Coronavirus empties arenas and puts sports betting oddsmakers in unique situation


Over a whirlwind two days of Coronavirus precautionary measures, beginning with a couple of NCAA basketball conference tournaments limiting or banning fans, then the city of San Francisco barring large gatherings, the biggest shoe dropped Wednesday afternoon. The NCAA announced a policy of allowing only essential staff and limited family members games for March Madness – annually one of the most popular events in sports betting.

Preventing further spread of and/or exposure to the virus is paramount, and rightly so, hence the aforementioned decisions, with presumably many more to come. The games themselves will be impacted, as well, with an unusual atmosphere inside all those venues. And it presents an equally unusual question for oddsmakers: what’s home-court advantage worth when there are no fans?

“With fans, we think it’s worth about 3 points in the NBA, but certain situations are different, and it could be a little more or a little less,” said John Murray, executive director of The SuperBook at Westgate in Las Vegas. He then noted that, absent fans, that number could get a modest tweak.

The impact assessment is a little different for the NCAA Tournament, though some anomalies exist there, as well.

“It’s harder to quantify in the NCAA Tournament. Most games are true neutral sites, so it shouldn’t matter,” Murray told Covers. “But then you have teams such as Duke, which always (seems) to play the first two games in North Carolina, regardless of what seed it is, or Kansas, which seems to always play its early games close to home. Not having fans at those games would impact the pointspread slightly more.

“Kentucky fans travel very well. It would hurt the Wildcats slightly to not have their fans there. But I don’t anticipate us making any huge adjustments if they’re playing these games in empty arenas.”

PointsBet USA communications director Patrick Eichner agreed with Murray in noting NBA home teams typically get a 2.5 to 3-point home boost. But that doesn’t get entirely erased in an empty venue such as Chase Arena, which will have a no-fans policy in effect for Thursday night’s Nets-Warriors contest.

“Regardless of the sport, crowds are only part of the equation,” Eichner said, noting travel and familiarity with the venue play a role, too. “You should see just a slight adjustment for Nets-Warriors. It’s likely no more than a 1-point move on the line, as crowds are just one element of the linemaking process. Players sleeping in their own beds, playing on familiar rims, etc., all have an impact, as well.”

Eichner also mirrored Murray in not anticipating any significant adjustments for conference tournaments or the NCAA Tournament, when it comes to game-by-game oddsmaking. Again, that’s primarily because the home-court element doesn’t come into play.

“I think there will be minimal impact right now, with the exception of the teams that might’ve seen a benefit from playing close to campus,” Eichner said. “Our trading team will be very attentive to make adjustments as needed, i.e. if the Under hits early and often, with players not being used to empty stands.”

However, as March Madness fans know, when an underdog gives a favorite a good fight in the NCAA tourney, neutral-site crowds tend to roar more for the dog. Minus such a crowd, that boost is missing.

“I certainly think it is fair to say that the favorites – presumably the larger, more well-known programs that have been there before – may be at a bit of an advantage on the court if in a dog fight with a Cinderella story-type team, given that the crowd will not be there to get behind the underdog,” Eichner said. “From an oddsmaking perspective, I think we’ll need to keep a close eye and adjust accordingly, as games play out and there’s a bit of a sample size.”

Events impacted thus far by Coronavirus precautions:

  • NCAA Tournament policy of no fans at March Madness games.
  • Nets-Warriors NBA game Thursday night allowing no fans.
  • Wednesday’s Jazz-Thunder NBA game postponed.
  • NHL’s San Jose Sharks to have no fans at home games.
  • NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets to have no fans at home games.
  • Big Ten tournament enacts no-fans policy beginning Thursday.
  • Big 12 tournament enacts no-fans policy beginning Thursday.
  • ACC tournament enacts essential staff/limited family policy beginning Thursday.
  • Pac-12 enacts essential staff/limited fans policy beginning Thursday.
  • Mid-American Conference tournament adopts no-fans policy.
  • Big West Conference tournament adopts no-fans policy.
  • Sunday’s Los Angeles-Seattle XFL game has a no-fans policy.

Sportsbooks already have some experience with these measures, in limited fashion. A week ago, fans were banned in Serie A, the top soccer league in Italy – a country hit hard by the Coronavirus.

“Soccer prices on that market moved by about 20 cents with no fans,” Murray said of the odds impact at the SuperBook. For example, a team that was a -130 home favorite might tighten to -110 with no fans in the stadium.

PointsBet similarly tilted the numbers a bit toward the visitor.

“Our Serie A odds did see a very slight shift against the home team after the no-fans policy,” Eichner said, while noting soccer is a bit of a different animal in an ostensibly empty venue. “From a linemaking perspective, soccer definitely does see a heavy weight given to home teams, thanks to the crowds. There’s no overarching standard like a 3-point shade in the NFL. Instead, it is more of a case-by-case, matchup-by-matchup basis.

“Looking at the Champions League knockout play, you’ll almost always see the ‘to advance’ lines shaded to the team that plays at home in Leg 2, even if they lost Leg 1. For instance, Paris Saint-Germain lost in the first leg to Dortmund 2-1, but was a -105 favorite to advance. If the second leg (which host PSG won 2-0 Wednesday) were to have been played in an empty stadium, the price would move. Not a ton, but safe to say into plus money.”

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.