Fans do impact the game


Going into last night’s game against the Heat, I projected the Spurs as slight favorites. Honestly, I didn’t think they were a better team than the Heat given their expected roster, but the impact of home court and the back to back the Heat were completing was just enough for me to consider the Spurs more likely to win.

Clearly there were a few stunning events that made my doubts appear trivial. Tony Parker’s appearance from nowhere clearly made a huge difference and, of course, Matt Bonner was simply unreal. Clearly a 30 point win is a pretty good indication that the Spurs are capable of doing just fine without the benefit of home court, but recent data presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference reminded me of the importance fans can play on their team’s chances.

I wrote a post on the causes of home court advantage in one of my first blogs on In the end I conclude that home attendance is a highly correlated with home court advantage, even after accounting for team strength.

In my article, I suspected that referee bias was a significant contributor to this effect, but I shied away from making such an outright statement because there wasn’t quite enough information to be conclusive regarding this controversial issue in basketball. However, the presentation “The Real Reasons Behind the Home Field Advantage” (presented by Toby Moskowitz) went a bit further and included many other sports. The most conclusive example in my mind was the example in soccer relating to injury time.

In soccer matches in which the home team was winning by 1 goal, injury time averaged about 2 minutes. However, this time was nearly doubled when the home team was losing by 1 goal. The reason this observation is most appropriate is because injury time is considered almost completely subjective. In all other sports, the consistent pattern was that objective calls were effectively even and subjective calls were biased for the home team, especially in the game’s most crucial moments. In basketball, the examples used compared difficult calls such as traveling to easy calls such as shot clock violations. Although I considered this, I couldn’t conclude based on a couple subjective tendencies if these were caused by referee bias or a pumped up home team.

Neither Toby nor I suggested corruption as a likely contributing factor in referee bias. The assumption was rather that referees were more likely to be influenced to favor the home team. The most obvious example might be that a fan reaction catches the referee’s attention and he makes a call that he would not have noticed for the road team.

The biggest conclusion to me is that fan involvement does seem to matter (theoretically more for bigger games) so get pumped and support the team, because it could make a difference.

  • Nikolas

    No doubt about that, fans make all the difference. The environment at the game was very supportive, and in return the Spurs gave the fans a stellar performance against one of the nba’s most talented teams.

  • rob

    Yeah…I was a little off base in my prediction. Glad it was tremdously different in favor of the Spurs. Even if I had knowledge that Tony was going to play prior to making a prediction…I never would have predicted that.

    Question…did the offensive foul calls against James and Wade prompt you to write this?

    Agreed…HCA has always been a team’s 6th man. Hope the Spurs can keep that distinction when playoffs role around.

  • ThatBigGuy

    As a former college player, I would agree with the conclusion that refs are influuenced by the crowd. I’m not saying the crowd goads the refs into making wrong calls, but they do tilt a 50/50 call in favor of the home team. For instance, if there is a charge situation that could go either way, the home team has better chance of getting the call in their favor.

    I would say, however, that the ref issue pales in comparison to the effect that thousands of screaming fans have on the players. That’s why it’s so hard to win at Cameron Indoor. Nothing gets a player’s juices going like a tie game, 1 min left, at home with every fan standing up and screaming. There’s an adrenaline rush that a home team gets that a road team can’t comprehend.

  • Scott Sereday


    That wasn’t my motivation, but offensive fouls are one of the more subjective calls that would be less likely to benefit a road team.

  • Scott


    I’m stunned that you wrote the Heat are a better team the Spurs. The Lakers or the Celtics…I can give you that. But the Miami Heat. I don’t think so.

    While, Lebron and D-Wade are exceptional and Bosh is good. The rest of the team is not that great.

    I would take the Spurs role players over the Heat’s role players any day of the week.

    Spurs have much more depth than the Heat. I will admit I didn’t except a 30 point blowout last night. I clearly thought the Spurs would win pretty easily if they brought their energy and focus (even if TP was not playing).

    The Heat can’t packed the paint and they don’t have a PG who can control the tempo as well. Those weaknesses played right into the Spurs’ strengths.

    The Spurs have a much better overall team the Heat even though they have 2 of the best 3 players in the league.

  • Jacob

    Unless of course you’re Manu.

  • Scott Sereday

    @ (other) Scott

    In case this wasn’t clear, by “I didn’t think they were a better team than the Heat given their expected roster”, I was trying to infer that I had no clue TP was going to play. I do think that in neutral situation the Heat would be better than the Spurs without Parker.

  • Tara

    As the name suggest, home court……ADVANTAGE

    So obviously statistics show there is an advantage.

    That’s the reward you get during the playoffs if you get home court advantage. You get biased calls from the referees, the electrifying crowd support.

    On a level playing field, it does make a difference.

    Why else do you need to work so hard during the regular season…… To have better placing and home court advantage….

  • Alix Babaie

    Yeah, home court favors the home team….unless it is .04 or an obvious foul at the 3 point line commited by Derek Fisher.