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Audience Effect On Sports Performance

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

The Effect Of The Audience In Sport. The Spectator Effect

A key social-psychological effect on athlete performance is the relationship with the audience. Often known as the "Spectator Effect".

There is a perception in sports that home court and stadia provide an advantage.

Whilst there are a number of factors which will lead help to create home court advantage a supportive audience seems of utmost importance. Featured below are the areas which need to be considered when creating a supportive audience.

  1. Social facilitation
  2. Home court advantage
  3. Home court disadvantage
  4. Characteristics of the audience

Old Trafford- Home Advantage For Manchester United?

Is Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium a source of home advantage in football?

Is Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium a source of home advantage in football?

Does Home Or Away Matter?

Social Facilitation And Audience Advantage

Research on social facilitation has been focused on the hypothesis that the presence of an audience of one or more spectators can help augment performance levels. We all have a desire to perform well around our peers, parents or to impress the opposite sex so in some ways such a concept could be considered appealing to the athlete.

It has been proposed that an audience can lead to increased arousal in athletes therefore facilitating the required action. Zajonc (1965) based his theories around drive theory with the belief that beginning athletes will often be negatively influenced by and audience, intermediate level athletes having a chance of positive or negative effect on performance and elite athletes incurring a benefit to performance on having an audience in place.

Unfortunately a key flaw in Zajonc's work was that the theory was based upon no interaction between performer and audience which we all are aware is going to be a variable which can have an effect on aggression in sport psychology.

The London Olympics- A Key Example Of Home Advantage In Sport

When the London 2012 Olympics inspired British athletes on to a significant medal haul it was deemed that our home advantage had in some ways been responsible. In honesty home court advantage can be created from a huge number of factors ranging from the effects of time-zones on the body clock to simply the comfort of being able to sleep in your own bed and the familiarity it provides.

Why Does Home Court Advantage Exist?

One of the most plausible explanations for the presence of home court advantage a supportive interactive audience watching games. Could this be as a result of the audience positively energising the home team? Or potentially psychologically inhibiting the actions of the away team?

With the demonstrated existence of home team advantage there are a number of potential explanations and factors which may help to prove why home advantages exists, whether in soccer, American Football, baseball, basketball or ice hockey.

Learning Factors and Environmental Effect On Home Advantage In Sport

We all know that we tend to feel most comfortable in an environment that we become adjusted to. That level of environmental knowledge leads to familiarity and the subsequent learning factors that are associated. The French cyclist in the Tour De France passing through his hometown will have a great knowledge of the local roads, from the undulations to the simplest thing as where some of the traffic furniture is and this will give him a psychological advantage through his environmental learning.

Another great example in American sport is baseball. No two baseball field's are the same and this can lead to advantages for the home team as noted by Leifer (1995). Whether teams play on real or artificial turf, to infield's being sculpted from various different dirts. Whilst infield measurements for running never change- The outfield can be greatly different, especially taking into account weather conditions.

In terms of stadia Leonard (1998) noted a 3-4% increase in home advantage in domed stadiums such as Seattle's Safecon Field. Domed stadia were cited as creating an increased feeling of intimacy between players and crowd due to the closeness of the sound.

Domed Baseball Stadiums Increase Home Advantage

The Sapporo Dome, Japan. Studies by Leonard (1998) showed that domed baseball stadia helped increase home-field advantage by 3-4%

The Sapporo Dome, Japan. Studies by Leonard (1998) showed that domed baseball stadia helped increase home-field advantage by 3-4%

The Effect Of Crowd Structure On Game Outcome

Key research has noted that bigger home crowds generally lead to a higher percentage of home wins. When investigating crowd advantage in sports Agnew and Carron (1994) saw a clear relationship between crowd size and distinct home team advantage in sports. These findings were subsequently backed up by Schwarz and Barsky (1997) who saw increases in crowd size correlating to increased home team win percentages in baseball- particularly when first division home teams played against second division ranked away teams.

In English Association Football (Soccer) Nevill, Newell & Gale (1996) observed significant home advantage when larger crowds were present. Surprisingly they noted that the most significant home advantage was found in the English first division compared to the higher level Premier League of teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea. The statistics also noted that beyond a certain crowd density no significant further advantage was exhibited.

Arguably more important than crowd size is the crowd density and intimacy levels. High crowd density and intimacy relate to factors such as how close the crowd is to the pitch. In many soccer stadiums where a running track goes around the edge of the field it is noted that a lower level of general crowd noise and atmosphere is created, thus inhibiting the home advantage.

Crowd Hostility And Home-Court Disadvantage

Whilst we know that a supportive, intimate crowd can help elevate a team's performance, could a hostile crowd have a destabilising effect?

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Spectator protests and negative crowd behaviour have been shown to clearly affect away team behaviour and crowd's have been known to negatively effect home player performance's too.

Task Familiarity, Skill Levels And Audience Effect

It has been shown that whilst the presence of a supportive audience can increase arousal and then (by following the principle of Drive Theory) subsequently facilitate an individual's dominant response in the form of elite sports-people, in beginner and intermediate athletes the response can have a negative effect.

How does training level and competency effect audience interaction

How does training level and competency effect audience interaction

Home Court Disadvantage In Sport

Can home games sometimes be a disadvantage to a sports team or individual?

There are a number of considerations to take into account regarding this aspect of team psychology.

  1. Fans have an expectation when you're playing home games. Away teams become the underdog and subsequently may feel under less pressure psychologically to perform.
  2. Excessive crowd influence can raise arousal levels beyond the optimum which can directly affect performance levels

As an addition to this effect it might be worthwhile to consider that away teams can be favoured in the scoring structure of some sports. A very high profile example of this is soccer (Association football) where the 'Away Goals Rule' is applied in cup matches played over two-legs in the case of equal aggregate scores.


Agnew, G; Carron, V; (1994). Crowd Effects and the Home Advantage. International Journal of Sport Psychology. 25, 53-61.

Nevill A. M., Newell S. M., Gale S. Factors associated with home advantage in English and Scottish soccer matches. J Sports Sci. Apr;14(2):181-6.

Leifer, E. (1995). Perverse effects of social support: Publics and performance in major league sports. Social Forces, 74, 81-97.

Leonard II, Wilbert M., (1998). Specification of the home advantage: The case of the world series. Journal of Sport Behavior, 21, 41-52.

Schwartz, B., & Barsky, S.F. (1977). The home advantage. Social Forces, 55, 641-661.

Zajonc, R, B., (1965) Social facilitation. Science 149, 269-274.


Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on August 15, 2020:

Thanks Sannyasi Raja for your kind comments.

Sannyasi Raja from Durgapur, West Bengal, India on August 09, 2020:

Got to know some interesting facts.

Very nice

Joe from north miami FL on June 18, 2014:

Very interesting break down here, it seems like something that matters but sometimes you just don't know if all the cheering is for nothing.

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