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March 2, 2007

Home, Sweet Home (Road, Bloody Road)

Glancing at the English Premier League tables the other day, I noticed a strange thing: The top four teams have combined for just one home loss, in 55 games. Yet on the road, the quartet (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal) have combined for 17 losses in 54 games. In fact, not a single team in the league has a better record away from home than at home, and only the four teams slated for relegation have lost more games at home than they've won. Home-field advantage exists in every sport, but nowhere near this pronounced. What's going on?

In Italy the top four teams have seven home losses, 10 away. In Spain, it's 5 and 17. And in Germany, 8 and 13. All three leagues have at least one team with a better record on the road than at home. Let's look at the 2005/2006 numbers: England (4 home losses, 23 road losses among the top four teams) was again the home-friendlest of the other three top soccer leagues [Italy (8, 23); Germany (9, 13); Spain (10, 23)].

In the big-three US pro sports leagues, the effect is nowhere near as pronounced. The NBA's top four teams, all in the west, have 23 combined losses at home, and 35 on the road. In the NFL, we'll take the top five, because New England and Indianapolis each have identical 12-4 records, fourth-best in the league. They combined for six losses at home, and 10 on the road. In Major League Baseball, the top four combined for a .617 winning percentage at home, .571 on the road.

But back to that original question: What's going on in England? An article in the Times of London last June said that home teams tend to attack more than visitors, leading to more free kicks and more goals—37.29% more than their opponents. Then there's the referee effect: Researchers in 2005 concluded that there's a home bias that can't be explained by other factors. But why are these factors more pronounced in the Premiership? It remains something of a mystery.

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- Sports
- posted on Mar 02, 07
Rob Hart

This phenomenon is just as pronounced in the major US university sports (basketball and football). In NCAA Div. 1 basketball, for instance, the top 5 teams in the current AP poll have a combined 18 losses. Only 2 of them (both by Kansas) are at home. The other 16 are on the road or at neutral sites. The top 5 ranked football teams from last season didn't have a single home loss, compared to 6 road or neutral site losses.

I have no idea what the Premier League has in common with US university athletics, beyond a rabid fanbase. (Premier League teams don't have marching bands do their halftime shows, do they?) It's an interesting similarity, nonetheless.

- Sports
- posted on Mar 02, 07
Dave Hogg

The college basketball effect is even more obvious if you look at individual conferences.

The Big Ten's top six teams - over half the conference - are a combined 41-4 at home and 18-24 on the road.

Michigan State and Indiana are 14-1 at home and 2-11 on the road.

- Sports
- posted on Mar 03, 07

You can't really compare US University sports to professionals. Outside of conference games (big 10, ACC), they get to pick their schedule.

And they have an eye towards economics, the only time they'll play an away game if they are playing a "Marquee Opponent," where a victory is really great, but a loss isn't that important for the Championship tournament.

- Sports
- posted on Mar 05, 07
Pietro Canetta

I wonder if there's a financial component. Do English teams' incomes depend (relatively) more on ticket sales than TV rights, compared to the other European leagues? The opposite is true in Italy, which in part explains the decrease in stadium attendance while interest (and TV viewership) remains high. Just a thought.

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