Does Home Field Advantage Impact Sports Betting?

Remember in your youth and high school years when you played sports? Back then, it was definitely a pain to climb on the bus, drive for a couple of hours and then try to play on someone else’s field with their fans, student section, band and cheerleaders.

It kind of stank at times.

Back then, home-field advantage sure felt very real. But is it?

Even today when sports bettors are doing their handicapping, the first question most basic strategies have them ask is which team is playing at home? If the old stories are to believed, it makes a large difference. But does it?

This particular subject is a fairly well-debated one, especially when it comes to betting on different sports. Ask 10 sports bettors if home-field advantage makes a difference, and you could get a 50-50 split.

We decided to investigate ourselves. Is there an advantage to playing at home? Should it matter when handicapping upcoming events? Take a look at our guide to home-field advantage to find out what we dug up.

What does home-field advantage mean?

The most basic definition is one that you likely are expecting: When a team plays at its home field, court, rink or the like, we anticipate it having an advantage over the team that had to travel for the game. No travel. More fans. The field you practice and play on. These are all factors in why home-field advantage could be an edge.

It’s easy to see why. When the Seattle Seahawks have their stands filled with fans, the noise can be deafening. So much so that the fans have earned the moniker the “12th Man” because of the influence they have on the game. The organization even retired the number 12 to honor those folks who cheer so loud it sometimes registers on the Richter scale.

In Green Bay, it can get so cold that players have to stand near heaters and in warming tents between offensive and defensive series in order to stay warm enough to play. Meanwhile, some of those Packers linemen are playing with bare arms and look as though they hardly notice the wind chills dipping well below zero.

Just ask the visiting teams, and they will tell you that, yes, indeed, there is home-field advantage. But not all teams perform better at home. Sometimes teams will have better records on the road over varying stretches of time.

Home field advantage in major sports

Here’s a look at some of the effects playing at home can have in various sports.

Importance in NFL betting

We used a couple of NFL examples above with the Seahawks and the Packers, and that’s because NFL stadiums can be an absolute nightmare to play in.

Just take Denver, for example. The higher altitude means it is harder to breathe unless you’re accustomed to it, and the ball just moves a little differently when it is in the air. With betting on the NFL being so popular with sports bettors, it feels as if every potential advantage is broken down into the tiniest of details for handicapping and research purposes. One of those details is the benefit of home-field advantage.

Looking at the 2020 season, teams played 256 games over 17 weeks of football. Of those games, the home teams’ record was 127-128-1. That’s a 49.61% win rate. In 2019, with the same number of games, the home teams were 132-123-1, or 51.56% wins.

The 2020 sub-.500 winning percentage for home teams is the first time in NFL history that the number has dipped below that threshold. There’s no doubt the pandemic and the mostly empty stands didn’t help out, but there’s no way of telling how much of an impact it actually had.

Either way you look at it, even with home teams winning slightly more than half their games, there doesn’t seem to be a huge NFL home team advantage. Road teams are winning at just about the same clip as those in front of their hometown fans.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it into consideration at all. If a stadium has a history of being disruptive for away teams, you should note that. And if a team is really on fire, then it’s quite likely that will play out in front of the fans (of course, Kansas City’s two losses in the regular season were at home, and the Jets did upset the Rams in Los Angeles).

Importance in NBA betting

When compared to the NFL, the NBA has a lot more games, which means there are a lot more opportunities to win — or lose — at home. Because of how many road games an NBA team plays, you can expect home court to help out by reducing travel time, hotel stays and dealing with opposing fans.

We’ll use the 2018-19 season for this example.

That year, home teams had a 729-501 record out of the 1,230 games played, meaning the home team won 59.27% of the time. When you compare that to the NFL above, you’ll see that there is a significant difference. Of course, if you compare other years, maybe the numbers are closer.

However, before you factor in which team is playing at home during your handicapping process, keep in mind the overall capabilities and weaknesses of each team. Only if the teams are evenly matched should the home court be a large factor in determining which way you bet.

If the best team in the NBA is on a long road trip and it is playing the worst team in the NBA, you can pretty much count on the home court not making up the difference between the team strengths and weaknesses.

Importance in MLB betting

Major League Baseball clubs travel a lot, and when they are on the road, they typically are involved in a series of games with a single team. It’s rare for a team — home or away — to be swept by an opponent.

In 2019, Major League Baseball teams played a total of 2,429 games. The home teams managed to win 52.94% of the time with a record of 1,286-1,143, meaning we’re looking at a fairly slight edge once again.

Remember when you’re handicapping MLB games to take a look at the pitching rotation, how well the team has done in the park it’ll be playing in and the weather.

Importance in NHL betting

If you’ve ever been to an NHL rink, you have probably noticed just how on top of the action fans are. They rise up above the rink, surrounding it, banging on the glass and screaming in support of their team. If there is any venue in which a crowd can absolutely take over, it’s in hockey rinks.

We’re going to look at the 2018-19 season of the National Hockey League and see how the home teams fared. Keep in mind that there are a whole lot of games that end in ties in hockey. In 2018-19, the NHL played 1,271 games, with home teams winning 682, losing 445 and tying 144. That means home teams won 53.66% of the time.

Much like the NBA, you have to consider other factors than the slim home arena advantage. There are dominant teams that will take the ice against struggling organizations, which will play a much larger factor in the outcome than where the ice is located. But, like any sport, remember that upsets can and will happen, especially in hockey.

When you’re doing your handicapping and research, consider other aspects of an NHL team before placing your wager: How much has the team traveled? Has it had a rest recently? How well does it typically play at this arena?

Importance in MLS betting

It wasn’t very long ago that the only soccer you were going to find in a sportsbook was from overseas, but the rise of popularity of the sport in the United States eventually led to the development of Major League Soccer.

Fans have gotten on board, too, and the sport continues to show signs of growth. With interest from all of the legal sportsbooks across the US now, it’s likely that popularity will continue to climb.

Taking a peek at the 2019 season (again, we just don’t think 2020 gives an accurate picture of what home field advantage really looks like), we know that the winning percentage of home teams is very similar to the other sports.

In a game where ties are common, the end result for home teams in 2019 was 213-103-92 out of the 408 games played that season. That works out to wins 52.21% of the time. Right on par with the other professional sports.

If you’re one of those fans who believes a tie is as good as a win, then that, of course, bumps up the percentage fairly nicely. However, that doesn’t work out so well if you’ve bet on the team to win and it ties.

Like the other sports we’ve discussed, you should really be looking at other aspects of a team when you’re making your bets before you factor in any home field advantage. For soccer, look at how much travel and rest a team has had, as well as the goal differential for the home and away teams — you often will discover a mismatched game, which isn’t going to be shifted due to which team is at home.

Importance in college football betting

If there is one sport that can have an absolutely crushing home field advantage, it is college football. The stands packed to the brim with screaming students and alumni, all of whom bleed their school colors and wouldn’t miss a game if they could avoid it.

As expected, when we took a look at the 2019 season for Division I programs across the country, we discovered that playing at home definitely does have its perks. There were 828 games during the season, and home teams claimed 541 wins against just 287 losses. That works out to a 65.34% win rate, significantly higher than the professional sports we’ve covered.

Like the other sports, however, you need to consider factors outside of the home field before anything else when checking out the college football betting lines. Some of these teams might be on the road, but they’re playing a much weaker opponent. In those cases, screaming fans or not, there isn’t much of an advantage when you just can’t go toe-to-toe with the other team.

Importance in college basketball betting

Again, college is an environment where fan bases can have more of an impact on the game than if it were a more evenly distributed crowd of fans of both teams assembled in a larger arena.

That’s why it’s not very surprising that when we take a gander at the 2018-19 NCAA men’s basketball season, we see that out of the 5,337 games played, the home team came away with a victory 67.62% of the time. That record works out to 3,609 wins and 1,728 losses.

Like college football, that likely has to do a lot more with unevenly matched teams than pure home field advantage. The teams with the larger, more robust programs and fan bases will likely be able to have their lesser opponents visit instead of hitting the road to play.

We recommend that you work in factors like team strength, amount of rest and injuries into your handicapping before considering which team is playing at home. You’re more likely to find the concrete statistics that will help you make your decisions by investigating influences outside of the home court. If the teams are really evenly matched, then of course that part of the equation becomes more important.

How does home field advantage impact betting odds?

When setting the lines for any game that you’ll find in a sportsbook in New York (or an online or mobile sports app version from New Jersey), oddsmakers definitely pay attention to home field advantage — just as they consider every potential influence in their process.

Sportsbooks aren’t about to miss a possible edge for a team while they are setting odds. Sure, now and then you’ll find a tidbit of information about a team that gives you a slight edge on the sportsbook’s odds, but that’s pretty rare with the most popular sports.

We urge you to consider home field in your handicapping as well. If you’ve got the time to include it as a part of your research, then you definitely should. The more information you make available to yourself during your process, the better off you’ll be.

Since finding out how a team fares at home or on the road is fairly simple with the internet at your disposal, it should be something you keep at hand for the days you come across evenly matched opponents in any sport.

How to handicap home field advantage by sport

The beauty of sports betting is that you’re not going to be one of the pioneers who have to cut their way through the jungle of information and statistics in order to create top-level handicapping strategies.

Bettors who have come before you have scoured every stat and every way of digesting news, and they’ve come up with some numbers that are pretty much industry standards when it comes to researching games and teams.

For example, in football, the home team’s advantage tends to be around 3.0 points — or a field goal — when trying to break down point spreads and totals. Some of the more in-depth handicappers have said that number is just a bit too high based on the abilities of football teams in the modern era. Those folks tend to lean toward 2.5 points as a more realistic advantage.

In basketball, it really does come down to professional or college teams playing. In the NBA, most folks will tell you that home court is worth about 2.5 points. Some will even say 3.0 points for a stronger team. For college basketball, the value sits between 3.0 and 3.5 points.

Some of the more seasoned handicappers have set their own numbers for how many points home field or home court can be worth. In the NFL and NCAA football, it’s right around 2.3 points, while in basketball it sits at 2.8 points.

You can, of course, assign your own value during your handicapping process, but there are so many available resources thanks to the internet, sports analytics tools and professional handicappers that you could stick with their numbers and be confident about them.

If you do decide to go your own route, keep in mind that it’s better to be conservative when assigning values to aspects of a game that are very subjective.

Does home field advantage really matter in betting?

When you look at the professional sports we outlined, you see that home field, home court and home arena advantages, when they exist, are generally fairly slight. What that tells us is that professional teams are made up of the best athletes in their respective sports, which keeps most of the teams on a fairly even playing field if they are home or on the road.

On the college side of betting, we do see a much more significant advantage when breaking down the numbers. But a lot of that no doubt has to do with powerful teams going against conference opponents that just don’t have the same level of ability.

But there is no denying that there is something about a home field that gives a team an edge — no matter how slight it may be.

When handicapping, play it safe by giving home courts and home stadiums a smaller value than you might want to, but definitely consider which team will be playing the host and which will be visiting. When it comes to similar teams, it could be the factor that decides which way you’re going to bet.

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