In America, Asia and some other parts of the world the concept of playing a sport and not having a winner makes little sense. That is why Asian handicap betting eliminates the possibility of a tie/draw (usually) and why sports such as American football and basketball use overtime to make sure there is always a winner declared.
However, when it comes to football, draws are very common. In all major league competitions, if the scores are level after 90 minutes (plus any injury time), the game is a draw and the points are shared. That may or may not be a disappointment to the players and fans but it usually leaves the bookies happy and punters nursing their losses.
Perhaps human nature means we like to have clear winners and losers, or we just like to make a bet that allows us to cheer on one team or another. Whatever the reason, more often than not if a football match ends in a draw, the bookies prosper because relatively few people tend to back that option. But just how often do football matches end in a draw? If a draw is typically a positive result for the bookie, does that mean it offers a good value bet for the punter? Are there any offers that those wanting to bet on a draw should be aware of?
What Percentage of Games End in a Draw?
The main question we hope to answer in this piece is just how many matches result in a stalemate. Of course, there is no simple answer to this and any answer we do give varies depending on how specific we are with the criteria. Do we mean every game ever? All men’s professional matches? Premier League clashes only? Are we talking about last season, this season, or perhaps the last 20 seasons? Or are we being even more specific and looking at how often a given team plays out a draw, or perhaps even how often two teams share the spoils when they play each other?
For the purposes of this feature, we are going to look in general terms, although we will focus entirely on the men’s professional game. Moreover, given that we suspect many people are coming at this question from a betting angle, we will certainly pay more attention to stats from recent seasons, rather than the distant past (which have less bearing on games today).
If you want a really simple baseline figure to use, however, by looking at various draw stats over various leagues and going back as far as possible, it seems that a proportion of 25% is about right. So around a quarter, one in four, of all games will end in a stalemate. Odds of 3/1 would be fair for an outcome that has a 25% chance of success, such as two heads in a row coming up with coin tosses. That means that in the crudest sense possible, if the draw is priced at odds of more than 3/1, it can – historically speaking – be viewed as good value.
We will look in more detail at whether the draw offers value shortly. But for now let us return to answering the title question of this piece. Whilst 25% is a reasonable figure to have in mind, if we look more specifically at English football, analysis in 2014 showed that in 188,060 games between 1888 and 2014 in the top four tiers produced 47,412 draws. That’s 25.21%, so very much in keeping with the general figure we initially suggested.
If we look at a more specific data set, for example recent Premier League clashes, we see a rather similar picture. At the time of writing, with the 2020-21 season having recently begun, the average draw percentage for the last six completed seasons (picking up from where our previous data left off) is almost 24%.
It is interesting that despite some fairly significant variance even within a short six-year timeframe (from a low of 18.7% in 2019-19 to a high of over 28% in 2015-16), the average still stays very close to that historic 25% mark. In seasons such as these, pundits and media outlets are quick to try and draw conclusions and find reasons for the lack of or abundance of draws. They will say it shows how defences are getting on top, or managers are adapting a win at all costs approach, or how the game is becoming more or less tactical.
The bigger picture suggests this is just natural variance from one season to the next and that, in fact, these so-called experts are simply trying to find some explanation that broadly fits the numbers without bothering to think whether it really is a valid causal relation. That said, we are not arguing that the level of draws is fixed at 25% and that it always has been the case that around one in four games ends with no winner.
Changes to Draw Ratio Over Time
In general, the more goals that are scored in any given game, the less likely it is that that game will end in a draw. In the earliest years of professional, organised football in England, games were crazily high scoring. The first few seasons saw well over four goals per game on average and at this time the draw ratio was much lower. In 1890 fans saw a draw once every eight or nine games (12%) and the figure largely stayed under 20% during the 19th century.
However, the average goals per game rapidly dropped for a range of reasons including rule changes, improvements in tactics and fitness and a more professional approach to the sport. This caused a corresponding increase in the number of draws. Indeed, for the vast majority of seasons in the 20th and 21st centuries, the English football pyramid has seen a draw rate of between 20% and 30%. Only incredibly rarely has it gone over 30% and then only marginally (31% in 1977) whilst it has only dipped under 20% once since the early 1930s (18.7% in 2018/19 as per the table above).
Fluctuations, such as there have been, may simply be natural variance, or they may be down to rule changes and the other factors discussed above. One of the best examples of the latter was when the offside rule was changed in 1925. The relaxation of the law led to a huge jump in the goals average and draws dropped correspondingly.
However, it would seem that players, managers, formations and tactics soon adjusted and the stats for both metrics soon returned to more normal levels. We have perhaps seen this in microcosm at the start of the 2020-21 season with the use of VAR and the handball rule.
Handball Rule Reduces Draws
Stricter handball interpretations, along with the use of the video referee, led to a glut of spot kicks being awarded in the early days of the season. The previous high (for a Premier League campaign) was 106 in 2009-10 but following 20 penalties awarded in 28 games it was suggested we were on target to see a whopping 280 during the season.
These penalties helped fuel a torrent of goals at the start of the delayed season, with 144 in the first 38 games. That is an average of almost 3.8 goals per game, around a goal a game more than we would expect. Unsurprisingly we saw very few draws in this period, just three, equating to a mere 8%.
However, in the final round of 10 matches we saw teams begin to adjust to the new rules and, more importantly, referees were told to be more lenient in their interpretation of the handball rule. Whilst we still saw an incredible number of goals (helped by Villa’s 7-2 mauling of Liverpool!) we did see fewer penalties.
We would expect that referees will do their best to avoid giving too many penalties and players will become more comfortable with the rules and will learn how to avoid conceding them. Of course, in these crazy times it isn’t just rules that have changed. It is possible that games without fans mean less pressure on players and less urgent pressing, whilst fitness in this compressed season is also sure to be an issue. It will be interesting to see what happens with the draw ratio this term but we could well see a record low.
How Often Do European Sides Draw?
As said, we feel the 25% draw ratio is a reasonable ballpark figure to use over most leagues but how often do sides in the other big European competitions actually draw? Well, we looked at the last 10 seasons of La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga and our analysis supports our earlier theory.
In the decade we looked at, Ligue 1 and the Italian top flight saw the most draws, with La Liga seeing the fewest. However, all four, plus the Premier League itself, stayed within a fairly tight range between about 24% and 30%.
If we cast the net further afield to smaller leagues, unsurprisingly, you see a wider range of results. There are some anomalous draw stats when we look at obscure competitions or isolate a single season but, once again, we have to say that in general around one in four matches will end with neither team taking victory.
Is the Draw a Good Bet?
Knowing that around a quarter of games will result in a draw is all well and good but is the draw a good bet to be making? Given a draw is generally considered to be a favourable result for football betting sites, does that mean backing a stalemate offers value to the punter?
Unfortunately, there are no bets or markets that categorically offer good value every time, nor that we can say are, per se, “good bets”. As with all bets, the only way to uncover value is to do your research and try to find odds that you think are bigger than the probability of the event happening would imply.
That said, in general, the odds offered for the draw are usually reasonable. The match odds market is probably the most popular when it comes to football. Because so many different online bookmakers are competing for a slice of the huge betting pie in this market, the odds tend to represent better value than you might find with a more niche bet.
As a very general guide, the overround on a home, draw or away bet, is around 110%, equating to a margin for the bookie of 10%. On other markets, it can be 120% or more; so in that sense, the draw can be seen as decent value. What’s more, on the biggest games, in the biggest leagues, the overround will often be lower, especially if you have access to accounts with multiple bookies and can thus get the very best available odds on whatever you want to back.
Is 3/1 Or Above Good Value on the Draw?
Earlier in this article, we said that based on the rough long-term, global trend, of around one in four games being drawn, odds of 3/1 or above could be viewed as decent value in a sense. Of course, this is only based on historic averages. It does not mean, for example, that odds of 33/1 on a draw between England and San Marino are amazing value. Equally, it does not mean that a draw between two sides who need a point to qualify from a group is bad value if it is only priced at evens.
Each game must be assessed individually on its merits having considered all factors. However, what sort of odds are typical for a draw and how often will you see the outcome priced at 3/1 or more? In general, you can expect to find average odds of between about 9/4 (3.24) and 12/5 (3.4) for two teams to draw a game, some way below the 3/1 you might seek.
To provide more concrete numbers from the real world, we looked at just over 100 games spread over a huge range of competitions taking place on a given day and the results of that analysis can be seen below.
- Highest draw odds – 25/1
- Lowest draw odds – 7/4
- Percentage of games priced at over 3/1 – 24.8%
- Percentage of games priced at under 3/1 – 66.7%
- Percentage of games priced at exactly 3/1 – 8.6%
NB: Total percentage slightly above 100 due to rounding
Note that the odds are based on the best available price from a selection of top UK betting sites. In addition, we should point out that the highest draw odds of 25/1 were something of an outlier. This was a German Cup game between Bayern Munich and minnows Duren. The next highest draw odds were more typical, at 23/5.
Whilst our sample is admittedly is not the largest, we feel confident that these results give a very accurate indication of the sort of prices you can expect on the draw. The vast majority of games from our selection saw the stalemate priced at between 3/1 and 4/1 and this is certainly very typical.
Premier League Draw Odds
The results above are backed up, to a degree, by typical Premier League odds. We looked at the prices for the latest 10 Premier League games. Again this is a small sample but the results can be seen below.
- Highest draw odds – 17/4
- Lowest draw odds – 23/10
- Percentage of games priced at over 3/1 – 50%
- Percentage of games priced at under 3/1 – 40%
- Percentage of games priced at exactly 3/1 – 10%
- Average draw odds – 3/1
Whilst these odds are in some regards broadly in line with our wider analysis, it is clear that the current odds for a draw in the Premier League are higher than we might expect. This relates to the issue raised earlier and the very low incidence of draws in the early stages of the 2020-21 campaign. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the weeks and months ahead and whether the early lack of draws is merely a blip or a sign of a longer trend.
Draws & Betting Offers
You might like to back the draw, or you might not and instead bet on one of the sides to win in the match odds market; either way, there are some offers that you should be on the lookout for.
Because the draw is not deemed a particularly “sexy” bet and does not attract masses of interest from punters, it is not a wager that offers a huge amount in terms of bonuses and promos. None the less, there are some.
These will be available from time to time at many of the best football betting sites around and will often give you that little extra bit of value. Note that offers are subject to availability and will have terms and conditions attached (detailed at the betting site in question), as well as being available only to those aged 18 years and over.
One fairly typical offer offers a form of insurance against the dreaded 0-0 snooze-fest. If you place a losing bet on one of a number of specified markets, you will typically get your money back (often as a free bet) if the game ends in a bore draw. Another style of promotion gives you enhanced odds on a draw, whilst others may settle bets early, for example, if the game is level when heading into injury time or in the last few minutes.