Travel and Sports: Timezones Used to Have an Effect on Winning Percentage in the NBA

It’s probably not surprising to you to learn that when an NBA team travels east of its “home” timezone, it’s more likely to win and when it travels west of its “home” timezone, it’s more likely to lose. However, you may be surprised that this effect only bears out for games played during the day and more importantly, not for games played at night. This finding surprised the researchers who conducted the study as they expected to find an effect for games played at night in concert with similar studies about the NFL.

It’s important to note that the time span for this research that found this effect was in the 90s. That is, this effect with regard to day games in the NBA only accounts for the time span in the 90s (1991 to 2002, to be exact). When the researchers conducted a similar study for the years between 2002 and 2013, they found no significant effect for either the day or night games. The researchers suggested that by the decade of the 2000s, teams had been better at preparing for day games (when travelling west).

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In thinking about this research, I wonder about this effect for other sports. The researchers mentioned the work conducted on the NFL and how West Coast teams benefit when travelling east for games, but what about baseball?

MLB is different from two of the major pro sports (NBA and NHL), as it’s leagues (or conferences, if you prefer) aren’t split up between the West and the East. That is, in the NBA, there’s the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference. Similarly, in the NHL, they have a Western Conference and and Eastern Conference. In baseball (much like football), the two “conferences” are split up, but not necessarily on geographic lines. While there are divisions that are split up regionally within the conference, it’s very common for NFL teams to have to travel across the US to play another team on a semi-regular basis. And in MLB, travel from the East Coast to the West Coast (or vice versa) happens regularly.

So, I wonder, if because there’s more frequent travel to the East/West Coast for baseball teams, would we find an effect (regardless of day/night games)? If I had to hazard a guess, I suspect not. Although, I wonder, if like the researchers did with the NBA, there’d be an effect if we were able to look into the past. Maybe there’d be an effect in MLB if we went back to the 80s or maybe even the 70s.

ResearchBlogging.orgNutting, A., & Price, J. (2015). Time Zones, Game Start Times, and Team Performance: Evidence From the NBA Journal of Sports Economics DOI: 10.1177/1527002515588136

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