I’m going to be straight with you: If you came here looking for an answer to the question in the headline, I don’t have one.
That being said, I do have some interesting stats and theories about what it means for the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, formerly of San Diego, to be playing their games in a Major League Soccer stadium in Carson, California for the next two seasons.
Looking at the Stats
Interestingly enough, early downs seem somewhat unfazed by where the game is being played.
On the road, offenses average 8.65 yards to go (to get a first down), whereas at home they average 8.62 yards to go. One theory would be that on the road there are a lot of yards left to get on later downs and at home, the team is in “1st & 10” situations more often, balancing out in the end.
The rushing stats would back up that theory. While teams averaged more yards-per-attempt on the road in 2016 (4.2 vs 4.1), home teams averaged more rushing attempts, more rushes for first down, and more rushing touchdowns.
The passing game is where you see the biggest difference between home teams and road teams. Just look at this:
Home teams throw less often and throw far more effectively.
So, yes, the stats bare our what you thought: Playing at home gives you a big advantage.
The L.A. Chargers will be playing at StubHub Center for the next two seasons, which has 27,000 seats in it.
The Oakland Raiders (RIP) had the lowest attendance in the NFL last season, averaging more than 54,000 tickets sold per home game.
Quick Math: 27,000 x 2 = 54,000
Even if StubHub were twice as big as it is, and every seat was sold for every game, it would still be the smallest crowd in the NFL every week.
For what it’s worth, the San Diego Chargers averaged over 57,000 tickets sold during the 2016 season.
What Creates an Advantage
This article from 2011 is old but not outdated. What it found, after looking through decades of info was pretty simple: The biggest home field advantage is that referees are more likely to be influenced by a loud crowd.
Unfortunately, for the Chargers, their crowd of 27,000 is probably going to be less loud (and, therefore, less effective?) than most NFL home games, and that’s not even including the fact that the team is playing in a location that is not in the center of their past fanbase (San Diego) or future fanbase (Los Angeles) and in a part of the country that is mostly filled by transplants (Southern California) who may be showing up for the gimmick of watching an NFL team play in a soccer stadium.
So, long story short, the crowd won’t be as loud as an NFL crowd and the crowd will probably also be filled with a higher percentage of road-team fans than normal. That means less influence on the refs and less of a home field advantage.
At least, that’s my theory. I hope I’m wrong.