Location Variations in Professional Football

By Acker, Jon C. | Journal of Sport Behavior, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Location Variations in Professional Football


Acker, Jon C., Journal of Sport Behavior


"H.L. Mencken's average Boobus Americanus is a wild-eyed, cheering sports junkie. He is the 10th man at Dodger Stadium (Baseball), the 12th man at the Coliseum (Football), the 6th at the Forum (Basketball & Hockey). He is the home-field advantage sports reporters write about (Shirley, 1986, Part 3, p. 1)."

While home-field advantage is often personified, like in the above statement, it is a much more complicated phenomenon. The terms "home-field advantage," or "home advantage" are used to describe the persistence of home teams winning a majority of games. It has been shown that home teams win between 53% and 70% of their games depending on the sport and level of competition (Courneya & Carron, 1992). Home-field advantage (HFA) is a subject which has been extensively studied since the 1970s, but has resulted in very few concrete conclusions, since "little systematic research has been carried out to determine its nature or causes (McGuire et al., 1992, p. 149)." This is "due to the difficulties in controlling home advantage variables," which make conclusions inferential (Courneya & Carron, 1990, p. 313). Courneya & Carron (1992) list the wide and varied explanations for HFA which include:

biological-based theories of territoriality and circadian rhythm changes, to social psychological-based 'drive' theories (e.g., social facilitation) and social cognitive theories (e.g., self-preservation, perceived social support), to sociological-based theories of community celebration (e.g., ritual integration). (p. 14)

Many studies have looked at numerous aspects of HFA, including spectators' impact on officiating (Lehman & Reifman, 1987; Askins, 1978), effects of travel and the length of a home stand (Courneya & Carron, 1991), its presence in women's sports (Gayton, et al., 1987), audience size influences (Schwartz & Barsky, 1977), and team quality (Schwartz & Barsky, 1977; Snyder & Purdy, 1985), just to name a few. The purpose of this research, however, is to quantify HFA spatially for individual National Football League (NFL) teams and their metropolitan areas, something that has not been attempted to the author's knowledge in any sport on any competition level.

Professional football was chosen for this study due to its ever increasing popularity and preeminence in athletics and entertainment. Football is overwhelmingly the public's sport of choice. A Gallup poll (Gallup & Newport, 1992) discovered that 38% of Americans chose football as their favorite sport to watch, followed by baseball at 16% and basketball at 12%. Also, professional football is, perhaps, only surpassed in sporting fervor by its collegiate cousin. However, as the NFL continues to expand, adding Jacksonville and Carolina in 1995, all the while the Canadian Football League (CFL) further infiltrates the U.S., one cannot fathom the magnitude the sport would optain in the future should these two leagues coalesce as the American Football League (AFL) did with the NFL in 1966 creating the aptly named Super Bowl.

As Shirley (1986, Part 3, p. 1) pointed out, in football, HFA is often called "the 12th man," suggesting it is akin to the advantage of having an additional player. Others equate it to the home team's familiarity with site tangibles like the stadium, the local climate, field conditions and other peculiarities. After the 1994 National Football Conference championship game George Seifert, coach of the 49ers, stated:

"We've played on bad fields and artificial turf and in stadiums where the noise is mindboggling. That's the home-field advantage and you learn it after you've been in the league awhile (Amore, 1995, p. C4)."

Certain teams possess reputations as having profound home advantages. Denver is one such location. Rabun (1986) claimed that:

"Denver is blessed with a tremendous home-field advantage. The stadium is filled with orange-garbed fanatics who can drown out the opposition's signals and then, on cue, take on a cathederal-like silence so their heros can hear the snap count. …

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