Hometown Glory: Is Bias Towards the Home Team Justified?28th February 2019 / Julian
There’s no place like home, so the old adage goes. And most of us would agree with the sentiment: putting the key in the door and kicking off our shoes after a hard day at work is a feeling of almost blissful harmony.
There’s another old adage or way of thinking in football, and that’s that a home field advantage exists that shifts the balance of power in a match to the home side.
But is that true….and if so to what extent?
As punters with an eagerness to find an edge over the bookmakers, it makes sense to clarify once and for all whether home town advantage really is a ‘thing’, and if it exists in greater quantities in some leagues/countries rather than others.
The Home Comforts Test
It is pretty easy to test if home advantage does exist in football: we’ve taken the four of the most prominent leagues in Europe (sorry, Serie A) – the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga and Ligue 1 – and after racking and stacking the numbers for the whole 2015/16 season, we’ve found the percentages of home wins, away wins and draws in each.
It looks a little something like this:
So right off the bat we can deduce two things:
- Yes, home field advantage does exist as evidenced by the percentages of home wins compared to away wins and draws.
- This phenomenon is uniform across leagues and countries.
Excellent, that’s that sorted then. Let’s put the kettle on, crack open the biscuit tin and sit smugly in the knowledge that we have confirmed one of football’s oldest clichés.
But we can do better than that. We want to prove exactly why home advantage exists, and find out which factors cause any variance in the degrees of success when playing in your own backyard.
Two further questions spring to mind:
- Does the size of the crowd affect the home town advantage?
- Does the distance travelled to matches affect home town advantage?
Let’s see if we can shed some light on these queries.
If you were an away team, would you rather play in front of 50,000 home fans or 5,000? We’d suggest it is probably the latter, as this will ensure a less partisan atmosphere, and the sound differential between the home and away fans will be lessened.
And so our hypothesis here would be that in leagues with greater home attendances the advantage of playing on own soil will far outweigh the home field benefit if only one man and his dog are in attendance.
We can only test this theory in the most basic, crudest form, but here’s an experiment: seeing if that advantage does exist in the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga in comparison to the Danish Superligaen and Swiss Super League which, well, aren’t.
Here’s how the 2015/16 data looks:
Obviously, the first thing to point out is that this is a tiny data set and as such can’t be classed as ‘representative’, and so take these findings with a pinch of salt.
But….we note that the average size of the crowds in attendance has little impact upon the theory of home field advantage; in fact, if anything, the smaller the crowd the more likely the home side is to win.
Let’s try another hypothesis then: does a smaller crowd size influence home field advantage? Again, terribly small data set, but here is the English Premier League compared to English League One, which averages almost 20% of the ‘big boys’ weekly attendance:
Hmm, okay. So the numbers are almost identical. The only conclusion we can make – and again, stats buffs will be chortling at our pitiful sample size – is that crowd size plays no part in home field advantage.
Punters, make a mental note of that.
The Longest Road
Let’s change tack now and consider another area of possibility: that the further a team and their supporters has to travel, the greater the home field advantage to their opposition.
Now, we’ve got another crude test for you, so click in your seatbelt and get ready. Belgium is, approximately, 11,787 sq/m of land, and so arguably any away day is manageable.
Compare and contrast that to Russia, which as we know is a behemoth of a nation measuring some 6.6 million sq/m. So, we can surmise that teams in the Russian Premier League have to travel further than their Belgian counterparts to play some ball.
Does that impact upon home field advantage? Let’s take a look:
Ah, this is awkward. Our research finds that home field advantage decreases with the longer distance travelled by the opposition. We have absolutely no idea why that might be.
Of course, we have only used a small sample size so we can’t make any grand statements about why home field advantage occurs.
But clearly, it does exist: of the seven leagues we investigated there were more home wins than away victories or draws, so there is something to be learned there.
We also note that in six of the seven leagues we studied the home town advantage was found in 41-49% of matches. The only slight anomaly was Belgium, which ranked at 50%. So punters know that for every ten games in the Belgian Premier League, five should – theoretically at least – be won by the home team.
But we’ve yet to come up with a reason why this is so, as crowd size nor distance travelled appears to be a factor. This data lifted from Freakonomics.com muddies the issue further:
The home field advantage in ‘American’ sports is greater than that experienced in good old soccer. Why? Well, perhaps the distance thing could be a factor – the US is huge after all, or perhaps there is simply no logical explanation at all.
But the conclusion punters can take home is this: you are statistically far more likely to win your bets by betting on the home team. Just don’t ask us why!
The tip is based on the personal opinion of the author. No success is guaranteed. Please gamble responsibly. 18+
* All mentioned odds were valid at the time of writing. Betting odds are subject to fluctuations. Please check the current odds with the respective bookmaker!
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