team, and then determines how many teams have better away records than home records.

mlbhome = c(49,52,46,45,37,53,45,52,38,38,51,47,43,35,54,56,41,47,41,49,52,40,42,35,40,49,45,52,45,40)
mlbaway = c(47,43,43,40,29,41,43,29,31,29,39,34,37,26,43,35,39,32,28,42,34,37,34,40,17,43,45,31,35,25)
nflhome = c(4,5,2,2,5,7,4,4,7,5,4,2,5,5,5,4,8,5,1,2,5,7,3,3,6,5,4,3,7,6,5,3)
nflaway = c(6,5,4,4,6,3,2,2,6,6,6,0,2,2,1,1,6,6,6,2,7,5,2,1,4,3,2,3,3,3,3,1)
flip = rep(0,1000);
for (j in c(1:1000)) {
simhome = rep(0,30);
simaway = rep(0,30);
for (i in c(1:30)) {
H = c(rep(1,mlbhome[i]),rep(0,81-mlbhome[i]));
A = c(rep(1,mlbaway[i]),rep(0,81-mlbaway[i]));
simhome[i] = sum(sample(H,8));
simaway[i] = sum(sample(A,8));
}
flip[j] = sum((simhome-simaway)<0)}

Now "flip" contains, for each of these thousand "seasons" of eight home and eight away games for an MLB team, the number of teams that had a better away record than home record. The average number of teams having a better away record than home record, in my simulation, was 7.04, with a standard deviation of 2.23.

The actual number of NFL teams having a better away record than home record in 2010? 7.

So I think that at least some large portion of the difference can be explained by the shortened seasons.

I have become one of those people that posts code in metafilter threads. oh crap.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:49 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


(You will notice that I define "nflhome" and "nflaway" and then never use them. Sorry about that; I had input the data so that I'd have it, and then it never got used in this particular simulation.)
posted by madcaptenor at 3:52 PM on July 5, 2011


Oh man, checking out NBA data:

Chicago *and* San Antonio: 87% at home, 68% away
Washington: 48% at home, 7% away

You actually see a lot more teams with near-even records, but the outliers...wow.
posted by effugas at 4:06 PM on July 5, 2011


I don't have a good sense for why the NBA is like that (I don't think I've ever actually watched an entire NBA game), but yeah, that's weird.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:27 PM on July 5, 2011


mad, I've heard that the teams don't play that hard outside the playoffs, because w/l ratios don't matter as much in the NBA. Still though. One wonders if home field advantage starts to matter more than, say, who the teams are.
posted by effugas at 5:07 PM on July 5, 2011


In that case the very large home-(field/ice) advantage should show up in hockey - same number of games, same playoff structure. But there seems to be a lot more parity among hockey teams so it's hard to compare them off the top of my head without actually thinking. And I have done enough thinking about this today.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:19 PM on July 5, 2011


NHL standings. There's an advantage, but it's much slighter. Certainly smaller than baseball. (Oddly, it's more pronounced in the West.)
posted by effugas at 5:25 PM on July 5, 2011


If there's more parity in the West (i. e. the teams are more closely clustered in ability) then I think that would lead the home-ice advantage to be larger. I'm having trouble arguing exactly why this is, though.

Also, Western teams tend to be further away from their opponents than Eastern teams. That seems like it might help them -- their opponents are more likely to be tired when they get there. (But on the other hand, the Western teams have to travel further themselves when they're on the road. This is complicated!)
posted by madcaptenor at 5:52 PM on July 5, 2011


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