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Footy Forensics: Does home ground advantage exist?

A spate of upsets have left many of us pondering whether or not home ground advantage is still a thing in the AFL. It's time to answer that question.

Hawthorn beat Adelaide in South Australia, the Demons ended a 13-year losing streak in the West, and the lowly Dockers very nearly toppled the top-four Cats in Geelong. Apart from causing tippers to wonder why they bother, the weekend's results might also cause footy fans to question whether home-ground advantage is still a thing.

The short answer: yes, yes it is. Home-ground advantage is still very much a thing. So far this year, 58.1 percent of games have been won by the home team. which is a touch above the average for the decade so far (56.7 percent) and about in line with the average for the 2000s. Overall, home-ground advantage in the AFL and VFL has been remarkably stable over time, with the home team winning somewhere around 56-60 percent of the time. This season is smack band in the middle of the historical range.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM. EXCLUDES FINALS.

It may be surprising that home-ground advantage has remained so stable for so long. After all, in decades gone past, the Melbourne clubs truly had their own home ground, far from the antiseptic Docklands and neutral MCG that the nine Melbourne sides (and occasionally Geelong) share nowadays. But the end of the suburban ground advantage of past decade has been offset by the increase in the number of games that happen between teams from different states.

Back in the 1980s, the home team won 56.3% of the time when they were playing a team from their own state - a hefty home-ground advantage reflecting the diversity of suburban grounds in use at the time. This dipped a little in the 1990s, but really took a tumble in the 2000s with the introduction of Docklands. This century, the home team has only won 52% of the time when playing against a team from their own state. Home-ground advantage for teams hosting interstate travellers has also dipped, though part of that might have been the temporarily terrible Giants and Suns - home teams have a better record against travelling sides so far this year than in any season since before the expansion teams entered the competition.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM. EXCLUDES FINALS AND GAMES PLAYED OUT OF THE HOME TEAMS HOME STATE.


Don't be fooled by Geelong's near-miss against the Dockers.

Simonds Stadium remains the most formidable challenge for a travelling team. Since 2014, the Cats have won a stunning 23 of 27 games at the Cattery, an 85.2 percent winning chance. That's better than any other side has managed when playing as the home team at their main home ground. Joint second is the Hawks and Eagles who have both managed 75 percent at the MCG and Subiaco, respectively.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM. EXCLUDES FINALS. EACH TEAMS MAIN HOME GROUND IS THE GROUND AT WHICH THE TEAM HAS PLAYED MORE HOME GAMES IN THE 2014-17 PERIOD THAN ANY OTHER GROUND. OTHER HOME INCLUDES ALL HOME GAMES PLAYED AT GROUNDS OTHER THAN THE TEAMS MAIN

But of course, the fact that Geelong has won a lot of games at Simonds Stadium over the past few years doesn't necessarily tell us that they have a huge home-ground advantage. After all,the Cats have been a very good team in recent years, winning a lot of games away from Geelong. To get a rough measure of teams' home-ground advantage, we can look at the difference between the percentage of games they win when playing as the home team at their main home ground, and the percentage of games then win when playing away. Geelong, for example, has won 56.6 percent of their away games since 2014 - that's an impressive record, but it's still a whopping 28.6 percentage points lower than their winning percentage at home. Still, the Cats are pipped for the title of the biggest home-away differential by the Gold Coast Suns. The Suns have nearly broken even at Carrara, winning 47.4 percent of their home games there, far better than their record of just 17.9% in away games.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM. EXCLUDES FINALS. EACH TEAMS MAIN HOME GROUND IS THE GROUND AT WHICH THE TEAM HAS PLAYED MORE HOME GAMES IN THE 2014-17 PERIOD THAN ANY OTHER GROUND.


How do players perform at home and on the road?

Out of the current crop of active players, Robbie Tarrant tops the list as the player who plays better at home than he does away. The Kangaroos defender has averaged 64.4 Fantasy points per game when playing in Victoria, but just 47.1 when playing interstate. That gives Tarrant a difference of 17.3 points between his average in his home state and interstate, beating out Jake Stringer (15.8 points) and Jake Batchelor (14.6) for the top spot.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM. BASED ON FULL-CAREER AVERAGES. EXCLUDES PLAYERS WITH FEWER THAN 20 GAMES IN THEIR TEAMS HOME STATE AND INTERSTATE. EXCLUDES PLAYERS WHO HAVENT PLAYED A SENIOR GAME IN 2017.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Dane Rampe. The Sydney backman averages 61.4 Fantasy points per game in New South Wales, but racks up an average of 70.6 on the road. He must really like the hotel life, with his performance on average a solid 9.2 Fantasy points better on the road than it is at home. Rampe pips Stefan Martin and Ben Cunnington for the title of the current AFL players who do best on the road. They're quite unusual in the AFL - most players perform better in their home state, as you'd expect.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM. BASED ON FULL-CAREER AVERAGES. EXCLUDES PLAYERS WITH FEWER THAN 20 GAMES IN THEIR TEAMS HOME STATE AND INTERSTATE. EXCLUDES PLAYERS WHO HAVENT PLAYED A SENIOR GAME IN 2017.

The season so far has thrown up some truly confusing results, like the Hawks' triumph over the Crows in Adelaide last week. But don't be fooled: home-ground advantage hasn't gone away in the AFL.

Matt CowgillMatt Cowgill is an economist by day and footy stats obsessive by night who thinks there's no such thing as too many graphs. He uses data analysis to tell stories for ESPN's Footy Forensics, as well as his own blog The Arc.

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