GAME ON – JUNE 24
By Rob Kriete

HOME SWEET HOME

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

For virtually every sports fan, “game on” has only referenced the watching of classic games, re-runs, or even playing a game of RISK, Dominos, or perhaps Scrabble during quarantine. Happily, we now see plans for our beloved professional sports contests to return, albeit mostly without fans.

Over the years of my sports fandom, I’ve lost my voice more than once cheering on the Buccaneer defense at home games, taunting an opposing pitcher, and celebrating Bolts goals at a place I continue to call the Ice Palace. A sports event without fans is going to seem unearthly, but undoubtedly better than the alternative. Finally, though, we can isolate the effect that fans have on the home-field advantage.

Historically, in all professional sports, home teams have a better record than road teams. Studies conducted throughout the years show home teams earning approximately 5 – 10% more wins at home throughout the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. There are several factors that are clear contributors to this home-field advantage. Home teams get the benefit of their bed at home, with their families and friends, the comfort of knowing the stadium they play in, keeping with their routines, etc. For the most part, these are creature comforts that affect the psychology of the players playing sports. Sure, MLB stadiums are thankfully unique from one another, but a basketball court, football field, and hockey rink are all standard sizes.

So, how do the cheers and jeers of fans affect the outcomes of the games we love? I would like to believe that my lost voices have muted the occasional quarterback and rattled the sporadic pitcher. Data can potentially show how fans affect the games we love throughout these truncated, quirky schedules professional sports will attempt to play. Admittedly, the sample size will probably (and hopefully) not be large enough for a definitive answer, but it is an exciting component that bears watching. Imagine, for example, if sports fans find that teams combine for .500 records for both home and away games. Isolating the fan-affect across sports can be quantified now, perhaps better than ever before.

Complicating the discussion, some states will allow fans to attend sporting events while inevitably others, it will be deemed too risky. Without an “equity of fan experience,” I would argue that the home-field advantage increases exponentially with the inclusion of cheering, loud fans.

I will be paying attention to how fans’ experiences vary across our great country and the subsequent effect on the outcome of games. How do you think the fans help their home teams?