Aussie Tennis Stars Statistically Fail to Fire at Home


My first newspaper piece for 2015 appeared in the Australian Financial Review (today, Friday 9 January), called: “Home-court advantage fading away in Australia”. It did not appear on-line, so e-mail me a request for a copy if you’re a tennis fan (even if you’re not) who wishes to read it. Alternatively, it’s on p.35 of the hard copy for those with access.

It builds on work I’ve been doing with Dr James Reade (University of Reading). The basic thrust is that home advantage on the ATP Tour was insignificant for Australian (male) tennis players over our 2003-2013 sample period, unlike most other major tennis-playing nations. These blokes had better start pulling their collective finger out!

UPDATE: They did…a bit!

James Reade on Tennis Home-Advantage


My co-author, James Reade (University of Reading) published an excellent piece today in The Conversation (UK edition) on our joint work using pro-tennis data, focusing on home-court advantage in the sport. This is of topical interest in Britain right now owing to Andy Murray’s defense of his Wimbledon title currently being in full swing.

Read: Hard Evidence: Does Home Support Help or Hinder Murray’s Wimbledon Chances?

We are interested primarily in other aspects of the data; nonetheless, home advantage is a nice little scientific problem that the average fan can sink their teeth into – nice one, Jimmy!

Brazil 0, Economics 2


My work on the Brazil myth and a general description of my research profile is in the newspapers again. This time, discussed in this piece by Peter Martin: “Can Soccernomics Save the Socceroos?“, which appeared in The Sunday Age two days ago (15 June). The online version is linked (p.35 in hard copy).

UPDATE: Brazil held to a goalless draw in the second match of group phase by none other than their bogey-team, México (as indicated in my earlier Australian Financial Review piece)! How, you may ask? The myth tells us that México not scoring early circumvented having Brazil run up a cricket score against them – hats off to the insightful tactics of master coach, Miguel Herrera.

Brazil 0, Economics 1


My piece: “Economics Lends Little Support to the Socceroos” appeared in today’s Australian Financial Review (Thursday 12 June). Link gated; but it is on p.43 of the hard copy if you have access to that. I draw an analogy between the optimal tactics for beating Brazil at the World Cup and upstaging a larger business rival in industry.

The abstract of the original 2012 journal article from Applied Economics Letters on which it is based can be found here.

UPDATE: Brazil wins the tournament opener 3-1 after Croatia failed to heed the myth and opened the scoring on 11′ (albeit through an own-goal). By admission, while on paper it looks like a substantiation of the myth, on the balance of play it was anything but!

Back on ‘ABC News Breakfast’


I was back on (ABC1) News Breakfast with the all-Bev team (Scott Bevan and Beverley O’Conner) for the first time in nearly 2 years. It was on 10 January (took me a while to get up online) during the Open. I was talking about home-ground advantage (or lack thereof) for Australian tennis players. Details below.


Liam Lenten interviewed on ABC1 News Breakfast about his study (with James Reade, U Reading, UK) on home-court advantage in tennis – specifically, that it is not significant for Australian players, at least for seeds. The interview was recorded during the Australian Open.

Home Advantage Omen for Ashes Whitewash


[Archived from: The Sports Economist, 2 January 2014]

With cricket’s latest ‘Ashes‘ series having been decided more than a fortnight ago, much of the remaining interest in the final Test, just underway, centres purely on whether Australia can complete a 5-0 Ashes whitewash for only the third time in history (following 1920/21 and 2006/07). Most ‘key performance indicators’ for Sydney are pointing in that direction – the newly-rediscovered ferocity of the Australian pace attack, not to mention the unexpected feebleness of England’s batting top-order (and middle-order, for that matter). England have also selected three debutants.

Moreover, there is an additional factor that, given recent history, points fairly and squarely in Australia’s favour – merely that they are the home side. The calendar year of 2013 was a stellar one for home teams in Tests. Specifically, of the 44 Tests played last year, a remarkable 30 were won by the home team, 10 were drawn and only 3 won by the away team (Pakistan looks likely to make that 31 against Sri Lanka in the Test that started on New Year’s Eve).

The surprising element of this occurrence, according to some pundits, was that it came after a period, from 2010-2012, in which away teams performed quite admirably against the tide of home-ground advantage. At least on the basis of raw numbers – in these years, a combined 124 Tests resulted in 48 home wins, with the number away wins almost at parity (43). This apparent ‘trend’ towards away teams did not go unnoticed by sports journalists and other non-academic writers. For example, Gideon Haigh remarked to this effect (“The quiet revolution: home ground advantage begins to fade away”, The Australian, 20/12/2012).

However, as economists know all too well, looking at just the raw figures is too parsimonious an analysis for making claims that the nature of home-ground advantage – a phenomenon so well researched, understood and entrenched in sporting culture – has diminished so fundamentally and suddenly. What needs to be understood about the sample of Tests in those years were that they were correlated with factors that skew the chances of victory in favour of the home team to begin with, most obviously on the basis of relative strength of both teams.

For example, easily the best team of 2012, South Africa, played 10 Tests that year. All but one of them were played away from home, with an unbeaten record (4 wins, 5 draws) befitting a World number one. This is a nice example of what in economics (and some other scientific disciplines) is called a ‘selection bias’ – such biases have to be accounted for, since it is not difficult to imagine how the figures would have more-highly favoured home teams at an aggregate level if the Proteas had instead been scheduled to play 9 Tests at home. Another example (this time for 2011) is that minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe played a combined total of 8 Tests, 7 of which were on home soil, again skewing the overall record in favour of away teams. With such a small sample of teams and Tests, these selection biases are important and should not be ignored.

Likewise, the stunning reversal back towards home teams in 2013 has to be taken with caution – (the again rampant) South Africa played 7 of its 9 Tests at home, winning 6 and drawing the other. Second-ranked India also played the majority (6 of 8) of its Tests at home, completing a perfect record, not to mention third-ranked England’s impressive Northern summer record (5 wins, 2 draws), prior to their almost inexplicable slide in the current series.

Most Australian cricket supporters will  hope that the aberration of 2013 does not continue past this week – their next series is away to South Africa. Otherwise, that tour could prove to be a sobering experience following the current euphoria. Nevertheless, the influence of home-ground advantage in Test cricket does not appear to be under any immediate threat. To this end, if one was the betting type, I would not be shy in punting on a home victory at the SCG.

Tension between Winning and Costs: Brazil Edition


[Archived from: The Sports Economist, 8 June 2012]

The UEFA European Football (Soccer) Championship kicks-offs tonight…but those who claim that this tournament is tougher to win than the World Cup should be reminded of two obvious absentees from the festivities in Poland and Ukraine, who, as it happens (related to an earlier post of mine in 2010), face each other in a friendly tomorrow at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford (home of the two New York NFL teams) – Argentina and Brazil. The two South American giants have played each other 92 times and the head-to-head could not be closer, as each has won on 34 occasions.

The seemingly odd location of this match is not so unusual in the modern context of the global business model of the sport. Brazil especially were the pioneers of playing internationals in odd locations – since 1994, they have played more ‘A’ international friendlies in neutral venues (36) than they have on home soil (35), though far less than away fixtures (62). Brazil is a very powerful brand, and that the Brazilian Federation, Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), has been perfectly willing in the past to forgo home advantage, and use this brand power to drive very lucrative deals with opposition federations, is well accepted. While fans in Brazil might prefer to see the Seleção play locally more often, I’ve never heard about many protestations about this status quo.

However, this may increasingly become an issue in the next 1-2 years as Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup. For any host team, preparation on home soil is essential. As an example from the past, USA played an amazing 88 ‘A’ internationals from 1991 to the start of the 1994 World Cup – 73 of these were friendlies, 54 of which were at home. By contrast, since their final 2010 World Cup Qualifier in October 2009, Brazil have played a total of 25 friendlies of which only three were at home (one of these was with a merely domestic-based line-up). Furthermore, automatic qualification negates the nine competitive matches at home they would have under normal circumstances, and with Copa América completed a year ago, Brazil now only has a collection of friendlies to look forward to until the 2013 Confederations Cup. Perhaps this is an acute illustration of the tension between optimal preparation and the CBF’s financial incentives?

UPDATE: Argentina defeated Brazil in a 4-3 thriller, thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick, in front of an all-time New-Jersey record attendance (81,994) for soccer – probably more than if the game were even held in Brazil.

No Legroom to AFL Travel Concerns


[Archived from: The Sports Economist, 24 September 2011]

Following the AFL announcement in November last year that it would abandon its sponsorship arrangement with Qantas in favour of rival Virgin Blue, various stakeholder groups expressed their disappointment with the Commission for penning the deal without sufficient consultation with the clubs or the AFLPA.

One of the primary concerns highlighted was that interstate travel would take a greater physical toll on the players, due to Virgin’s (claimed) more restricted flight schedule, and reduced legroom in the premium sections of the aircraft in their fleet.

Among the most vocal critics of the switch were the two Perth-based teams, with West Coast immediately investigating the possibility of instead chartering their own flights in consideration of the impact of legroom, most especially on their tallest players, such as Nick Naitanui and Dean Cox.

Outgoing Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett was, as customary, also scathing of the AFL’s decision-making process, particularly on the player welfare issue.

Now that the deal is one-year old, data is available for number-crunching. The full and precise impact of the alternative carrier is improbable to measure in a proper scientific manner.

However, a simple way to evaluate whether its impact on player fatigue is significant is to compare the outcomes of all matches in 2011 in which interstate travel is involved, to outcomes of similar games over the life of the Qantas deal (2002-2010).

To make the comparison fairer, games outside the capital cities – whereby both teams had to travel – are excluded.

Using home team net winning margin as the metric of interest, we would expect the average over any given season to be positive – reflective of standard home-ground advantage (and the general disadvantage of travel). This proves to indeed be the case.

If flying on Virgin Blue is truly more disadvantageous than Qantas, then we would also expect average home net winning margin to be higher in 2011 compared with previous seasons.

This proved not the case, however, with the average home net winning margin falling slightly, to 11.73 in 2011 from 13.25 points in the previous nine seasons.

Furthermore, if we examine only games that involve Fremantle and West Coast (hence more ‘airtime’), the reduction this year is more dramatic, from 17.01 to 13.60 points.

Finally, if we calculate the same comparison over all games as a benchmark, average home net winning margin was actually up slightly in 2011, to 8.68 from 8.53 points.

Arguably, there are other ways (albeit arguably less direct) to test this effect, and it will be preferable to repeat this exercise for a more rigorous comparison, once there is additional data from another season or two.

These figures are merely simple comparisons – they do not account for various match-specific factors. Nevertheless, they are sufficient to seriously question any claim that the change in carrier should greatly disadvantage travelling teams relative to previously.