Leicester's Odds to Win the Title Were Not 5,000-1 – it Was Way More Unlikely Than That

Never tell me the odds (unless it's to further a media narrative or coax me into deep depression about the futility of life).

May 3 2016, 2:48pm

In recent weeks we've been told countless times that Leicester City were a 5000-1 shot to win the Premier League title this year.

But these were the betting odds, which is not the same as the chances of an event occurring. Betting odds are carefully curated so that an even number of people bet on both outcomes, thus making sure the house doesn't lose too much on any given occurrence. Betting odds reflect conventional wisdom, popular whims, and other flawed collective thought processes.

(This is where we could enter into a long debate about the wisdom of the crowd, but let's just agree they are remarkably accurate when it comes to settling on a single, demonstrable fact, like how many marbles are in a jar, but not necessarily as good at predicting future events, okay? Cool.)

A more appropriate measuring stick would be to look at some of the various prediction models by football stat people going into the season, since these were very explicitly attempting to measure the likelihood of Leicester winning the title based on the information available at the beginning of the campaign. To boil extremely complex models down to a simplistic summary: they take vast amounts of information into consideration, running season simulations hundreds of thousands of times, and then tell you how many times a given scenario occurred.

So what did these models say about Leicester? Well, 5000-1 is actually understating the unlikelihood of this title win. Michael Caley, who does weekly Premier League projections along with lots of other cool stuff, had Leicester at 50,000-1.

Chad Murphy, whose projection system was one of the most favorable towards Leicester, still had them at 1 in 7,600 at the beginning of the season.

Let's put this in perspective. According to the National Safety Council, your odds of dying by motorcycle accident is 1 in 948. You're far more likely to drown – 1 in 1,183 – than Leicester were to win the title. You're even more likely to be electrocuted to death, at 1 in 14,695. Being stabbed to death by a sharp object is 1 in 30,860. Dying in a cataclysmic storm is only slightly less likely than Leicester winning the title, at 1 in 63,679; same with being stung to death by a bee, wasp, or hornet, at 64,706 to 1. As a 26-year-old, my odds of dying in the next year are roughly 1 in 3,000, or several orders of magnitude more likely than Leicester winning the title.