Saturday, July 9, 2011

Home Advantage in the Big 4 Sports


During the recent NHL and NBA playoffs, I kept track of the scores each game. This enabled me to find a few meaningless stats that made for good Twitter fodder. The one that I found most interesting though was one of the simplest: the number of times the home team won. In the NBA playoffs, the home team win-loss record was 54-27 (.667) while in the NHL it was just 48-41 (.539).

That got me to thinking. It's usually obvious that the NBA has the largest home advantage, but just how different is it compared to the other leagues? So I took the regular season standings from the most recently completed seasons in all big 4 sports and calculated the home records across all teams, which are shown below:
NBA  743-487   .6041
MLB 1359-1071 .5592
NFL 143-113 .5586
NHL 638-592 .5187
First a note on the NHL numbers. The actual home records are 638-434-158 (.5829) but I've combined the regulation losses with overtime losses because that's what I'm concerned about - how often the home team wins. An overtime loss may net you a point in the standings but it is still a loss and the fans go home unhappy. (As an aside, home teams won only 139 of extra-time tilts, a surprisingly low 46.8%).

As expected, the NBA has the most obvious home advantage at just over 60%. Only six clubs had losing home records; naturally those were the six worst teams in the league. I wonder if this helps explain the NBA's popularity - home teams winning more often keeps fans coming back.

What surprised me was that baseball and football have similar winning percentages when playing in friendly confines; I would have expected NFL teams to enjoy playing at home much more with loud crowds hampering the opposition offense. NHL squads have the least advantage playing at home (again only looking at wins and losses), which is not surprising as it is the sport with the most parity at the moment.

So why is there such a discrepancy in basketball? Sixteen squads had winning records at home and losing records on the road. What is it that makes it so tough for these teams to win in visiting arenas?

Travel probably has something to do with it as road teams are often playing back-to-back games and arriving early in the morning before a game that night. Familiarity with the actual playing area might also contribute, in that it's simply easier to make baskets in an environment that you are used to. The crowd should also be a factor; basketball is a game that thrives on momentum and having your fans behind you helps you during a run. But overall, I don't think anybody has a convincing explanation to explain the home advantage in the NBA. I found a few studies on-line but none of them made any meaningful conclusions. Suffice to say that home teams win far more often in the NBA than they do elsewhere.

This distinct home advantage in the NBA is one reason that I find the league to be the least interesting. For me, it is the randomness and unpredictability of sports I find most intriguing. The Giants winning the World Series was foreseen by few, even during the playoffs. How many had Pittsburgh and Green Bay in the Super Bowl at the start of the season? But the NBA is somewhat more predictable (this year's playoffs being an enjoyable exception). Essentially, strong teams win at home and on the road, weak teams lose everywhere, and if the teams are evenly matched, the home team wins most of the time. I wonder if the new CBA will lead to more parity and a change in these statistics. We'll see in 2013!

Best,

Sean

1 comment:

  1. This distinct home advantage in the NBA is one reason that I find the league to be the least interesting. For me, it is the randomness and unpredictability of sports I find most intriguing.

    Couldn't agree more. Nice post, and thanks for crunching the numbers.

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