Fans Affect Games

At least they think they do

The NFL has returned with fans in the stands of some stadiums across the country, but the few teams with crowds might have a distinct advantage in a COVID-19 season.

Off the field, fans support the team by purchasing tickets, buying memorabilia, and generating buzz for the team. One hardcore Jets fan thinks he and other fans have a tangible influence on games.

“I cost us a Super Bowl,” Evan Jehle said. “It was Jets-Pats, home opener on Rosh Hashanah. Vinny (Testaverde) tore his Achilles. Season over. My fault.”

Jehle has been a season ticket holder since 1996. Since 1998, he has missed six home games, including the aforementioned matchup between the Jets and Patriots in 1999.

The New York Jets and Giants play at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Both teams will play without fans for the 2020 season unless the situation improves according to MetLife Stadium’s official website.

The Jets went to Buffalo for a fan-less Week 1, and they returned to MetLife, hosting the 49ers with no fans.

Jehle questioned whether “(Harrison) Butker could kick from 58 yards three times for the Chiefs if the opposing fans were screaming like crazy.”

“Close games can be decided by loud fans,” Jehle said.

Jehle thinks that fans play a role in their team’s winning or losing based on crowd noise. He said the Chiefs beat the Chargers in some part because the Chargers did not have fans.

A Colts fan and regular bettor disagrees.

“We didn’t make a difference,” Tyler Fallis said. “There was maybe one throw, (Sam) Darnold threw a duck over the middle to the tight end that fell incomplete after we started banging on the empty seats at Lucas Oil (Stadium).” The Colts permitted 7,500 fans in attendance at their Week 3 clash with the Jets.

Historically, every team has an advantage at home. Oddsmakers factor in home field advantage to spreads, a kind of bet one can make on a game. If the teams are evenly matched, the home team receives about a 3-point advantage along with the spread. Home teams won 57 percent of NFL games between 2000 and 2019.

“I lean to the home team, especially if they have momentum coming into the week,” Fallis said. He has made thousands of football bets since 2015.

Some teams enjoy larger home-field advantages with the likes of New England, Baltimore, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh winning 70 percent of home games since 2000. Baltimore and Minnesota were 20 percent more likely to win home games compared to road games.

Part of the home-field advantage comes down to the fan noise. Other factors include travel, the biological clocks of the players, weather, altitude, and the strength of the teams.

One Washington Football Team fan disagrees with the notion of the other factors being able to influence the on-field product.

“Talent is the biggest reason why home teams are so successful,” Eduardo Baskervill said. Baskervill has been a Washington fan for nearly 30 years. “Familiarity and comfort of playing at home help,” Baskervill said, but professional athletes are better equipped to handle traveling stresses.

Crowd noise plays a small role in determining the outcome of games, but there are anecdotal instances of a crowd potentially influencing a key play. Jehle said the Chiefs would have tied the Chargers had fans been in the stands. Fallis said that the crowd in Indianapolis affected one pass attempt in 60 minutes.

“Fans can set the tone of the game as well as cause miscommunications,” Matt Garvey, a Jets fan of 15 years said.

Crowd noise has prevented teams from hearing cadence calls when the opposition’s offense is on the field. A 5-yard loss or a missing timeout seems inconsequential, but it can impact the game in the final moments.

“In most games played up until this season, fans played a tangible role in the game’s outcome,” Taylor Oldham, an Eagles fan of 10 years said. Oldham said players and coaches play into a “protect our house” mentality, helping them to win games.

Oddsmakers and fans agree there is substance to a home-field advantage that backs up historical tendencies, but it is difficult to discern the crowd’s influence on a game.