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Home advantage in Football

Pinnacle Sports Book

One look at last season's English Premier League table will tell you that home teams scored more goals than visiting teams (552 v 349). In fact, ever since the English Football Association formed the first ever football league in 1888, it has always been that way. QED - home teams enjoy a natural advantage over away teams.

This might be stating the obvious, but many bettors fail to understand the importance of Home Field Advantage (HFA). At PinnacleSports.com we use HFA as the basis for much of our odds setting on football. The key to remember is that when a bookmaker sets a line, they are not necessarily trying to predict who will win the game, but rather find the point where they can generate balanced action. The challenge that bettors face is to be more accurate than the bookmaker in estimating the strength of HFA and play to win.

In American Football, there is a 3 point standard value for HFA, based on historical data on home points scored versus away points scored. This figure naturally masks deviations based on team and seasonality, so in pricing future games, odds makers will use the standard 3-point HFA as a guide, but adjust it for game specific factors.

The NFL lends itself easily to HFA measurements because given the 'closed' status of the league (absence of relegation) and draft system, there is a fairly level playing field. Such notions do not apply to English football, so despite over a century of raw data, you can be forgiven for not knowing the standard HFA for the English top flight, as no accepted figure exists. This presents opportunities for astute players.

The main reason for this is the level of polarisation that the open league system (based on promotion & relegation) has created. This is particularly important since the start of the Premier League in 1992, when the financial rewards of success have dramatically increased the gap between the haves and have nots.

The Premier League is currently contested by twenty clubs but there have been a total of forty clubs that have played in the top flight since its inception in 1992. However, only seven teams have contested all 15 seasons. Looking at the HFA figures for those sides should provide meaningfully consistent data.

The stats are freely available, and by copying the required data into an Excel spreadsheet, it's a fairly simple task to arrive at a basic figure for HFA using the following calculation:

HFA = (Home Goals For - Home Goals Against)
Home Games Played

For example, in the 2006/07 season, Manchester United's HFA would calculate as follows; 46 (goals for) minus 12 (goals against) for a goal difference of 34 divided by 19 games played at Old Trafford = 34/19 = 1.79

The table below gives the HFA advantage for the seven ever-present Premier League teams:
HFA Liverpool Man Utd Spurs Arsenal A.Villa Chelsea Everton
15yr 1.09 1.49 0.40 1.17 0.41 1.00 0.28
3yr 1.26 1.46 0.75 1.74 0.26 1.67 0.46
1yr 1.68 1.79 0.63 1.42 0.32 1.37 0.84
Current 3.00 0.67 1.00 1.33 0.67 1.00 0.50

The theory behind HFA is to find value for example by either backing the home team when the Asian handicap is less than their HFA, or betting the visiting team when the Asian handicap exceeds the HFA.

Dedicated players may seek to find an even greater edge by refining their calculations to see what influence any number of factors might have on HFA for a particular team, division or domestic league. They might apply a filter so that only home games during a specific period are considered such as over the festive season, or against teams with a higher/lower league position, or teams newly promoted to the Premiership etc. etc. The possibilities are endless.

It is with these various refinements in subjective areas that astute players stay one step ahead of the bookmaker to reap maximum returns. Additional known influences to consider include:

Referees & Home Crowds
Harvard research assistant, Ryan Boyko studied 5,000 Premiership games from 1992 to 2006, to discern any officiating bias and the influence of home crowds. The data suggested that for every additional 10,000 people attending, home team advantage increased by 0.1 goals. Additionally, his study proved what many football fans already suspect, that home teams are likely to receive more penalties, but crucially, this is more likely with inexperienced referees. So building referee profiles can clearly be a very telling refinement for HFA figures.

Seasonality & Games of Special Significance
HFA is anecdotally shown to increase for important games, including local Derbies, which logically attract high attendances and increased fervour. Look for anything that might raise the level of intensity such as emotive local stories, important club anniversaries or memorials for players/managers/significant events.

Breaking News & Injuries
Paying attention to team news is critically important. This process should continue right up until kick-off, with a surprising number of players injured during warm-up.

Recent Form
Confidence breeds success, so it is advisable to build in a value for recent form, though it is open for debate as to what constitutes a significant winning or losing run.

New Stadiums
A degree of home field advantage is derived from familiarity. That element is greatly devalued when home teams are playing in a new stadium as Arsenal did last season at the Emirates Stadium. Judging the 'bedding in' period is an important judgement to make.

Further areas to consider would include:
Managerial Uncertainty

Analysing HFA in conjunction with lateral thinking can give bettors an edge, but only in conjunction with low commission betting, at sportsbooks such as PinnacleSports.com.

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