Homefield advantage is a big part of professional sports and the NFL but what exactly is it that creates that advantage and what happens if you take it away?
The NFL may soon find out. If the 2020 season goes on as planned there is a chance, albeit a small one, that fans will not be attending those games. If they do, it could be as few as 15,000 in 60,000 seat stadiums. Is crowd noise what gives teams a home-field advantage or is it something else?
Weather plays a role in it for certain. Cold weather acclimated teams struggle in warm weather climates and vice versa. In 2020, the Miami Dolphins will host northern teams early and play in the North late. Homefield advantage?
Travel also plays a role. Teams who play at home get better sleep prior to games and the traveling team has to deal with the logistics of that travel. Cross country trips can leave plays sluggish with jet lag. Homefield advantage?
Familiarity with a stadium is important. The home team has a much better and far more comfortable locker room. The field itself can be an advantage. Turf vs. grass can play a part in it all. Home teams know what part of the field may absorb water more than another, or where a soft spot may be, or what part of the field may tend to lift when running on. Simple subtleties that could be an advantage.
Crowd noise is perhaps the biggest part of it all. Opposing teams not being able to hear signals on offense can be a big boost and an advantage for the home team. The motivation of players who feed off that vibe plays a big role as well. Perhaps that is the biggest advantage of all.
Can the home-field advantage make a difference in a game’s outcome if you remove that last piece of the puzzle? Will it exist if you reduce it? How will players feed off what could be nothing? There has been talk about pumping in crowd noise but that doesn’t make much sense and could be funnier than anything else.
Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post mentioned this akin to watching a sitcom with laugh tracks.
It would be an awfully quiet stadium without some noise for certain. There would be no need for an announcer to call the down and distance over the loudspeaker if there are no fans in the stadium. Imagine how silent that game would be but also imagine how much of the game itself you would be able to hear.
Pads thumping would be much louder and the yelling back and forth would be heard as well. Coaches yelling at players, players yelling at each other, the thump of a player hitting the ground. Is that worth no pumped in crowd noise? Might be.
The NFL is still a few months away from making any decisions because right now they don’t need to. Still, it is something to look out for and the answers might be pretty interesting.