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Home Team Advantage Makes a Difference

Aaron Gray

by Aaron Gray

Updated Apr 8, 2020 · 1:20 PM PDT

Ever wonder if the ‘home team advantage’ is just superstition, or if there’s actually some truth to it?

Here’s one thing we can all agree on: you need every advantage you can get when betting on sports, and the one that goes to the home team is worth paying attention to.

So, do home teams really win more often than those on the road? The simple answer is yes, and there are a number of factors that help to explain why.

What Causes Home Team Advantage?

It may seem that weather or the team’s location are the only factors that influence the effects of home field advantage, but there’s a little more going on beneath the surface.

Gaining a clear understanding of the factors that influence home field advantage, and how they differ between sports, is the key to properly accounting for it when handicapping your sports bets.

The Effect of the Crowd

If a home team’s fan attendance is high, the team may gain the upper hand. This is simple human nature: we perform our best when other people are watching.  It’s even been shown that sports with denser crowds produce more leverage for the home team.

You’ll want to pay more attention to home team advantage in sports with dense, rowdy crowds.

But the density of the crowd is only element of their influence worth considering.  Some sports also have loud, unruly fans. Other sports (like baseball) have fans that often leave before the game is over. The atmosphere and mood of the crowd play into the psychology of advantage. They provide adrenaline and confidence to their favorite players.

As such, you’ll want to pay more attention to home team advantage in sports with dense, rowdy crowds.

Travel Fatigue

Naturally, a team feels most comfortable at home. This comfort raises their edge against their opponents who don’t know the field or court as well. The familiarity and comfort that come with playing at home are significant advantages, but there’s an even bigger factor at play here that relates to which team is better rested.

Home teams don’t have to travel, and travel is a physically exhausting experience that affects even the strongest professional athletes. For instance, it’s been found that the rigorous NBA travel schedule affects players’ ability to compete at peak performance.

Biased Refs

It may surprise some to hear that it’s worth considering the bias of home team officials. While they may try to be impartial, refs nearly always have favorites, and they tend to live near the cities they work in. This sub-conscious emotional investment might explain why home field advantage in the NBA is greater in the post-season than during the regular season. According to Chicago Booth Review, evidence indicates that even refs subconsciously want their team to come out on top!

When Does Home Team Advantage Matter Most?

Not all advantages are created equal. To properly account for home team advantage in your own sports bets, you’ll need to know how heavily to weight its influence depending on the sporting event you’re hoping to wager on.

Home Team Advantage Differs Between Sports

All sports are influenced by home team advantage, but its significance varies widely between the leagues. Home team advantage in the NHL isn’t nearly as significant as it is in the NBA or NFL. Fivethirtyeight.com found that the NFL had a regular season winning percentage at home of 57.1%, while the NBA’s was 59.9%. MLB teams saw an advantage of 54% and NHL teams 55.1%.

For perspective, statistically normal odds are about 50/50, so home team advantage is clearly a factor in every professional sport.

Home Team Advantage Matters More During the Playoffs

What do these same winning percentages look like during the post-season?

  • NHL teams saw a post-season home team advantage of 55.3%
  • MLB teams saw a post-season home team advantage of 54.2%
  • NFL teams saw a post-season home team advantage of 64.7%
  • NBA teams saw a post-season home team advantage of 64.5%

These numbers clearly show that the advantage is accentuated in the postseason, but mostly in basketball and football. Hockey and baseball see a similar advantage during regular season and playoff games.

Calculating the Home Team Advantage Factor

The fastest way to figure out which teams are the best bets at home is to use SBD Sharp – a proprietary tool that tracks every team’s profitability in specific scenarios. It will show you the best teams to bet on at home, both in general and as favorites or underdogs.

Prefer to do the math yourself and calculate exact home team advantage factors? It’s relatively easy to do a quick calculation to approximate the home field advantage of a specific team.

To determine the relative size of home field advantage for a specific team, compare their winning percentage at home to their winning percentage on the road. (The calculations should include a relatively big sample size, but weight recent results more heavily.)

For example, in 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays went 90-72 overall (.556 winning percentage). They were 51-30 (.630 W%) at home and 39-42 (.481 W%) on the road, a drastic difference.

Based on that season, alone, you could conclude that Rays are about 15% more likely to win a home game than a road game, all else being equal. But again, it’s wise to look at a larger sample size than just one season.

Looking for More Sports Betting Strategy?

Home field advantage is only one of many factors the sharpest sports bettors consider when handicapping a given event. Check out our complete series of articles on sports betting strategy.

If you’re looking to put these strategies to the test on a variety of different sports, you want to check out the sport-specific advice outlined in our comprehensive guide how to bet on sports.

No matter what, remember to take a holistic approach to your sports research before laying any wagers. Sharp bettors aren’t luckier than the rest of us, they just do better research.

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