Home advantage has been a widely researched subject area, and it is an area in which more and more research is conducted as we aim to investigate what it is about our ‘Home’ stadiums/crowds that seem to have so much influence over a team or individual’s performance, compared to not competing at home. Throughout the rest of this article we are going to investigate the topic of home advantage and its influence on the greatest all round sporting competition the world has to offer. We are of course referring to the Olympic Games, more specifically the recent 2012 London Olympic Games where many television broadcasters and pundits alluded to that home advantage ‘effect’ playing its part in Britain not only recording their greatest ever medal haul but the greatest number of gold medals, we as a nation have ever achieved. Home advantage refers to a range of different factors that are occurring during these home performances. Courneya and Carron (1992) expanded on Schwartz and Barsky’s (1977) three factors (learning, travel and crowd factors) of home advantage and outlined five main factors that supported the home advantage theory. These factors were: laws of the game (as most, if not all sports have laws that benefit the home side), familiarity, referring to the familiarity of players and their surroundings, i.e., being familiar with their own dressing rooms and own pre game routines based on familiar surroundings. Fatigue due to travel is also another factor, however, due to more effective means of travel, compared to when the original research was carried out, this factor has become out-dated. The final two factors being: territoriality and crowd influences. Out of all five of these factors, the one that this article is most interested in investigating is the crowd influences factor as this has been shown to be the most effective and consistent means of proving that home advantage exists within sport.
Many pundits and athletes alike commented the topic of home advantage during the Olympics. This effect could largely be due to the sheer volume of supporters that were present, and previous research has indicated that crowd influences play a significant part in the effectiveness of home advantage. A study conducted by Balmer, Nevill and Williams (2003) explored the effects of crowd noise on referee biases during previous Olympic games from 1896-1996. The results of the study concluded that crowd noise had a much more significant effect over officials rather than athletes. However, the results of this study focused more on the influence of crowd noise on officials during 100 years of Olympic games and did not fully consider the influence crowd noise could possibly have on the athlete’s performance, perhaps this would divert the main focus of the study and therefore was not taken into full consideration.
More recent research by Boyko, Boyko and Boyko (2007) explored the influences of crowd noises and their effects on Premier League football officials. The studied explored the officials’ distribution of yellow and red cards as well penalties awarded, whilst also examining if crowd noises influence the decisions made. It was found that officials varied under the influence of crowd noises, meaning that different referees within premier league football used crowd noises as a cue to either make or miss a decision. E.g. the home crowd voicing their displeasure at a seemingly bad tackle: the referee would use this as a cue to not award a free kick to the home side to show they are not influenced by increases in crowd noise. Whereas some referees were opposite and would use the crowd noise as assistance in the awarding of some decisions to the home side. Downward and Jones’, (2007) study on crowd size effects also supported these findings, but added the hypothesis that the bigger the crowd, the more influence they have over officials, with officials looking to appease the crowd. So we can assume that these findings indicate that small sizes of crowds have a lesser influence on the decision making of officials compared to that of large crowd sizes. However, a replication of Boyko’s (2007) study by Johnston, (2008), using more recent data could not find any evidence to support Boyko’s claims that crowd noises influence a referee’s decision making or that variations in crowd size have a significant effect. From this we can assume that the referee’s decision biases to the home side must arise from more than crowd noise or size influences. Results from Unkelbach and Memmert’s, (2010) study provide some evidence to support the effect crowds have on officials. The study shows that the number of yellow cards distributed by officials is much more significant in favour of the home side, which contributes to the home advantage.
While the research into referee biases in home advantage gives us a clearer insight into how a home advantage is formed within team sports, it is difficult to generalise this data into all sports, as many of the sports during the Olympics are predominantly objectively officiated (E.g. athletics, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, etc.), therefore it is difficult to simply say that crowd influences directly influence all officials across all events of the Olympics, as officials have more influence over a team sport than an official would have over cycling.
So what is it exactly about the home advantage that ‘inspires’ or ‘motivates’ an athlete to perform much better than they would away from the home field? Pollard and Pollard, (2005) investigate the long-term trends of home advantage throughout a range of different sports across England and North America. The results of the study concluded that between 1876-2003 there had been a steady decline in the significance of home advantage and that home advantage itself has been shown to be less and less influential during this time period. However, the results did show that familiarity shows a significant influence in favour of home advantage. This finding of familiarity being influential in home advantage can suggest that an athlete is more likely to perform better in surroundings they are familiar with, contrary to travelling to away venues where they are unfamiliar with any facilities or home comforts the player is used to receiving. Although this study does show favour towards familiarity in sport being an influential factor in home advantage, it can be somewhat out dated in the modern day climate of sport. This is best expressed through football and international competitions such as; the Olympic Games and UEFA Champions League, where players and athletes are introduced to the new facilities, time zones, climate, etc. days or even weeks in advance of the competition taking place. This could remove any unfamiliarity an athlete could be experiencing as they begin to acclimatise to new surroundings. Once we consider this, the idea that away teams and athletes suffer from a lack of familiarity is unconvincing in this day and age and would therefore remove any home field advantage. So instead we must consider the reverse of this and how do home grown athletes experience familiarity? Not having to travel great distances and adjusting to new climates and facilities certainly is a massive plus and will undoubtedly assist in the home advantage. So even if we remove the possibility of away sides being able to develop familiarity by travelling much earlier than usual and settling into new surroundings, we can still suggest that familiarity or home comforts for home grown athletes can still give that slight edge and potentially improve performance.
We have explored numerous ways that home advantage can affect both home and away athletes, but have also found arguments against the effectiveness of home advantage. The one factor that remains constant across most research is crowd influences. Crowd influences seem to be the most effective means of increasing the home advantage, and of course this has been most evident throughout the Olympic games in which a record number of spectators turned out to support Team GB athletes across a whole range of various sports. The Olympics is host to a an ever expanding range of sports and each of those sports has its own type of home advantage, dependant on rules and number of spectators and the all round popularity of the sport. If the research by Downward and Jones (2007) was generalised across all sports, then we can assume that sports such as athletics would have a significant home advantage compared to sports with not as much coverage or crowd influence such as handball. This research would suggest that due to handball not having as big a crowd as athletics then home advantage would be non-existent within the sport. During this article we have already argued against those claims, but this leads us to more recent research into home advantage across various sports within the same nationality. A study by Gomez, Pollard and Pascual, (2011) investigated home advantage across nine various different sports, all at the same competitive level, within the same nationality (Spain). The findings of the study all showed significant evidence of home advantage within the sports, although some sports showed less home advantage than others, the most significant example of home advantage within sport was in Rugby. It was suggested that due to the intense nature and competitiveness of the sport, home advantage is an ever present, which could be related back to some form territoriality based behaviour within the sport, (the paper does not suggest this, but merely speculation based on one of the five factors for home advantage suggested by Courneya and Carron, 1992). The most surprising finding of the study showed the decrease in home advantage for football within Spain, although further investigation of this shows that within Association Football, there has been a slow decrease of home advantage over numerous years and it could be said that in some cases there is a home disadvantage based on the ability and level and familiarity of the opposition.
A record number of medals won by the home nation can simply be put down to the intensity of the crowd effects, thus creating that home advantage so many talked about. It is no coincidence that Team GB performed so admirably as tickets for every event were sold out and a wall of noise was created for every British athlete’s name that was announced across all venues hosting an event. Can we say that this could have been predicted? As we performed so well at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, many talked of how well Team GB were expected to perform during the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Nevill, Balmer and Winter’s, (2009) study concluded that all nations that have hosted the Olympics Pre/Post World War II have invested a significantly larger amount of funding into a wide range of sports before being awarded the games. The best example of this is Team GB’s cycling team in which a record number of medals has been won with each passing Olympic games, which is largely due to the funding and development available to this sport.
To conclude, we can say that the sheer volume of crowd influence could have significantly influenced Team GB’s record number of medals won at the 2012 Olympic games. An entire nation cheering on your every move is somewhat different to what an average Premier League game would have in attendance. Home advantage was very evident throughout the Olympics as many GB athletes commented on the effectiveness of the crowd and how the crowd “willed them on” to win. But as home advantage was hugely important in GB’s number of medals won, we must also thank the development of our nation’s athletes through the increasing funding that they are awarded through consistent high levels of performance.