For years I have been advising to avoid betting on draws in the AFL on the basis that you rarely get decent value. For many years the common odds for a draw was $51; but a draw historically has occurred once every 95 games; hence very poor value.
After a draw between St Kilda and Hawthorn last weekend I decided to investigate further to see if my long held theory holds up.
As you will discover below, for the most part the theory stands up, but there is one area where it can be exploited. (Please note I have rounded all figures to whole numbers, and have used to the end of Round 17 in the 2010 season.)

As I alluded to earlier there has been a draw once every 95 games in more than a century history of the VFL/AFL.
However, this varies greatly between each club. Below I have listed how often a draw occurs for each Club, these are sorted from the most frequent to least frequent.

 

Brisbane Lions 54
University 63
Essendon 69
Carlton 72
Fitzroy 77
Western Bulldogs 80
Port Adelaide 80
Collingwood 93
St Kilda 95
Sydney 101
Richmond 103
North Melbourne 104
Geelong 106
Melbourne 111
Brisbane Bears 111
West Coast 112
Hawthorn 177
Adelaide 459
Fremantle No Draws



Interestingly four of Clubs who have played in significantly less games in Brisbane Lions, University, Adelaide and Fremantle are at either extremes of the spectrum. Sydney (including being known as South Melbourne) is the medium Club and comes it at a draw once every 101 games.

In finals there has been a draw once every 81 games. This becomes once every 71 games if you include the 1994* final between North Melbourne and Hawthorn which was decided after extra time. Since the AFL does not officially declare this match as a draw I have excluded that ‘draw’ from the rest of the stats.

Further I have looked at each decade; particularly as in the early days scores were generally much lower than today, and may affect the occurrences. Here is how often a draw occurred in each decade:

1890-1899    101
1900-1909    108
1910-1919    54
1920-1929    62
1930-1939    124
1940-1949    100
1950-1959    80
1960-1969    76
1970-1979    98
1980-1989    160
1990-1999    110
2000-2009    109

From the above figures it easy to see that there was a more regular occurrence of draw back in the pre war days from 1920 to 1929; while the least regular was in the 1980’s; with the last two decades averaging around a draw every 110 games.

Now let’s remember that for a long time the bookies offered odds of $51; the TAB virtually still keeps it at this price.
That means that there is no club, not even a particular decade in history that you would have made a profit on backing the draw! The odds are ridiculous low.
Granted, there are now some corporate bookies that will now pay $61 or $67 on a draw, however this is still very low.

Another area for investigation is that perhaps more evenly matched teams are more likely to be conductive to a draw.
Although it should be noted that most bookies have the exact draw odds for every single game, regardless of who is playing!
So I delved into the AFL odds records that I have been keeping, in particular I decided have a look at the line market available before the draw was played. (Please note that my records only go back eight years, with just 16 draws in that time, hence the sample pool is relatively small, perhaps skewing the results.)
I used the line market that the bookies were offering as this seems a reasonable way to judge the pre game perception of how close the match was likely to be.
I compared in various brackets of the line market how often the draw would occur per games when prices in that bracket were offered.

The result below astounded me!

 

Points Line Margin Bracket Occurance
0 to 6 31
6.5 to 15 164
15.5 to 24 165
24.5 to 36 63
36.5+ 111


Quite clearly when the bookies offered a line of a goal or less, i.e. they thought the match was fairly evenly balanced, a draw occurred far more regularly.

Therefore, there are two ways whereby betting on the draw where you can have an edge:

1. If you want to back a draw, do so on matches where the bookies are offering a line of under a goal.
2. For all other games you should avoid backing, or say jump onto one of the exchanges and lay the draw off at say under $70 a match. You will be more slightly competitive than the bookies, but theoretically have the value on your side. The major problem with this is there is often a lack of liquidity in the draw market - laying off every single AFL game at that price would be very difficult!