Were Leicester City Chances of Winning the Premier League Really 5,000 to 1?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about soccer/football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The chances of Leicester City winning the English Premier League were 5,000 to 1.

The Leicester City Football Club (the “Foxes”) shocked the sports world recently by winning the English Premier League this year, despite having never once winning the top honors in the Premier League or Division One (which was what the predecessor to the Premier League). Before winning the championship this year, their highest placing was second place once…in the 1928-29 Division One season!!


It’s a remarkable achievement. People have been making a big deal out of the odds of them winning the championship. Gambling houses were paying out the victory on 5,000 to 1 odds. So if you bet a pound, you’d win 5,000 pounds. Thus, this is one of the greatest longshots in sports history.

However, the question then becomes, were their actual chances of them winning the title really that low?

The answer to that is a definitive no.

You see, there are only twenty teams that play in the Premier League, with the bottom teams every year being “relegated” or demoted to the secondary British football league, The Football League Championship (with the top teams of that league being promoted to the Premier League). Leicester City had only recently been promoted to the Premier League after winning the Football League Championship back in 2014 and had only barely avoided being relegated after the 2014-15 season. So the chances of Leicester City going from almost getting relegated to winning the whole thing were very low.

However, with just 20 teams, the chances of any one team winning the league should never be 5,000 to 1. That’s just way too high. The actual chance were likely more like 1,000 to 1.

That, there, lies the trick. The four most famous clubs in the Premier League, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, pretty much always win. You’d have to go back to the 1994-95 season to see a year where a team other than those four actually won the Premier League. Thus, it just doesn’t make sense for people to bet on the low level teams based on their ACTUAL odds. So what do bookkeepers do? They increase the odds to ridiculous proportions, in the hopes that people will be willing to bet money on the hopes of those incredibly long odds coming through.

Thus, they came up with 5,000 to 1 odds on Leicester City winning, and sure enough, they DID receive a number of bets based on those figures. To their detriment, of course, as bookkeepers are getting KILLED this year on those bets.

But still, the key piece of information to note is that Leicester City had much better chance of winning a title than 5,000 to 1. It’s just that their much better chance were still a really, really low chance. They still pulled off a remarkable “against all odds” win (1,000 to 1 is still a staggering underdog).

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

3 Responses to “Were Leicester City Chances of Winning the Premier League Really 5,000 to 1?”

  1. I disagree. You have distinguished between what you calculate the odds should have been versus what the bookkeepers set the odds at. The betting parlors – as you noted – did set the odds at 5000:1 – so, yes, the odds were 5000:1.
    There are similar commonly held beliefs about betting lines that are in error. For example, if the 49ers are 5 point favorites to win the Super Bowl, it is not that the bookies think the 49ers are going to win by 5 – but that to get equal bets on the 49ers and the opponent, that is where the line is set. The line will move as bets come in. California teams, because of their proximity to Reno and Las Vegas have more money bet on them to win, so the line frequently favors the opponents.

  2. Brian Cronin on May 20th, 2016 at 6:26 am

    The odds are the odds, true. That’s why I said “chances” not odds, to differentiate the two.

  3. It’s a common error by Americans to say ‘England’ when they actually mean ‘Britain’ (and we Scots grind our teeth when we see it!) but in this case you have gone the other way! You said “the bottom teams every year being “relegated” or demoted to the secondary British football league” – you are actually talking about the ENGLISH football league, as Scotland has its own completely separate league system. That’s why England compete in the World Cup, rather than a UK side. (Scotland compete as well, but we haven’t qualified for the Finals for twenty years.)

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