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Coronavirus 2020: How To Bet On Games With No Fans

The sporting world came to a screeching halt in mid-March after a couple of positive COVID-19 tests in the NBA. It wasn’t much longer before all sports ceased play indefinitely, but it seems that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The UFC and Bundesliga appear to be leading the charge for when sports will return as both have tentative start dates of May 9. It is very possible we could see other major sports across the globe resuming play in the following weeks.

That said, sports aren’t likely to return in the form we are accustomed to as social distancing will remain a practice for quite some time to come – sports will be back in our lives but we won’t be able to watch them in the stadiums. Leagues will move forward with empty arenas, which could create some interesting twists in our day-to-day handicapping of sports.

How Important Is Home-Field Advantage?

Fans and oddsmakers alike often will give an edge to home teams when it comes to handicapping. Typically, in the NFL or college football, home-field advantage will move the spread roughly 3 points. For example, the Patriots might be 7-point favorites over the Jets on the road but would be favored by 10 points at Gillette Stadium. A similar trend is evident in many sports but is it wise to follow the home team?

LeagueHome SU RecordHome ATS Record
NFL706-550-4 (56.2%)583-628-49 (48.1%)
NBA3412-2465 (58.1%)2876-2889-112 (49.9%)
NHL3304-2764 (54.4%)2557-3186 (44.5%)
MLB6475-5647-1 (53.4%)4521-5173 (46.6%)
NCAAF2517-1464 (63.2%)1872-2027-75 (48.0%)
NCAAB17923-8454-4 (67.9%)9856-9737-367 (50.3%)

Data over last five seasons

As we can see in the table, home teams over the last five seasons have tended to win at home straight up, but perhaps not as often as you might expect. College football and basketball have the most significant home-field advantage, both with home winning percentages of over 60 percent. However, what stood out to me was that the spread records favored the road teams in all cases except college hoops.

Will Sports Return Without Fans?

No doubt about it, there will be some organizations across the sporting world that will hurt financially with games being held with no butts in the seats and buying concessions. That said, leagues and individual teams have large TV deals that will help cushion some of those losses. For example, the UFC is to receive $750 million if the organization hosts 42 events in 2020, so even without fans a lot of money can be made by just putting on events.

It will be quite odd to not hear the murmur of the crowd at baseball games or the loud cheer after a game-winning goal in a hockey game but that will likely be the world we live in moving forward.

How To Handicap Games Without Fans

Now, I’m a very data-driven bettor, so I will likely stick to the handicapping strategies that I always stand behind, though I will be tracking the “new normal” and may make alterations in the ensuing weeks after play resumes. Thinking about sports with no fans does make me wonder about potential trends we may see immediately.

Firstly, I feel that we may see UNDERs trending in the new climate. Often times, teams and players will feed off the crowd, whether they are being booed as the visitors or cheered as the home squad. A big three-pointer, a massive hit or a three-and-out defensive effort can get a rise from the crowd and send energy to your legs, but those pivotal moments may not feel as big with no fans providing a reaction. Momentum may not have the same impact.

The other factor that should be investigated is teams with drastically different home and road records. In the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers are one of those teams that I will keep an eye on. They sported a sparkling 29-2 record at the Wells Fargo Center but had a 10-24 record on the road and often closed as an underdog in such games. We may see a regression in the home records or perhaps an improvement in poor road records, which could be profitable to the keen bettor.