Is Home Field Advantage Important In Sports Betting?

When betting on sports, a common starting point for many begins with a simple question: Which side is the home team? Once that’s answered, conventional wisdom suggests that the home team has a big checkmark in their favor.

Home-field advantage is a hotly debated topic in sports betting circles. That’s, even more, the case now that legalization has been sorted out in a growing list of states, including here at home in Illinois.

Does the home team have an edge? If so, how much is it worth from a betting perspective? We’ll be answering those questions and many more in our deep dive into what is a home-field advantage.

What is the home field advantage?

In team-based sports, there’s the occasional neutral site matchup to contend with here and there. For the most part, there’s a standard set-up for games: One side is the home team while the other club has to travel to partake in the festivities.

Home-field advantage refers to the perceived built-in edge that the team playing at home will have for the contest. That side benefits from not having to travel while also being able to play in familiar surroundings. However, it’s a different story for the team on the road.

For a game in which the stands are packed with fans cheering on the home side, there could be even more of an advantage to be found. Home-field advantage is a factor that you should consider when handicapping games, but not all home teams are created equal.

Why do some teams perform better at home than others?

As the regular season moves along for the various sports, patterns will emerge. The top teams will rise to the top, also-rans will drift toward the bottom and all the other teams will be jockeying for position in the middle.

It’s the same story from a betting perspective. You’ll find strong teams against the spread or on over/under and others who are weak in both regards, for example. When it comes to records for teams in home or away settings, the same patterns can develop.

Certain teams will have a much more noticeable edge over visiting opponents than others. It could simply be because they’re one of the better overall teams for the year, but it could also be due significant crowd presence.

Some venues are traditionally more difficult for visitors to play in as a result. As examples, consider home games for the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL at CenturyLink field, or for college basketball’s Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Beyond the crowd noise, travel circumstances could be a factor, such as an East Coast team traveling out West or vice versa, or an inclination for calls to break in the direction of the home side. What’s the potential impact on each of the major sports? Let’s take a look along with some essential home advantage statistics.

Home field advantage, by sports

Here’s a breakdown of how home field advantage plays out by sports:

How it works in NFL

As the biggest attraction on the sports betting menu, the NFL receives tons of attention. One of the top discussion points over the runup to individual games is what kind of edge the home side may have.

In the regular season, there are a total of 256 games played for 17 weeks. For the 2019 campaign, here’s how the teams fared:

  • Home Team Record: 132-123-1
  • Percent of Total Games Won by the Home Team: 51.8%

That’s just a shade over half of the games, so there wasn’t a massive advantage for home squads in 2019. However, we have to caution that the sample size is only a single year. The home-field advantage could be more dramatic in some years.

As a general rule, you can say that the overall advantage for home teams in NFL games is slight, but it’ll be much more pronounced when the team playing at home is among the league’s best. Here are some of the other main factors to consider when betting on the NFL:

  • Weather: The main impact to watch for is teams from traditionally warmer climates who are traveling for a cold-weather game.
  • Fanbase: Do the stands typically rock at this venue or does the host side not offer much inspiration?
  • Game Time: A team from out West traveling east for an early kickoff could feel the effects, while an Eastern team heading the other way for a late start could be off-kilter.

How it works in NBA

Teams who play much more regularly are in the NBA. Road trips are a way of life, and it’s certainly worth taking the time to figure out the impact the home court may have on games you are planning to bet on. If we look to the 2018-19 regular season, here was the mark for home squads:

  • Home Team Record: 729-501
  • Percent of Total Games Won by the Home Team: 59.3%

That’s a much bigger edge compared to the NFL. However, we once again have to caution that the data is for a single season. There may be years in which the winning percentage is tighter or lower.

The two teams’ overall strengths and weaknesses are the most important factors when breaking down the games. For evenly matched clubs, the home side deserves a slight advantage.

When it’s a paper mismatch in which the home side is much stronger, then the venue could be a bigger factor. If it’s a great road team facing off against a poor overall team, then the advantage can be considered minimal. Here are some other important NBA betting considerations to keep in mind:

  • Travel: Teams who have been playing at home for awhile have an advantage over clubs who have been on the road.
  • Rest: There can be tough stretches in the NBA season in which teams are playing three games over four nights, so examine which side has any rest advantage.
  • Record at the Venue: Clubs visit each other regularly in the NBA, so take the time to review their record at the current venue over the past five to 10 visits.

How it works in MLB

When MLB teams hook up during the regular season, it’s for a series of two to four games. There’s no flipping around in between games, but teams can hit the road before or after the series begins. In 2019, here’s what the record looked like for home clubs:

  • Home Team Record: 1286-1143
  • Percent of Total Games Won by the Home Team: 52.9%

For this single season, it was a slight edge to the home team. Once again, we have to point out that this may vary by season. There could be a campaign in which it’s closer to even, and others where the number is at 53%-54% for home teams, for example.

As part of your research, see how the visiting team has fared at this ballpark in the past. A look at the last five to 10 games is good, or you can go deeper and look at the last few years. Here are some aspects when considering the home field advantage when betting on baseball:

  • Weather: Beyond potential rain, look at wind and temperature, two factors that can have a huge impact on how a baseball travels in the air.
  • Park Type: Some ballparks are geared toward pitchers; others are nirvana for hitters. Keep this in mind as you examine lineups and totals.
  • What’s Up Next: While teams don’t have to travel daily in MLB, road trips can still take a toll, as can what’s on the horizon.

How it works in NHL

The tight confines of an NHL arena can result in quite the buzz throughout the venue. That can certainly have an impact as the proceedings play out for tight affairs and come-from-behind situations. If we look back to the 2018-19 season, here’s how the home side did:

  • Home Team Record: 682-445-144
  • Percent of Total Games Won by the Home Team: 53.7%

The advantage for this single season sample size is a little bigger than what we find in MLB but much smaller than the NBA. Once again, we’ll consider it much larger for top teams and less for the also-rans of the league.

Regardless of the overall strength of the two teams, it’s important to remember that upsets can happen at any time. In a perfect world, you’ll be able to uncover the ones that are in the making while handicapping. Here are some other NHL betting factors to watch out for with the home ice:

  • Travel: The NHL season works like the NBA in that teams can have long stretches on the road or at home, so see what’s what in the games you are breaking down.
  • Rest: The rest factor can be huge for the NHL, as in a well-rested team playing at home versus a road squad that’s playing their second game in three nights.
  • Record at the Venue: Teams perform well in some areas and poorly in others, so review performance over the last 5-10 games for visiting teams at the venue at hand.

How it works in MLS

Interest in MLS betting continues to grow, and the fact that you can now legally and safely bet on games in several states will only help continue to surge. On the home-field front, here’s what happened during the 2019 season:

  • Home Team Record: 213-103-92
  • Percent of Total Games Won by the Home Team: 52.2%

The advantage is slight here, but ties are also incredibly common in MLS. If we add together wins and ties, the home team turned one of those two tricks a whopping 74.8% of the time. Here are some of the other considerations to keep in mind with the MLS home field:

  • Goal Differential: Some clubs are just that much better at home. So examine the goal differential for the home and away sides in their respective roles.
  • Travel and Rest: The same factors we look toward other sports are in play with MLS, including long road trips and any rest advantages.
  • Historical Performance at the Venue: The phenomenon of teams playing well in some venues and poorly in others is very real, so be sure to check it out.

How it works with college football

A good part of the pageantry and tradition of college football has to do with fanbases. There are some raucous atmospheres out there, and it can be quite intimidating for visitors. Here’s what the home side did throughout the 2019 regular season:

  • Home Team Record: 541-287
  • Percent of Total Games Won by the Home Team: 65.3%

That’s much more of a pronounced advantage than we have seen in the other team sports we’ve reviewed. Once again, it’s only for a single year, but over 65% of winners are nothing to sneeze at.

One thing to keep in mind with college football betting is that there can be a lot of mismatches on the schedule, i.e., powerhouse programs facing off with lesser schools that don’t have much of a chance. That certainly impacts the numbers. Here are some of the other big factors to keep in mind:

  • Team Strength: Powerhouse programs have a huge advantage at home. It’s strong for the solid teams as well, and much less so for those who are at the bottom.
  • Fanbase: As with any other sport, certain stadiums are just that much rowdier than others, especially if the home team is in the midst of a stellar season.
  • Weather: Teams playing out of their normal elements— warm to cold, vice versa — could see their performance impacted by the weather.

How it works with college basketball

The same tenets that applies to college football can apply to college basketball. There are some incredibly passionate fanbases across the NCAAB, and that can become even more of a factor in the condensed arena setting. Here are home team records for the 2018-19 season:

  • Home Team Record: 3609-1728
  • Percent of Total Games Won by the Home Team: 67.8%

That’s the highest mark we have come across yet, but remember that it’s only for one year. Just like in college football, there can be some mismatches on the schedule outside of conference play so that the numbers can be skewed as a result. Here are some of the other major items to consider for the NCAAB home-court advantage:

  • Team Strength: If clubs are in the same overall range, the home court will be less of a factor, but it’ll be a big deal when there’s a big discrepancy between sides.
  • Fanbase: As with NCAAF, some fanbases can be much more amped up than others. Smaller basketball arenas can be downright deafening as a result.
  • Travel: The biggest factors are for lengthy trips, but those who get the extra time at home have a natural edge on their side.

Is home field advantage factored into betting odds?

It is one of the top areas of discussion when the subject matter turns to the home field. Do oddsmakers factor in the home field or should you be making additional adjustments to betting lines to account for it?

At the top, the answer is yes, Illinois sportsbooks are factoring in the home field before setting the numbers, along with every other possible variables. In general, a strong home favorite may get an extra bump for being in familiar surroundings, while the impact may not be as high if the road team is also among the better clubs.

When it’s a poor road team traveling to take on a strong home squad, the edge on the odds board may be even more pronounced; however, it could go the other way if the situation is reversed. Home field is factored into the sports betting odds, but you still need to take the time to figure out how much — if any — of an edge that it will result in.

One other tip to keep in mind: When tracking the performance of teams at home and away, go deeper and see how they are performing against the spread and on totals in both situations. This can provide you with further clues on how clubs may perform about the betting lines you’re handicapping.

How much is home field advantage worth in sports betting?

So, let’s say you were trying to break down a point spread and figure out what the matchup would look like at a neutral site. What’s the number that you should place on the home field? To illustrate, let’s walk through the process for basketball and football, the two most popular sports for spread betting.

For basketball, the impact of home court can vary between the pro and amateur sides. Over in the NBA, conventional wisdom says that home court is worth between 2.5 and 3.0 points. For NCAAB, it gets bumped up a bit to 3.0 to 3.5.

This means if you’re setting your lines or using one of the available power rankings systems, you would use this number as a base for the home side. All things being equal, an NBA team would be favored by 2.5-3.0 points at home, while it’s a 3.0-3.5 advantage for NCAAB squads.

In football, the most common number used for the home field in both the NFL and NCAAF is a field goal, or 3.0 points, for the home side. However, closer inspection through the years has found that number may be too much in most cases, while the number should be more pronounced in others.

As a result, some handicappers have settled on a 2.5 number for the football home field, and others have even dipped under that. For really strong home teams, they may adjust the number upwards to as much as 3.5 points. There are also plenty of bettors who settle on a standard number, such as 2.3 for football or 2.8 for basketball, and use that in all cases.

For a quick and easy answer, it’s better to start on the low side for both sports and adjust as needed. If there’s not much of a difference between the two teams squaring off, then the smaller home advantage factor should do the trick. In a case in which there’s a distinct advantage for a home side that’s playing a weak team, the higher end of the spectrum could be in order.

What to remember about home field advantage

For team-based sports, there’s typically a home side and an away side. It’s common knowledge that the team that doesn’t have to do any traveling has a slight advantage heading into the contest.

Exactly how much of an edge should be applied is a hot topic of debate in sports betting circles. As demonstrated in our walkthrough of seven major sports, the home side won more often than not over one recent season.

The winning percentage for home teams was most noticeable in NBA, NCAAF, and NCAAB while being a little bit tighter in others. On the college side, the numbers can be skewed by mismatches that may have been on the schedule.

In all sports, there’s at least some advantage for the home side, and it will vary by the strengths of the respective teams. When one of the best teams in a league is playing at home, they could have more of an edge when a lesser foe is coming to town.

If teams are matched evenly, then the edge will be less pronounced, while strong road teams can mitigate the disadvantage. In short, the home field deserves a spot on the overall checklist, but it shouldn’t be the only factor considered while handicapping games.

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