Revisting “There’s no place like home”

Back in June I wrote a short post about how a lack of crowds in the Premier League might change the likelihood of their being home wins. The idea behind it is simple: does playing at a ground full of partisan football supporters give home teams an advantage?

Because supporters are banned from attending football matches, the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to test this idea. Up to the point of the Covid-19 pandemic causing a temporary halt to the 2019/20 Premier League season in March 2019, these were the stats for the distribution of the results of the matches that had already taken place:

  • Home wins = 45%
  • Draws = 25%
  • Away wins = 30%

My theory back in June 2020 was that we might see the home win percentage drop to around 40%, purely due to the effect of teams not having a biased crowd act as a “twelfth man”. At the time, there were signs in La Liga and the Bundesliga that there might indeed have been an impact on the distribution of results by not having any crowd present.

Well… I’ve looked at the numbers in the Premier League since crowds were banned, and there does appear to be something in it. But not in the way I was expecting!

Looking at all 109 Premier League matches from the end of the 2019/20 season, as well as the matches played in the first two weeks of the 2020/21 Premier League season, all of which were played behind closed doors, there is a definite shift in results distribution.

  • Home wins: 50 out of 109 = 46%
  • Draws: 20 out of 109 = 18%
  • Away wins: 39 out of 109 = 36%

Before saying anything else, it is worth pointing out that we are only talking about 109 matches here, so relatively speaking that is not a big sample. However, there does appear to be something going on here as away teams have been winning at a greater frequency than previously.

Is it the case that away teams are more emboldened than previously, now that there is no large crowd to shout insults at them? Looks like it.

I am personally affected by this as my betting strategy on Premier League matches focuses on betting on the draw, where there has historically been a significant price edge to be had. Looks like I need to be wary of taking this approach, at least for the time being.

I shall update these numbers in another few months and see if home win strike rate falls a bit… I still expect it to if the crowds stay away. But time will tell, of course.

There’s no place like home… Or is there?

The Premier League is back this weekend after its enforced hiatus. Even though it will feel odd to see Premier League football in the middle of June – so that clubs don’t need to hand a shedload of money back to the Sky and BT Sport – from my point of view there is potentially an opportunity here to measure just how important home advantage is to a team. More pertinently, how important football supporters are to the result of a match.

There are betting implications here, potentially, if bookmakers don’t factor this into their prices correctly. Also, at a grander level there perhaps might be implications for how football clubs treat their supporters: if football supporters really are worth extra points over the course of a season, this should favour clubs that restrict the number of away supporters allowed in the stadium on match day.

It is an established fact that of the three potential outcomes available for a football match – home, away, draw – the home win is the most likely to come up. In other words, picking a result at random isn’t a 33.3% (or, in betting parlance, 2/1) chance when home advantage is factored in.

Before the Premier League was put on hold back in March, the distribution of results for the 2019/20 season are as follows:

  • Home wins = 45%
  • Draws = 25%
  • Away wins = 30%

So, with football stadiums being empty for the remainder of this season’s matches (eight or nine matches left, depending on the team, which works out at 24.2% of this season’s matches left to be played), we have an opportunity to see if the big driver of home advantage is the urgings of the crowd. Or, whether it is other factors are more important (for example: familiarity of match-day routine for the home side; home players not having to travel far; home players being more familiar with the dimensions of the pitch; etc).

This won’t be the most scientific test in the world, and partly because some teams are going to have tougher fixtures than others which will in turn skew the results, but a sample size of 184 matches will at least give us a decent indicator.

There are some signs from the results seen in German and Spanish football since it returned after its Covid-19 break that the crowd really does make a difference. From 55 matches in Germany since football’s resumption, 11 have been won by the home team. That’s a miserly 20% strike-rate when something in the mid-40% range would be the norm. In Spain, from a smaller sample of only 12 matches, 4 have been home wins for a 25% hit-rate. This is normally closer to 50% in La Liga.

If I were a betting man, I’d be putting home wins in the Premier League for the remainder of this season around the 40% mark. Let’s see how this pans out.