Drawing To Conclusions

Mar 21, 2014 by

Drawing To Conclusions

ESC conspiracy theorists, like yours truly, often have a field day studying the minutiae of the competition, in particular, when it comes to the draw.

Last year, the EBU chose a different method when it came to semi-final qualifying countries drawing their positions in the final. Where before it was a draw for a precise running order position, it became a draw for a 1st half or 2nd half starting position, and the same formula will be adopted in Copenhagen, with the show producers then deciding the exact running order for the sake of the best show.

There was another change too. Previously at Eurovision, semi-final qualifiers would draw their running order position in the final in the qualifier press conference in the same order they were announced as qualifiers during the live semi-final. It was a big part of the ESC puzzle seeing how these live draws unravelled, and a big part of the fun of trading Eurovision markets.

In semi 2 back in 2011, the winner of that semi was Eric Saade with ‘Popular’. But for the sake of maximum suspense during the live semi-final 2 qualifier announcement, Sweden, one of the market leaders that year, was announced as the last qualifier among the 10.

With Austria, Ukraine, Slovenia and Sweden left to draw positions in the qualifiers’ press conference, 4 slots remained and those were 7, 18, 20 and 23. Sweden backers looked to be sitting pretty with 3 favoured slots still up for grabs, while Sweden layers were getting nervous.

Nadine Beiler proceeded to pull out 18, Ukraine’s Mika Newton 23 and then the coup de grace was delivered for poor Eric Saade by Maja Keuc of Slovenia as she pulled out 20, leaving Eric with the 7 slot. Sweden backers were left seething. Sweden went on to only lose to Azerbaijan by 36pts in the final and that 7 draw, instead of 20, may well have been the difference between defeat and victory.

The jeopardy that accompanied those live running order draws is much lamented, along with the dramatic price movements that ensued on Betfair’s Outright market which were something of a trader’s dream.

In another change of protocol, previously the Big 5 drew their final running order positions prior to the semi-finals at the heads of delegation meeting. Last year, the Big 5 drew 1st or 2nd half positions after their 2nd rehearsals, which fell the day after the first semi-final and the day before the 2nd semi-final.

This was set up last year with 3 first half lots and two 2nd half lots to choose from because hosts Sweden had already drawn a 2nd half slot (presumably, this will be the same this year as hosts Denmark have already drawn 23). The semi 1 draw last year saw 20 lots in the perspex bowl; 10 1st half, 10 2nd half. It seems fair to assume the same process again this year.

In semi 1 last year, the order countries were announced as qualifiers during the live show was: Moldova, Lithuania, Ireland, Estonia, Belarus, Denmark, Russia, Belgium, Ukraine, Netherlands

But in the semi 1 qualifiers’ press conference, the draw order of pulling out either a 1st half or 2nd half draw was: Estonia (10th), Denmark (1st), Russia (2nd), Ukraine (3rd), Netherlands (6th), Belgium (5th), Belarus (7th), Moldova (4th), Ireland (8th), Lithuania (9th).

The semi 2 qualifying order announcement during the live show was: Hungary, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania, Norway, Iceland, Armenia, Finland, Malta, Greece.

The press conference order: Azerbaijan (1st), Finland (9th), Malta (4th), Iceland (6th), Greece (2nd), Armenia (7th), Hungary (8th), Norway (3rd), Georgia (10th), Romania (5th).

It is difficult to find any kind of correlation here, but it is interesting that the winners of the two semi-finals last year – Denmark and Azerbaijan – got to choose among the first 2 in both semis.

The most intrigue last year surrounded Denmark, unsubtly pushed up the order in the press conference, picking 2nd and while the focus was still on Estonia drawing first, the Danes chose their lot off-camera, and lo and behold Emmelie chose a 2nd half draw.

Looking back at last year’s draw, nearly all the countries towards the front of the betting market – Denmark (18), Norway (24), Ukraine (22), Azerbaijan (20), Italy (23), Georgia (25), Sweden (16) and Greece (21) – ended up drawing a 2nd half draw.

Russia (10), Germany (11) and Netherlands (13) were also fancied nations last year and while drawing first half draws it was interesting to see producers give all 3 double figure draws. This suggests that if this year’s favourite Armenia – assuming it qualifies from semi 1 – draws a first half draw, producers will give it a slot towards the end of the first half, most likely 13.

Any TV producer worth his or her salt is likely to want the favourite to win the Contest pushed back as late as possible in the draw to keep viewers waiting to see it performed.

Last year Denmark was favourite but with the Contest held in Sweden producers couldn’t be so blatant as to place Emmelie anywhere between 20 and 24 as this would have led to cries of favouritism, but as seasoned ESC followers were aware, a position for Denmark of 18 in the running order was still perfectly advantageous while deflecting any potential criticism. The last 9 winners of Eurovision have now been drawn 14 or higher.

In past ESCs, when the final draw was random, there was always a fear the favourite could end up with a low single figure draw which could potentially hinder its chance of winning. This meant the price of the favourite held up a lot longer on Betfair but this variable looks to have largely been taken out of the equation.

Armenia has already become the shortest-priced favourite to win since Alex Rybak in 2009. If Aram pulls out a 1st half draw there may well be a drift in the Armenia price but it is unlikely to be anything too dramatic. It isn’t the strongest of years and ‘Not Alone’ looks a worthy favourite with the official video already homing in on a million hits on YouTube.

The Eurovision press office informs that the precise running order of the 2 semi-finals will be revealed ‘in the coming weeks’ so it could be a bit of a wait before we can sink our teeth into semi-final betting analysis.

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  1. Gert

    I think this system with “producer allocated starting grids” has almost no effect on the final outcome/ranking of the Eurovision final. I will give you a set of arguments/remarks for that:

    1) There is a 50% jury element in the contest. They need to use their memory better than the televoter. They need to make notes while they rank their entries in the national broadcaster’s studio. So starting slots don’t have that much influence on them. So what’s the point in looking at elements like “slow-/mid-/up-tempo”, “small/medium/big stage act” and “genre: pop, ballad, indie, rock, electro” to come up with a running order that has as much as variety, so that every song can stand out?
    2) Even if it has a measurable influence, I do not want to have a situation like in 2004, where Netherlands get the “pimp slot” in the semi final (6th place eventually) and then get drawn a 7th slot in the final right before Germany…a very similar song. That final gave us the 20th place. It’s an example of a negative effect caused by a complete random draw.
    3) And it is even more negative when there is a 100% televoting system and when there are 37 voting countries. If televoters have such a bad memory -and they do have a worse memory than jurors- then I think it’s only good to make it more difficult for them to pick a winner, by opting for ‘perfect maximum variation’ during the show.
    4) This “producer allocated starting grids” does not make a potential winner even more certain of winning. Nor does it have any measurable influence on the excitement of the voting procedure. Because in a contest with 37 or more voting nations, it becomes statistically impossible to get an exciting voting procedure or a to get a winner who wins with a margin smaller than 30 points. ‘Nailbiters’ are definitely extinct, even in years like 2011 (I think this is actually the real flaw of the current Eurovision format, that should be addressed by the producers. Why can Melodifestivalen have an exciting voting procedure and Eurovision not?).
    5) Why would a tv-producer want to put the winner at the end of the running order. I don’t think that televoters are ‘waiting’ for some potential winners to show up in the 2nd half. If a tv-producer only wants to add that excitement at the end of the show, then that’s a bit boring for the start of the show no? It only slightly enhances a possible grand-slam victory scenario.
    6) And, as you already mentioned, Denmark got the 18th slot. Not the 20th or the 22nd. Exactly, these were given to Azerbaijan (the only real competitor of Denmark) and Ukraine (another competitor). And in between they put some other, less fortunate, entries for the sake of variation. Most likely DR did that to create a more exciting voting procedure. Certainly not to make the Danish victory more ‘grand slam’.
    7) I think ‘we’ fans have been spoiled with some winners that had ‘grand slam victory’ written all over it. One can think of Norway 2009, Sweden 2012. But Germany 2010 and Denmark 2013 also won with big margins. And it’s not only that. In the period 2004 – 2012 the actual winners were, by accident/coicidence, drawn in the 2nd half of the final. Hence the large margin victories in those years. So once these “producer allocated starting grids” show up, people easily think of conspiracy or fraud. And perhaps even more, now Denmark ‘gets’ the 23rd slot (I think a back-to-back victory for Denmark is very likely). Which is a bit weird. A new system also needs to prove itself….needs to have some ‘time to breath’, so you can really come up with arguments why we should go back to a complete random draw.

    So to summarize the above: I think the effect on the outcome is almost negligible. So why focussing so much on the running order-procedure? It’s good to advocate transparency with these things. But Eurovision is and shall always be a 100% “jury sport” (Emmelie did not win last year by simply ‘scoring a goal’. No, millions of televoters and 190 jurors all over the continent did that to her). There will always be criticism if others decide over your fate, if it is for a complete random draw or a “producer allocated starting grids”, if we introduce juries or if we go back to 100% televoting. It will never be completely ‘right’.

    That’s also the charm of Eurovision I think. Although I can understand that this is a ‘pain-in-the-arse’ situation for professional gamblers ;-). The less predictable the contest, the more you can loose.

  2. Rob

    Thanks for posting, Gert.

    The draw certainly had far greater impact in the past. When it was random this resulted in clear advantaged and disadvantaged sections of the draw (especially useful in figuring out the semi-finals) when similar types of song cancelled each other out, or maybe an uptempo pop tune stood out surrounded by slower numbers.

    Now, TPTB seek to ensure every song stands out. Of course, this is not possible & there are still advantages/disadvantages but it is not as clear cut as it was under the old system.

    I still firmly believe the draw does have an impact. A later draw has to be an advantage & a draw from around 2-8 is a disadvantage.

    The EBU deny it but they are wrong. I can state this categorically because it has been a cornerstone of my successful trading strategy investing in the tv betting markets, including ESC, over many years.

    It is a mechanism used on other tv shows – we have even come up with a name for the last position – the pimp slot – on shows like X Factor. And the first slot – the coffin slot.

    A later running order remains more memorable in the eyes and ears of the casual viewer, whereas early songs are in danger of being forgotten.

    This is more significant, I believe, with televoters, but probably has some impact with jurors too who have to sit through 26 songs. Even making notes throughout it must still favour later songs.

    I think it is understandable they would want to give the favourite a later slot. Broadcasters would be telling viewers it is the favourite to win, and it makes sense to hold this moment back until later in the show.

    To give it a slot in the first 1 to 8 would also look like trying to intentionally disadvantage the favourite. This is why the new producer-decided running orders are actually a can of worms as they risk the wrath of delegations claiming unfair advantage or disadvantage being given to songs.

    The 50/50 televote/jury system is the right one imho, but the new scoring system is not fair. The old system was fairer.

    As stated here before the new system allows safe, homogenised entries to prosper because they do not receive any low rankings, whereas more original, deeper, quirkier, more edgy entries are disadvantaged.

    This risks making ESC an anachronism as a music competition imho.

    • Gert

      I do agree with you that the draw has an influence on the outcome. But it’s just one aspect. And IMO the influence of this aspect is negligible. Or it is quite small. Smaller at least than in the pre-2008-era, which had 100% televoting.

      Look to the winner from last year, Denmark. That won win 281 points. A 47 point difference from the silver medalist. Do you really believe that, if Denmark would be in the 2nd half…..or the first 5 entries…..that Denmark would not win? I think it would still have won, albeit with a smaller margin. Let’s say that Azerbaijan from slot no#20 would have gotten like 245 points….and Denmark from slot #7 would have gotten like 257 points.

      Yes, the draw sometimes makes the difference between a final ranking. Especially for those entries that score places between 5th place to 15th place.

      But overall, this is less likely to happen with the 1st place. For the very simple reason that another aspect cancels out the influence of the draw: The fact that 37 or more countries are voting and not a maximum of 25 (pre-2004). Because of that the winner usually thriumps with rather huge margins.

      Just an example:
      If the votes from Estonia last year would have been the last (25th) votes that had to be casted, then the result would be like this:
      01 – 165 points — Denmark (‘only’ 13 points more than Ukraine)
      02 – 152 points — Ukraine
      03 – 141 points — Azerbaijan

      But this was the result after 37 countries casted their votes:
      01 – 281 points — Denmark (a huge 47 points difference over Azerbaijan!)
      02 – 234 points — Azerbaijan
      03 – 214 points — Ukraine

      One thing about this remark:
      “As stated here before the new system allows safe, homogenised entries to prosper because they do not receive any low rankings, whereas more original, deeper, quirkier, more edgy entries are disadvantaged.”

      That’s true yes. But I can also recall that back in 2006 and 2007 a lot of countries were seriously angry that the ‘more original, deeper, quirkier, more edgy entries’ actually managed to win….or managed to do a TOP 10 (Finland 2006, Lithuania 2006, Ukraine 2007). Yes, that was the most democratic system. Let’s decide the fate of the performers 100% by the chips eating, alcohol drinking, short-of-memory, televoters.

      ‘Quality entries’ like Netherlands 2004, Germany 2007 and Norway 2006 didn’t stand a chance with that. And for those ‘quality’ entries the draw had become way way too important (Netherlands 2004: 6th semi final, 20th final. That’s not normal IMO).

      So the producers and the EBU always change certain aspects of the Eurovision Song Contest. And since 2013 they changed this random draw into a “producer allocated draw”. Really, in the end no-one is happy. Look to Turkey. They are protesting against the current 50%jury/50% televoting system. No is ever completely happy in Eurovision.

      It’s also a logical thing in Eurovision: 37 countries, 37 different cultures. For me that’s the charm of it as well ;-).

      • Rob

        It is hard to quantify the precise impact on the overall pts total of an early draw compared to a late one, Gert. In the instance of Denmark last year, another key element in its success was the staging – it was given the clothes of the winner with the pyros & ticker tape.

        My view is the EBU desperately wanted Denmark to win – so gave it an enormous leg up – to fend off the challenge of Azerbaijan, who they knew were dangerous competition & up to some shady business trying to buy victory.

        Given, say, the 2 slot in the final & shorn of its ‘winner’s clothes’ by way of staging, I think it is quite feasible Denmark would not have won.

        • Gert

          Sorry, I don’t think that’s the case here. For me Azerbaijan was, like Denmark helped by wunderful staging too. But the plain studio song from Azerbaijan is still a “Johnny Logan Eurovision ballad by numbers”. Wunderfully performed, but, whatever the starting slot would have been: No chance of winning.

          I think if you believe the EBU can co-decide the outcome of a winner by ‘playing with the starting grids’…….then I think: Pretty useless to spend your time on that :-).

  3. Rob

    Conchita performing live the Austrian entry:


    • Gert

      Uhm Rob? This will qualify. And in the final I think TOP 15 becomes very likely.

      One of the best travesty acts ever to be sent to Eurovision. Funny thing is, I’m not focussing at all on that travesty-element.

      Stunning vocals, great, intimate Shirley Bassey-esque performance. Some spotlights and some glitter-snow in the end.

      • Rob

        I am keeping my cards close to my chest atm Gert as we need to see some prices issued across the high st bookmakers on the semi-finals 😉

        Conchita certainly appears to be a very competent live performer & it is a pleasant ballad. I guess the concerns are, Austria is in the 1st half of semi 2, has very little voting power in this semi, & there has to be a question how televoters react to Conchita’s image.

        • Gert

          I always say: Results from the past should not be copy-pasted to the present. Yes, Austria has their statistics against them. But I think this is a pretty sure case of “from what ever grid Conchita will performs, the countries before and after Conchita are the ones who need to worry”.

          Could you give me some betting advice? I…I have never placed bets hehe. What happens if I want to place €100,- right now on Austria?

          • Rob

            There is very poor liquidity on Betfair right now, Gert, in terms of the 2 semi-finals so it is better to hold off for now. Poor liquidity means very little money available to trade.

            The best available odds on Betfair for Austria to qualify from semi 2 atm are 1.36. That means, if you staked 100 euros, you would receive 136 back if Austria qualifies. If you can see this market on Betfair right now, there is only £58 available at 1.36 so if you requested £100, only £58 would be matched. the remaining £42 would appear in the Lay column to the right – you need someone to come along and offer to Lay you £42 at 1.36.

            1.36 seems very short atm, Gert. Not value imho. I would suggest waiting until the high street bookmakers issue ‘to qualify’ prices. If Austria is priced at 2-5 to qualify, that equates to 1.4 in decimal odds, & would be a better price than the 1.36 offered on Betfair atm.

  4. PeterNL

    First of all, I like this very interesting website! 🙂

    And I tend to agree with the point that is made here and that the performing order can have a serious impact on the results. For the televoters it’s logical, but I think for the jury’s the impact is similar. The order should have no impact, only for the people who know the songs by heart, and who are not ‘surprised’ by the (lack of) quality during the show. I don’t really believe this is the case for all the jurors. I must say, it’s mainly a feeling, and my feeling is disproportionately based on the members of the Dutch jury, but I don’t believe it will be really different for other countries. After all I think the way they are watching is less different from televoters than is suggested.

    So, if the order is important, it’s logical that the best songs come later. For a correct result it’s the best if no favorite has a big advantage by being the only one performing towards the end of the show. Besides, in order to maximize the revenues from the televoting, it’s better to have the good songs in the end as well. By doing this, the songs reach the people who started watching later, the commenters have the chance to say that the good songs will still come, and it avoids that people change to another channel, if the quality level is dropping towards the end of the show. So, with the organisation defining the order, it will always be inevitable to have the worst songs in the beginning and for the coming show we can already mentally prepare to fight ourselves through songs like Moldova, Montenegro, Belarus and Poland, before the real nice part comes 🙂

    Furthermore, I don’t really agree with the 4th point made by Gert. Statistically it’s very well possible to have an exciting voting session during the show. The only bottleneck is that this is only possible if the voting order can be decided at the very last moment before the spokesmen start to give their points. This might be technically very tricky, with so many countries involved, but may be something for the future. If we look after the last 3 years, it’s mainly the attempts of the EBU to make the voting more interesting that failed in practice. In 2011, Italy made a comeback, which turned out to be clearly too-little-too-late. In 2012 Loreen won with a huge margin, and it was simply impossible to make anything nice of it. In 2013, Denmark quickly had a comfortable margin, and kept it all the way to the end. Nevertheless, 18 countries gave more points to Azerbaijan than to Denmark, so any whizzkid could have made a better order than the real one within 5 minutes. But as said, only with the total results. With only the jury votes known, I don’t think it will be possible to make a really satisfying result.

  5. Rob

    Thanks for posting, Peter.

    ‘I must say, it’s mainly a feeling, and my feeling is disproportionately based on the members of the Dutch jury, but I don’t believe it will be really different for other countries…’

    When you mention the Dutch jury – do you have intimate knowledge on this? Do you happen to know people who have sat on the Dutch jury?

    • PeterNL

      No, as I said, it’s mainly based on my personal feeling. I don’t know the jury members behind the scenes. But several members of the past few years never gave any indications of having any special interest for the Song Contest and their comments around the show and during the national pre-selection didn’t suggest that either. That doesn’t mean that they don’t like it, but I wonder if they really spent hours and hours of their spare time in listening to all the participating songs.

      This idea is also supported by the fact that in the past 2 years, the Dutch jury gave on average clearly more points to songs that they already saw in their own semi-final than to other songs.

    • Gert

      One thing I know for sure, where the results of the Dutch jury in 2009. TROS made the entire breakdown of the jury points ánd the 50%/50% result public.

      One thing that struck me: The ‘Dutch’ televoters (mostly the Turkish and Armenian community) gave the full 12 points to Turkey that year. The Dutch jury cancelled that out completely. No single point from each one of the 5 jurors. Hence the 8 points from Netherlands overall to Turkey.

      In the years after, the televoters gave Turkey even less points: 10 or 8. Well, then the overall 50/50 result from Netherlands would be like 6 points.

  6. Rob

    Could this be a replica of the Spanish staging in Copenhagen? Could be in for a treat if so:


    • Gert

      I can confirm it’s not. Ruth decided against it eventually. I heard it from a friend who’s quite up-to-date with Eurovision in Spain. She doesn’t have the time to rehearse even more. And, despite the fact that it looks great, it seriously affect her vocals.

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