What Does Winning 'Sound' Like? Extech Proposes Using dB Levels to Investigate Home Field Advantage
Thursday, February 2, 2017
Unlike the preceding season and playoff games, the Super Bowl is set apart by
the prevailing theory known as, “neutral field.” The idea is, that because the
Super Bowl is hosted by a third-party’s stadium (i.e., a neutral field) it
limits external factors that tend to distract the opposing team. As a company specializing
in test and measurement tools and, considering this Sunday’s Super Bowl 51, Extech
decided to take a look at these external factors a little more closely. Particularly,
the influencing factor of sound, or decibel level (dB) generated by the home
team’s fan base, which is thought to negatively impact the performance of the
away team, giving the home team an advantage. This phenomenon, commonly referenced as “home field advantage,” is thought
to be made irrelevant by the neutrality of the Super Bowl’s field each year. At
Extech, we have technology that may potentially answer exactly what it is that
makes playing at home so advantageous, and in honor of this Sunday’s game we
thought it would be a perfect opportunity to propose a method of investigation
by way of testing this theory with
our measurement devices.
Many people assume that it is a matter of impartiality which brings the two
conference championship winners to a stadium not favoring either team, but it’s
actually just dumb luck that the stadium selected to host the Super Bowl in any
given year is always a third-party. In fact, the NFL chooses the stadium
several years in advance. Comparatively, it isn’t merely a matter of
superstition which makes playing at home advantageous, but there is evidence
conclusive to defining this advantage. For example, take SBNation’s findings from the 2008
to 2010 seasons, which shows us that teams in the NFL have, based on those
seasons, a 6.4% greater chance of winning when playing at home. (1)
Theories for this are numerous, but one which is often asserted or implied is that
the crowd, and more importantly the noise, is distracting for the visiting team
who is otherwise attempting to get all their cues ironed out before a play.
This phenomenon, if true, would be even more decisive in close games, because a
hurry-up offense is very difficult to run when tens of thousands of people are
screaming for the purpose of distraction. This explains why teams incite the
crowd on defensive third downs and goal line stands, even going so far as to
pump in artificial noise to the stadium. The main takeaway here is singular: noise. Noise can be measured, and
measuring sound levels is right in line with what Extech does best.
Tracking sound (dB) levels in a conclusive and
tangible way would then, by default,
become key to testing this theory
(enter Extech Sound Level Meters). Arrowhead
Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, has
the loudest crowd recorded at 142.2 dB. Before that, the Seahawks posted a
137.6 dB level crowd roar. For context, it should be noted that 112 dB is considered a risk
to hearing damage with about a minute exposure, and 140 dB can cause immediate
nerve damage. Perhaps bringing a dB meter to those stadiums could be a fun
and presumably decisive exercise (it may save your
ears, too!). While sound is a significant
and clearly influential factor, and one that
can be measured and therefore tested, it doesn’t
have the power to singularly change
the outcome of the game itself.
This year, the Seahawks lost to the Falcons in the
divisional round of the playoffs. They didn’t
have home field advantage and the 12th man crowd cheering them on at
over 130 dB. Contrarily, the Chiefs did and lost by
two just one day later to the Steelers (who then lost to the Pats in the AFC
Championship in New England). Bill Belichick, who knows a thing or two about
football, was asked a couple weeks ago about the advantage and he replied in
his usual terse yet endearing tone, “. . . the
game is won by the players on the field. That is who wins football games, the
players.” I’m certainly not going to disagree with hoodie, the players are
obviously the ones who win games, but
the question still stands as to how significant
crowd noise is. Toby Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim asked the same question
in their book, Scorecasting. (2)
“When athletes are at home, they don’t seem to hit or pitch better in baseball .
. . or pass better in football. The crowd doesn’t appear to be
helping the home team or harming the visitors. We checked “the vicissitudes of
travel” off the list. And although scheduling bias against the road team
explains some of the home-field advantage, particularly in college sports, it’s
irrelevant in many sports.”
Moskowitz and Wertheim conclude that the most reasonable explanation is likely to be the referees.
Refereeing can, at times, invite
subjectivity to the outcomes of individual plays, leading to the outcomes of
drives and, ultimately, games. Furthermore, officials
might feel that they are being completely impartial, but at
a subconscious level there is an involuntary bias. This bias is likely
reflected in their surroundings, which
just so happen to be a loud, screaming crowd, ready to practically
jump the officials who would dare make a bad call in favor of the visitors.
It’s social pressure from that crowd, not necessarily the noise itself, which
Moskowitz and Wertheim feel is the more relevant
factor, but that social pressure is coming from, and related to, the cheering
(or booing) crowd, nevertheless. Taking this into account, it would likely be
reasonable to say that although high sound level aren't necessarily the causation behind winning or losing, there is surely a
significant correlation, which often has been found in association to a game’s outcome.
The louder the crowd, the more likely a referee will invite opportunity for
bias in favor of those making the most ruckus.
Perhaps it is in the interest of teams, bookies, commentators and fans to apply
our proposed investigative method, and explore
this a little further. If it were true that sound level influences the
officiating and can ultimately influence game
outcomes, it should be tested. If we were to combine
SBNations methodology (games that could have been won if they were all played
at home) and tracked sound levels throughout each game, we would be able to
make a better judgement about how influential the crowd and the sound they
generate can be.
This Sunday, Feb. 5 will mark Super Bowl 51, the Falcons and the Patriots will
play on the “neutral ground”
of NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, where home
field advantage will not be a determining factor, so who will win? Will social
pressure via sound level be a relevant factor? Win or lose,
your best bet of predicting the outcome in this close matchup may very well come
down to one, albeit controversial factor: who will make the most noise? And if
you find yourself in attendance, make sure the ref can hear you!
(1) Bois, Jon. "Home Advantage In Sports: A Scientific Study Of How Much
It Affects Winning." SBNation.com. SBNation.com, 19 Jan. 2011. Web.
27 Jan. 2017.
(2) Moskowitz, Tobias J., and L. Jon. Wertheim. Scorecasting: The Hidden
Influences behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won. New York: Crown
Archetype, 2011. Print.