Saturday, February 19, 2011

Your Voice Matters, But Not Like You'd Expect

Contributing Editor Graham Fox

We have stood. And danced and cheered. And sang and urged our boys on till our voices crackle and it hurts to speak the next day.

We’ve pledged allegiance to a coach, espoused the greatness of individual players, screamed, moaned, groaned, and cheered, as good and bad plays and fouls appear on the pitch.

We argue for more reds and yellows for the opponents, more penalty kicks called for us, and for that extra two minutes of stoppage time that we need at the end of a game. No play our team make is ever worthy of a foul and almost everything the other team does proves they are diving, cheating, curs.

Do our voices and the soccer incantations affect the game?

Have we changed anything?

After work, driving down I35 South through stop and go rush hour traffic, I’ve often wondered what our actions and voices as fans are worth.

Well let me tell you something, what you say matters. What you sing matters. How loud you boo and cheer, it all matters.

But maybe not like you think, and Tobia Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim have written a book that proves it. With real stats and figures, not with half baked rush hour ponderings.

Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won
That’s right this is a book review. Full disclosure, was given a book for free to review. Also full disclosure, I promise the free book did not affect my opinion on the contents of said book.

When I received Scorecasting, the first thing I did was browse the excellent index. Full disclosure, I’m taking a class on indexing.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Scorecasting is written by a Professor of Finance and a senior Sports Illustrated writer. Football, baseball, basketball, they were all listed but I wasn’t sure how much attention they would pay to soccer. But yes, there under the s’, was a decent section that specifically covered soccer and had references to MLS.

The section that referenced soccer the most also blew my mind. We all know that the home team has a big advantage. In fact, between 2002 and 2009, MLS teams won 69.1% percent of all their home games (112).

Why does the home team win so often? In quick succession, the writers knock out the common theories. Is the crowd pushing the home team to play harder? No, when isolating incidents like free throws, shootouts, and kicking distance, it turns out that the home team and away team have nearly identical stats (116-122).

Perhaps it’s the rigors of travel? Well, the home field advantage is the same for “countries such as Netherlands, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, where travel distances are minuscule, as it is in countries as vast as the United States, Russia, Australia, and Brazil” (124).

Even the theory that the home team get an advantage from unique home characteristics like extreme heat (think FC Dallas or Houston Dynamo) or cold turns out to be false. When the authors studied NFL data between 1985 and 2009, it turned out that “cold weather teams are no more likely to win at home when the weather is brutally cold, nor are warm weather teams more likely to win at home when the temperature is awfully hot” (131-132).

Note: The authors go into far more detail and shoot down several other theories I’m not going to outline here.

So what are we affecting through our cheering that gives MLS teams that 69.1% home field advantage? We are definitely affecting someone, but it’s not the players, it’s the referees.
After examining 750 La Liga matches, it was determined that in close games when the home team is ahead, “referees ritually shorten the game by reducing the extra time significantly” and when the game is close and the home team is behind, “the referees lengthened the game with extra injury time” (140). When the game is wildly swinging one way or the other, the bias disappears all together.

It’s not limited to injury time either. After the authors studied 15,000 EPL, La Liga, and Serie A games while controlling for the number of penalties and fouls, “home teams receive many fewer red and yellow cards” and “disputed penalty shots and goals tend disproportionally to go the home team’s way”. Those red and yellows make a big difference too. A red card reduces a team’s chance of winning by “7 percent” while a yellow card reduces their chance of winning by “2 percent” (141). The larger the crowds, the more biased the referees become. In fact, “crowd size matters the most in soccer” (165).

Why is this? It all comes down to psychology. Within each of us is built an innate desire to please or conform with other people’s opinions. You might recall the experiment where three lines of vary length are show to a test subject. The subject is asked which line is longest. On their own, they get it right. However, when in a room with several actors who are told to answer incorrectly, the test subjects buckled and agree with the actors (157-159).

However, probably the most damning evidence of our influence on the game and referees innate humanness came in 2007 when 21 La Liga games were played with no fans present because of violence. Without us in the stands, the home advantage completely dries up. “The same referee overseeing the same two teams in the same stadium behaved dramatically differently when spectators were present versus when no one was watching” (164).

This is one of the reasons soccer desperately needs goal line technology. It is only by working to correct the innate flaws that are built into each of us that we can have a fair game. We’ve seen it everywhere instant replays and other technology has been implemented. When the NFL started reviewing plays and allowing coaches to challenge, the home field advantage decreased significantly.

Also In Scorecasting
Amazing huh? And I just touched on a few key points spread through two chapters. There are many examples, supporting details, stats, graphics, and other information on this topic and many others.

Other great chapters include:
  • Why fans and leagues want officials to miss calls
  • Is defense really more important than offense?
  • There’s no I in team, but there is an m and an e (the importance of a star)
  • Do players and athletes really melt when iced
  • Why Dominican baseball players are more likely to use steroids – and American players are more likely to smoke weed

My recommendation? If you enjoy sports, and not just soccer, but all sports, you better read Scorecasting. And if you don’t have the money to buy a copy, remember, the library is your friend.

Reference Cited
Moskowitz, T & Wertheim, L. (2011). Scorecasting. New York: Crown Archetype.


Music: Have you ever been to Holy crap, thousands upon thousands of free quality tapings of many great band’s live shows.

Next week: My brother David, a NAIA college soccer player, has been in Spain for the semester playing constant pickup and going to soccer games. We’ll get a report from him with some great pictures.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Graham, you take yourself too seriously.

Maybe you should just stick to laying in bed while watching your favorite Michael Moore nutjob documentaries.


11:23 AM  
Blogger Graham said...


12:47 PM  

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