Home-court advantage has long been lauded as a big deal in the sports world. But in recent years, its effectiveness has dwindled. In fact, the winning percentage of home teams in the NFL has dropped to its lowest point since 1972. The ability to weather the storm of opposing fans and win on the road has become integral to the success of any modern sports club.
To get a clearer picture of how playing on the road can impact a team’s performance, we collected NBA, NFL, and MLB game results from 2009 to 2019 and broke them down by team. Continue reading to see how your team stacks up against the others.
Taking to the Road
Sports fans know how important it is to perform well during the regular season, especially if you want to secure a home-field advantage during the playoffs. Indeed, it is very rare for an NFL team to make their way to the big game without a single home game during the playoffs. Since the wild-card game was added in 1978, only four teams have been able to win exclusively on the road on their way to the championship meet. To guarantee at least one home playoff game, you have to perform well on the road during the regular season. So, which teams have been able to grab those wins?
The New England Patriots were the top-performing team on the road over the last decade, winning 64.1% of their games away from home. Their ability to win on the road to acquire home-field advantage in the playoffs may explain why they were able to get to 5 of the last 10 big game matchups. At the same time, the Cleveland Browns won less than a quarter of their games while on the road.
Being able to play at home during the playoffs is more meaningful than during the regular season, though. While road teams were able to snag 42.9% of wins during the regular season, they were only able to win 36.4% when the alternative was sudden death: during the playoffs.
Grass Is Always Greener
The 115th World Series made history in 2019 when the road team won each game during the matchup. In fact, it’s the first time this has ever happened in a major American league with a seven-game-series format. Newcomers to the sport may be left wondering just how common it is for MLB teams to win on the road during the playoffs.
If 2019’s feat was going to take place in one of our three sports, it was going to be MLB. Baseball teams were the top-performing on the road during the playoffs over the last decade, winning 45.3% of these games. This is only a percentage point shy of their winning percentage away from their home field during the regular season.
Speaking of the regular season, the most consistent team over the last decade was the New York Mets. They won 50% of their home games and 47% of their away games. Meanwhile, the Colorado Rockies had the largest gap between their home and away winning percentages, winning 32% more games on their home field.
They say, “there’s no place like home.” This is especially true for NBA teams, considering how research has shown that NBA referees provide more favorable officiating to home teams. So, which teams over the past 10 years have been able to overcome this bias?
The top-performing NBA team on the road over the last 10 years has been the San Antonio Spurs, winning 54.1% of their games away from home court. The Golden State Warriors came in a close second to becoming the road warriors of the league, winning 53.4% of their games. On the other hand, the Minnesota Timberwolves were the most homesick team, only winning 27.8% of their away games.
Of the three leagues we studied, NBA teams had the most difficulty winning on the road during the regular season, achieving victory in only 41.2% of contests. But what matters most is being able to win on the road during the playoffs, and NBA teams can rest assured knowing they have a slightly higher winning percentage on the road relative to NFL teams.
No Place Like Road
Finally, we created an average road winning percentage for each state’s sports teams to see which states were the top performers. Overall, Massachusetts’ NBA, NFL, and MLB teams had the highest road winning percentage, winning 57.2% of their games. In addition, they came in second when it came to being the hardest place for road teams to win, right behind Oklahoma. This might be because the state only has one professional sports team – the Oklahoma City Thunder. But, in any case, Massachusetts’ sports team performance on the road may explain why they have won five MLB, NBA, and NFL championships over the last decade.
Feel free to explore the map yourself. Just hover your cursor above each state to see its overall sports team road performance.
No matter which league your favorite sports team is part of, it’s tough to win while on the road. In fact, not a single team in the NBA, NFL, or MLB has won more games on the road than at home over the past 10 years. To ensure the best possible results, athletes should strive to be in the best shape possible to endure these rugged road games.
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We collected 10 seasons of win, loss, location, and scoring data for the NFL, MLB, and NBA from Fivethirtyeight.com. NBA data were only available up to the 2014 season through that channel, so the remainder was obtained through basketball-reference.com.
Playoff games include any game following the regular season, including conference, divisional, and league championships. In the case of the NFL, the big game was not counted despite one side technically being designated the “home team,” given that the hosting stadium has always been neutral.
Teams who had undergone name or location changes since the 2009 season were counted once and displayed under their most recent team name or location.
Fair Use Statement
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