Home Field Advantage in Sports Betting
The home team doesn’t always win, but in most sports, they certainly have an advantage. That’s why oddsmakers often bake a home-field advantage right into the odds on a game.
It appears to matter more in sports like football, basketball, and hockey, where the home crowds get loud. But it’s also a factor in baseball, where teams get to spend entire three- and four-game series at home while the other side lives out of a suitcase in a hotel.
Here’s a look at exactly what kind of advantages home teams enjoy, and if they’re real, how oddsmakers adjust lines because of home field advantage, and how to bet on it right here in Tennessee.
What exactly is home field advantage?
Simply put, home-field advantage is the edge home teams enjoy over visiting teams in almost any sport.
Home crowd support buoys a home team and can make it hard for road teams to hear and think—especially in critical moments of the game. These kinds of psychological effects have been proven to have a direct impact on player performance.
There’s also a physiological side to home field advantage. Teams enjoy a familiarity at home. Not just familiarity with the playing field, but off the field as well. Athletes who sleep in their beds, eat at home, and drive to a game in their vehicle are more comfortable.
When most athletes are more comfortable, they play better, and therein lies the home-field advantage.
Sometimes, the home field advantage also refers to a specific advantage the home team enjoys, like in a playoff series where the team with the best record is scheduled to play one more home game than their opponent. Or, the fact home teams get to bat last in each inning of a baseball game.
Are home games a real advantage for sports bettors?
While it’s hard to quantify some of the psychological effects, home field advantage is certainly real.
Just ask a visiting quarterback at CenturyLink Field in Seattle trying to communicate with his receivers, or any point guard trying to call out plays on the court at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Real-life factors can make the home-field advantage just as pointed.
Time zone changes can make it hard for players on either coast to play on the other side of the country. Weather can impact performance, with warm-weather teams often having trouble adjusting to the cold and vice versa.
We also know that extended travel can be tough on anyone, and pro athletes are no different. The rigors of travel can certainly impact player performance.
Additionally, while the dimensions of the playing surface may be identical, some basketball courts and football fields just look and feel different. In baseball, the field dimensions are different from park to park.
All these things give home teams a real advantage. Regardless of the sport, home teams are simply more accustomed to the surroundings in their backyard, giving them an inherent, and very real, home field advantage.
Betting on home field advantage
Knowing that there’s a home-field advantage means you can bet on it. Put your money on teams with winning home records or those that draw large and loud home crowds.
Just remember, oddsmakers are well versed in the advantages home fields can provide. That means they are going to consider it when setting the betting lines for the game.
After that, it’ll be up to you to decide if they’ve given home-field advantage too much, too little, or just the right amount of consideration.
What is the home field advantage worth?
It’s hard to put a number on home field advantage, but that doesn’t mean oddsmakers don’t try to. They look at the statistics and try to determine what home field advantage is worth in each sport.
Statistics show that NFL home teams win almost 60% of the time by around three points. So, oddsmakers appreciate the significance of NFL home field advantage and many times factor in an extra three points for road teams when setting the point spread.
In the NBA, the home-court advantage is even more pronounced. Home teams win more than 70% of the time. Plus, the best teams in the league take the overwhelming majority of their losses on the road.
You’ll certainly see this reflected in the moneyline prices on NBA games where you’ll have to lay much bigger odds on the teams with the top records in the league at home than you do on the road.
While it’s pretty much even, statistics show Major League Baseball home teams win more than 50% of the time.
Bookmakers will consider MLB home field advantage when setting betting odds, but baseball lines are more about starting pitching than a home-field advantage. Still, you’ll almost always see home teams at -1.5 on the run line.
The NHL home-ice advantage is much less pronounced than any other sport. Upsets abound in the NHL Playoffs and oddsmakers have become wise to it, giving the home-ice advantage in hockey much less credence.
Still, betting the puck line on home teams almost always means giving up a goal and a half.
College football betting and college basketball betting are where you’ll find the biggest home-field advantage. Thousands of screaming co-eds can make a big difference, and the impact of travel on student-athletes is often bigger because they don’t have as much experience with it as pros.
That’s why you see bigger spreads in college football and basketball than in any other sports.
Should I always bet on the home team?
Home-field advantage is real, and statistics show that in both the regular season and playoffs in most sports, the home team wins more often than not.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should bet home teams exclusively.
If you know the home-field advantage is real, so do oddsmakers, and they set the prices accordingly. That means betting home teams can be costly, and while these bets win more often, the profits are smaller and the risks are high.
Betting on teams that are almost a lock at home is a good idea if you can get a good price. However, finding road underdogs with a shot at winning, at attractive prices, can be much more profitable.
Don’t get drawn in by a price for a road team with little to no chance of winning. But at the same time, try to avoid high prices on home teams that offer very little reward for what you have to risk.
Does home field advantage mean more in the playoffs?
Come playoff time in the NFL and NBA, the home-field and home-court advantage become even more real.
While NBA home teams win around 70% of the time in the regular season, that number jumps to 75% in the playoffs. In the NFL, the home team winning percentages jump from 60% in the regular season to 65% in the playoffs.
The teams playing at home earned it and are often better. Plus, all of the things that make home advantage real become even more pronounced, particularly the support of the home crowd, who often take things to another level come playoff time.
Oddsmakers integrate this into the prices, making the books hard to beat when betting on the NFL and NBA postseasons.
However, it’s much different in MLB and the NHL, where the home team wins just over half of the time in both the regular season and postseason.
This often means an opportunity for MLB and NHL postseason bettors.
Oddsmakers may overvalue the home-park and home-ice advantage, offering better prices on road underdogs than they should. If you’re getting the right price, you can almost bet road underdogs exclusively throughout the MLB and NHL postseasons and make a profit.
What sport does home field advantage matter most?
NBA teams enjoy more of a home-court advantage than any other pro sport. NBA teams win more than 70% of the time at home and 75% of the time at home in the NBA Playoffs. Next up is the NFL, where home teams win close to 60% of the time and 65% in the playoffs.
Then, there’s Major League Baseball and the NHL, where home teams win just a bit better than 50% of the time in both the regular season and playoffs. When it comes to college sports, we know that college basketball teams win close to 70% of their games at home. However, college football is program-dependent.
The best teams in the country enjoy a huge home-field advantage, winning above 75% of the time. However, the best teams win on the road more often than not as well, skewing the numbers, and making the home field look like much less of an advantage for the majority of college football programs.
Which team has the advantage at neutral venues?
At first glance, it would seem there is no home-field advantage in games held at a neutral site, but that’s not always the case. You can bet oddsmakers are taking more than a first glance when they set the lines and so should you.
Don’t ignore exactly where the game is being played and try to see if oddsmakers have factored in home field advantage in the lines even when there doesn’t appear to be one. Ask yourself:
- Is the site neutral or is it much closer to one team’s home?
- Does the time zone or weather give one team an advantage over the other?
- How big will the crowd be, are they likely to have an impact on the game, and will they support one side over the other?
- What’s the setting? Is it a new arena, an old one, a big cavernous stadium, or a small one? What kind of impact would you expect this to have on each team?
- Which team could somehow enjoy a neutral-site advantage?
Finally, ask yourself if oddsmakers have baked in any home-field advantages into the lines and adjust your betting accordingly.
Which pro sports team has the biggest home field advantage?
Pinpointing who enjoys the biggest home field advantage in all of the sports is difficult because there’s a long history of sports in this country, making for a lot of data to sift through.
Some football teams had a huge home winning percentage in the 60s and 70s. Other basketball teams have been dominant at home in a more modern era. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.
However, there’s always someone willing to do that. A group of statisticians came up with the following top-five home winning percentages in all of the sports through 2018:
- San Antonio Spurs – 73.9%
- Oklahoma City Thunder – 70.2%
- Utah Jazz – 69.6%
- Portland Trail Blazers – 67.5%
- Green Bay Packers – 63.5%
You can see from this list, the NBA enjoys the largest home-court advantage in all of sports. Looking deeper, you can see all five teams are in one-sport cities where they truly enjoy the focused support of the hometown fans.
Interestingly, these are all considered small market teams, suggesting that market dominance is much more important than market size when it comes to crowd support and the home-field advantage it helps create.
Do Tennessee teams win more at home?
Tennessee teams enjoy a home field advantage. Take a look at some stats for the following Tennessee-based teams and decide for yourself:
- The Memphis Grizzlies were 440-417 through the franchise’s first 857 home games. That’s just a 51.3% home winning percentage.
- The Nashville Predators have a better than 62% home winning percentage over the past three NHL seasons.
- The Tennessee Volunteers football team has won 464 games at home, the highest total in college football history.
- The Tennessee Titans are 22-18 over the past five seasons. That’s just a 55% home winning percentage that would have been much higher had they not gone 1-7 at home in 2015.
Top 3 myths about home field advantage
- The home team always wins: This is a myth. Even in the NBA, where the home winning percentage is the highest of all major sports, the best teams lose 30% of the time at home. That’s a very real and significant number.
- NFL oddsmakers add three points on the spread for every road team: This is a myth. While the average NFL home team wins by three points at home 60% of the time, not every NFL team is average. Oddsmakers don’t do baselines on these averages. Instead, they decide if the home team is good enough at home to warrant giving away three or more points, or if the road team is good enough not to need it.
- Loud crowds shut everyone down: This is a myth. Not all teams and players are built alike. Some have ice water in their veins and can shut out all the noise to perform at their peak on the road. Before you start betting based on crowd noise, look at the road squad and determine whether they have the kind of players that can simply ignore it.
What happens to the home field advantage without fans?
Home-field advantage most definitely matters less when there is no crowd in attendance. You can see for yourself in the NBA and NHL bubble games and crowd-less or small crowd NFL games in 2020.
No crowd means a lot less noise. In turn, that means players can communicate better, lessening the advantage a loud crowd gives a home team.
For the NBA and NHL bubbles, travel has also been taken out of the equation, putting a damper on the home-court advantage even further.
Of course, they’re still traveling for NFL and MLB games, which, during a global pandemic, may be even tougher on-road teams than it was previously, creating a whole new level of home field advantage.