Academic journal article International Journal of Sport Finance

The Impact of Atmospheric Conditions on Actual and Expected Scoring in the NFL

Academic journal article International Journal of Sport Finance

The Impact of Atmospheric Conditions on Actual and Expected Scoring in the NFL

Article excerpt


Weather and other related atmospheric conditions often tend to influence the flow and outcome of sporting events. Rain or snow, high winds, and brutal temperatures may all play a role in the way a game is played, the flight of a ball, and player fatigue. Recently, atmospheric conditions have been shown to impact the sport of baseball in both pitcher performance compared to expectations (Paul et al., 2014) and in terms of actual and expected runs scored (Paul, Weinbach, & Weinbach, 2014). This paper extends the analysis of the role of atmospheric conditions to both actual and expected scoring, and their interrelationship, for the National Football League (NFL).

The role that air density plays in actual versus expected scoring in Major League Baseball (MLB) stems from original research in physics by Bahill et al. (2009). Air density and its individual components were shown to have a significant effect on runs scored (Paul, Weinbach, & Weinbach, 2014). This factor was not fully incorporated into the totals betting market in baseball, leaving simple strategies based upon air density to yield statistically significant profits. Air density is influenced by temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and altitude. In addition to air density, similar factors such as wind speed and precipitation were also investigated for their respective roles in the determination of runs scored.

For other outdoor sports, the relationship between air density and points scored is not quite as straightforward. The ability to hit a home run under certain weather conditions does not directly translate to other sports and there tends to be more aspects to scoring in other sports beyond the basic pitcher and batter matchup of baseball. In direct relation to the game of football, atmospheric conditions and related weather variables are likely to play an important role in how the game is played. Scoring can occur in football through passing, running, or kicking the football, which can all be affected by the elements. For instance, passing the football may be quite difficult on windy days and turnovers may be more likely to occur when the weather consists of rain or snow.

Brown and Sauer (1993) noted that weather is a potential factor that would influence the betting market for sports. Track conditions based upon weather was shown to be important as it related to betting patterns, returns, and tests for market efficiency in studies of horse racing wagering markets (Figlewski, 1979). In direct relation to the NFL, Borghesi (2008) illustrated that heat, wind, and rain had negative effects on scoring, which led to strategies that generated statistically significant profits in NFL totals markets.

Outside of studies of betting markets, weather-related effects on financial prices have been studied in a variety of settings. How sunshine and other weather factors contributed to stock returns was undertaken by Hirshleifer and Shumway (2003). Investors were found to respond to these factors, leading to statistically significant changes in market prices. Weather was shown to have a significant impact on orange juice prices (Roll, 1984) and more generally in financial markets in terms of security prices and transaction volume (Roll, 1988).

We directly test if atmospheric conditions impact the number of points scored by both teams in NFL games using a sample of seasons from 2010-2014, investigating which factors, if any, play a key role in the determination of scoring. From there, we use those results to test if these factors are fully incorporated into betting market prices (totals in the over/under market). If the results are similar to baseball, where the full effect was not priced into the totals market, we explore which factors are driving the unexpected results and test for returns to simple strategies involving one or more of these factors. Once completed, to help deepen the understanding of why atmospheric variables may impact scoring more or less than anticipated by the betting market, we use the same explanatory variables to explore their role on individual NFL game statistics, including passing yards, running yards, and turnovers. …

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