Do I Help My Sports Team Win?

The Effect of Fans on Sport

While you can “take [yourself] out to the ball game” and “root, root, root for the home team”, will it really alter the game’s outcome (Norworth and Von Tilzer, 1908)? Many sports fans, as well as sports literature, believe that fans’ stadium presence with their team, wearing the team’s colours and chanting the player’s names, have a large role in the final outcome of the game (Schwartz and Barsky, 1977). This is known as home advantage and is due to a mixture of fans’ supportive presence on players, and their influencing of officials favoring the home team (Nevill, A. and Holder, R., 1999; Schwartz and Barsky, 1977). The common belief is that fan presence is the largest contributing factor to home advantage, however, recent research suggests that it may not have as large of an effect as originally believed (Gershgoren, 2022). 

To investigate this, I gathered current Major League Baseball data of both home and away games of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team from the last three seasons (ESPN, 2020; ESPN, 2021; ESPN, 2022); of which the 2020 season was played with no fans in attendance, the 2021 season was played with a half-capacity stadium, and the 2022 season was played with a full stadium (Table 1). Primarily, it is important to note the clear home advantage trend present, as the team has a notably higher win percentage when playing at home each season. Moreover, it can be noted that fan presence caused a slight increase in home advantage, with the largest home advantage effect seen in the 2021 season. However, due to how small the difference was between the seasons with a full stadium and with no fans, a less than 0.05% difference in win percentages, we can conclude that fan presence is likely not the main cause of home advantage. Proving, that while the presence of fans has a slight positive effect on team performance, home advantage is likely formed because of a combination of different factors, including fan presence. 

Table 1: Overview of wins, losses, the total number of games played, and win percentages of Toronto Blue Jays homeland away games over the 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons. Overall, home advantage is apparent, as the win percentages for all three seasons are higher when playing at home. However, there was no clear, consistent trend noted between win percentage and fan presence aside from a slight, nearly inconsequential increase when fans are in the building. Statistics were taken as of September 7th, 2022. Game statistics for the 2022 season will continue to change over the remainder of the season, however, this remains a snapshot of the currently available data (ESPN, 2020; ESPN, 2021; ESPN, 2022).

Similar to the above findings, Chiu and Chang (2022) used statistical analysis to show that fans’ effect on home advantage in baseball is not a (pun intended) game changer (Chiu and Chang, 2022). They used a one-way ANOVA analysis where ‘home wins’ was the dependent, and ‘year’ was the independent variable. The study also took into account factors that I was not able to, specifically the difference in home advantage for teams with larger or more supportive fan bases. At the conclusion of their analyses, Chiu and Chang (2022) determined that there was no real home advantage present between the fan-filled seasons and the fan-less season. 

Interestingly, Schwartz and Barsky (1977) noted that the effects of home advantage are most apparent in indoor sports such as basketball and hockey. Thus, the trend noted by Chiu and Chang (2022) as well as investigated using Toronto Blue Jays game statistics, could be negligible due to the outdoor sports environment. In support, a separate study found that the home advantage remained, albeit to a reduced degree, in the absence of fans for an indoor soccer league (Figure 1) (Arboix-Alió et al., 2021).

Figure 1: bar graph showing the win percentage of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian soccer teams for home games in the presence (blue), and in the absence (orange) of fans. A trend can be noted where fans have a positive effect on the team’s outcome (Arboix-Alió et al., 2021).

This proves that home advantage is affected by fans, but not to the expected degree. What other factors are leading to this overall home advantage then? Aside from fan presence, many factors, such as team travel, game rules, and environmental familiarity, all play a role in the performance of players, the rulings of officials, and ultimately the outcome of each game (Nevill and Holder, 1999). However, it is the combination of all of these factors that actually cause home advantage. So, while you may not be the largest factor causing your team to win, you definitely play a role. So grab your jersey, learn the cheers, and go support your team! 

References

Arboix-Alió, J., Trabal, G., Buscà, B., Peña, J., Arboix, A. and Hileno, R., 2021. The Behaviour of Home Advantage during the COVID-19 Pandemic in European Rink Hockey Leagues. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(1), p.228. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19010228.

Chiu, Y.-C. and Chang, C.-K., 2022. Major League Baseball during the COVID-19 pandemic: does a lack of spectators affect home advantage? Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9(1), pp.1–6. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-022-01193-6.

Gershgoren, L., Levental, O. and Basevitch, I., 2022. Home Advantage Perceptions in Elite Handball: A Comparison Among Fans, Athletes, Coaches, and Officials. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] Available at: <https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.782129> [Accessed 12 September 2022].

Nevill, A. and Holder, R., 1999. Home advantage in sport: an overview of studies on the advantage of playing at home. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 28, pp.221–36.

Norworth, J. and Von Tilzer, A., 1908. Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Available at: <https://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_stmo.shtml> [Accessed 12 September 2022].

Schwartz, B. and Barsky, S.F., 1977. The Home Advantage. Social Forces, 55(3), pp.641–661. https://doi.org/10.2307/2577461.

ESPN, 2020. Toronto Blue Jays Baseball – Blue Jays News, Scores, Stats, Rumors & More | ESPN. 2020 [online] Available at: <https://www.espn.com/mlb/team/_/name/tor/toronto-blue-jays> [Accessed 12 September 2022].

ESPN, 2021. Toronto Blue Jays Baseball – Blue Jays News, Scores, Stats, Rumors & More | ESPN. 2021 [online] Available at: <https://www.espn.com/mlb/team/_/name/tor/toronto-blue-jays> [Accessed 12 September 2022].

ESPN, 2022. Toronto Blue Jays Baseball – Blue Jays News, Scores, Stats, Rumors & More | ESPN. 2022 [online] Available at: <https://www.espn.com/mlb/team/_/name/tor/toronto-blue-jays> [Accessed 12 September 2022].


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