Ask any player if they prefer to be at home or on the road. If they say the road, they either really like hotel bath soaps, or they're lying through their teeth. There is a comfort to playing at home. Your routine is uninterrupted, the venue is familiar and most of the crowd is on your side. In every league, teams enjoy a higher winning percentage at home, and most of the time, it translates into the playoffs.
The NBA and NFL have the biggest regular-season home advantages, improving a team’s chance of winning by 10 and 7 percentage points, respectively. And those benefits grow even larger in the playoffs, ballooning to as high as 14 percentage points for NBA teams. NFL home teams gain almost 5 extra points of win probability in the playoffs — again, after controlling for the fact that better teams tend to get more postseason home games.
When a championship is on the line, you want every asset that can you give you an edge—home-field advantage is that edge. When every pitch and every at-bat counts, it's a lot better to hear cheers than jeers. ESPN's Sam Miller takes a look at how some home cooking helps in the World Series:
There is no reason to think that the teams that had home field in Game 1 were better, and yet they have been, as a group, a postseason powerhouse. Teams that have started at home were twice as likely to sweep the World Series (12 times to six times) and nearly twice as likely to win the series in five games (12 times to seven times) -- even though these victors ended up with the home field disadvantage, playing three games at road and only two at home. In fact, after five games, the team that has played fewer games at home has clinched or led the series 49 times to 42. Which gets us here: The team that starts at home has won 59 percent of the World Series since 1925.
There is a slightly larger margin of error when advancing through the playoffs hinges on a multi-game series. When a sport has a win-or-go-home, single-game elimination format, there is a lot more room for a road team to have the performance of a season to advance—or so you would think. In the NFL, home-field advantage is a huge factor in determining a winner.
Alex Speier of the Boston Globe has the numbers to prove it:
During the regular season, home teams from 1990-2015 enjoyed a .579 winning percentage. In the playoffs, that shot up to .673. In the eight-division structure — which more frequently has pitted so-so regular-season division winners against wild-card teams that often had superior regular-season records — the jump is less extreme, going from .573 to .621. That said, if one ignores the wild-card round (where, on occasion, the underwhelming winner of a mediocre division hosts a superior wild-card team), the winning percentage of home teams in the playoffs since 2002 jumps to .679 — meaning that the home team wins about 10 percent more often in the division and conference rounds than would a typical team in a typical regular-season game.
Home-field advantage is nice to have, but some experts look at it like it's the ultimate weapon. Weak-minded teams buy into that hype, looking at road games like they are mountains instead of molehills. Real teams compete no matter what.
The New York Giants barely made the playoffs in 2007. They knew they had an uphill battle. They knew every game they would play would be on the road. It didn't matter.
The Giants would end up winning every game en route to the Super Bowl, where they would defeat the heavily favored (and undefeated) New England Patriots. Thinking home-field advantage is the boogeyman is a losing mentality. Players win games, not the crowd.
Success against home-field advantage isn't just limited to a single-game elimination format. It is also happening the NBA.
Before Stephen Curry and his super friends in Golden State, there were Baron Davis and the "We Believe" Warriors. Here was a team that didn't care it was going up against the best team in the NBA with the league MVP. Playing in Dallas twice to start the playoffs didn't intimidate this team. It just shocked the world by balling its way into the second round.
The Golden State Warriors aren't the only team to obliterate the mystique of home-field advantage. It has been happening all over the NBA. In 2015, ESPN writer Tom Haberstroh pointed out a decline in home-court advantage, especially in the 2014 NBA Playoffs:
The home team went 50-39, pulling out the victory in 56.2 percent of the games. That's significantly lower than the historical playoff average that hovers around 65 percent. The home team enjoyed just a 2.8-point cushion last postseason, down from 4.0 in 2012-13 and 4.7 in 2011-12. As recently as 2007-08, the home playoff team enjoyed an 8.1-point edge and won 74.4 percent of all games. Adjusting for pace, the home-court advantage last season was just a third of what it was when the Celtics won the title in 2008 (plus-9.0 vs. plus-3.0).