Are The Sydney Clubs Disadvantaged By Hosting BBL Finals In Canberra?
The 2020-21 BBL Finals commence on Friday night, but there’s a twist this season with the Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder surrendering their ‘home’ venues to instead play in Canberra as a result of Sydney’s COVID-19 clusters.
Brisbane's brief lockdown means the Heat can still host the Strikers this Friday at the Gabba, while the WA government has green-lighted the Perth Scorchers hosting a home final as well.
The winner of that Heat-Strikers battle will then travel to Canberra to face the Thunder, while the minor premier Sixers will welcome the Scorchers in Saturday’s Qualifier at Manuka Oval.
The Thunder have previously played games in Canberra which they've gone so far as to call a 'second home', while it's not seen as a foreign venue for the Sixers either, and was where they ultimately fell in the BBL|04 Grand Final to the Scorchers.
With that in mind, it’s worth asking whether the two Sydney sides gain anything from hosting in Canberra, or do they lose an advantage not being able to play within greater Sydney?
Given the number of fixtures at neutral venues in BBL|10, including the Thunder playing no less than seven games in Canberra, with the Sixers travelling there three times, we're left with a decent sample size to ponder ahead of the finals.
Let's go inside the numbers.
BBL|10 Home/Away/Neutral Win-Loss Records
*Sixers or Thunder games in Canberra not included as home games
**Heat games in Gold Coast not included as home games
#Renegades game at MCG not included as a home game
There was a clear and significant advantage gained by both Perth and Hobart from playing games at home, combining for an 8-1 home record. While it's easy to attribute geography to that outcome, both sides certainly played the conditions and ground parameters well.
Perth will definitely relish a return to Optus Stadium, whether that’s in Thursday week’s Challenger (preliminary final) or through hosting Saturday week’s Grand Final. They've the inside running on securing a place in what would be the franchise's sixth BBL Grand Final appearance, a proposition the Stats Insider Futures Model is assessing as a 81.1% probability.
The Brisbane Heat, meanwhile, will also benefit from hosting the Strikers on Friday at the Gabba, with the Adelaide team struggling away from home this season, posting just a 2-4 record.
What's interesting where the above data is concerned is what it reveals about performance at neutral venues, particularly where the two Sydney sides are concerned.
The Sixers’ win percentage at neutral venues is a league-best 80%, while the Thunder are second at 70%. For context, the next best was the Heat who were way down at 42.86%.
BBL|10 Neutral Win-Loss Records
Of course, given Sydney’s COVID issues, both sides had a higher number of matches than other clubs at neutral venues, yet that in itself may be an advantage in becoming familiar with the idea of playing at a neutral ground.
Things like adjusting to new conditions quicker, familiarising yourself with the change-rooms, pre-game routines or even handling a different crowd environment all ultimately factor in to performance.
Interestingly, the Sixers and Thunder’s win-loss drop-off in genuine away games is notable.
Both the Sixers and Thunder’s away win percentage was way down at 25%, a significant drop-off from their lofty neutral records. This could suggest both sides will be very much wanting to avoid playing the Scorchers in Perth in either the Challenger or Grand Final, especially considering the Scorchers won all four of their home matches this season.
BBL|10 Home/Away Win Percentage
Finally, it’s important to clarify that not all of the Sixers and Thunder’s neutral games were played in Canberra, where their finals will be hosted.
The Sixers only played there twice, winning both games including against Saturday’s opponent Perth, while the Thunder played in Canberra seven times in BBL|10.
The Sixers went 2-0 in Canberra, but 6-2 in all other neutral venues, while the Thunder went 4-3 in the capital, and 3-0 elsewhere where neutral venues were concerned.
It’s notable that the Thunder’s three neutral losses were all in Canberra, and hints at some surrendering of home ground advantage for them.
Sixers/Thunder in Canberra in BBL|10
Whichever way you look at the data, there's a strong suggestion of an advantage to be gained by avoiding genuine away matches, with the entire league combining for a an uninspiring 9-19 record in such situations, with Perth being the only team to post a winning record in genuine away matches (2-1).
Ahead of the Finals, the Stats Insider Futures Model has the Scorchers as championship favourites, though the Sixers at 36.4% aren't too far behind, while the Thunder are being assessed as an 11% chance to add a second BBL championship to the trophy cabinet. As for Brisbane and Adelaide, they remain rank outsiders at 5.1% and 4.1% respectively, with a much more complicated path than the three favourites.
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