Apr 12, 2023 by


The pre-concert circuit is having its usual impact on the ESC markets and with semi-final liquidity ramping up on the Betfair Exchange, the perceived qualification pecking order is gradually becoming established.

There are 11 countries currently trading odds-on to qualify in semi 1; 12 in semi 2. Something’s got to give. Find the three odds-on shots that end up NQ-ing and you will be quids in laying them cheaply to qualify on the Betfair Exchange.

Televote-only semi-finals to decide the ten qualifiers in each semi is a perplexing new paradigm for traders to get their heads around. The two semis, taking place on the Tuesday and Thursday evenings, will generate much lower tv ratings compared to Saturday night’s grand final.

Even if people enjoy getting their once-a-year fix of Eurovision on the Saturday night, most casual viewers do not tune in to watch the semi-finals, and many remain blissfully unaware the semi-finals exist. A Champions League semi-final first leg on May 9 will further dent the semi-final 1 audience on the Tuesday evening.

There will, however, be a significant spike in semi-final tv ratings in the UK this year. The BBC has been in ESC promotion mode ever since the UK was revealed as hosting the event on Ukraine’s behalf. In a change from the norm, both semi-finals will be broadcast live on BBC1, with UK viewers able to cast votes in semi 2.

Televote-only semi-finals to decide the ten qualifiers in each semi is a perplexing new paradigm for traders to get their heads around

The semi-finals are going to be decided for the most part by the die-hard ESC fan community. They are far and away the most motivated voting branch and the casual voter is going to be a much smaller proportion of the overall voting pool.

Fans are willing to overlook poor live performances. They have their favourites, decided across the season, and will loyally support them. You almost have to put any notion of quality on the back burner. Had it been 100% televote, Belgium’s Hooverphonic would not have qualified in 2021, and Albina for Croatia (’Tick-Tock’) would have gone to the grand final instead.

Denmark, performed from the semi 2 pimp slot in 2021, was a poor entry but many fans enjoyed it and it would have qualified under 100% televote. Albania and Cyprus would have qualified last year, with Switzerland and Azerbaijan missing the televote top 10. These are the precedents to bear in mind.

Jury-pleasing songs are going to be at greater risk of NQ and that list would have to include Switzerland and Netherlands in semi 1; Estonia in semi 2.

It is also crucial to apply one of the basic tenets of tv betting regarding how audiences vote, and that is, later in the running order is better than earlier.

A second half draw carries a bigger, built-in televote advantage now. And as hard as the EBU trys to make the semi-finals a level playing field, what comes before and what comes after each entry can still help or hinder.

Patrick Flynn has provided an interesting deep dive into the effects of running order here.

The semi 1 market believes the two countries fighting it out for the last qualifying spot are Netherlands and Portugal. That, in itself, could prove presumptuous.

Netherlands was a shorter price to qualify prior to Mia and Dion’s first live outing in Madrid on Saturday night. Suffice to say, it was a lacklustre performance which saw Netherlands drift briefly above Evens to qualify.

In parallel with the Netherlands drift, Portugal was backed down as low as 1.5 to qualify, the market considering it the main beneficiary.

Something to remember is, the pre-concert outings are an opportunity to test run live performances and what we will end up seeing and hearing in Liverpool is guaranteed to be a big improvement compared to these ESC gigs on limited sound stages.

Jury-pleasing songs are going to be at greater risk of NQ and that list would have to include Switzerland and Netherlands in semi 1; Estonia in semi 2

In semi 2, the market believes the final qualifying spot lies between Denmark, Belgium and Poland. But the ESC markets are rarely omniscient at this stage and there could easily be an NQ lurking among those nations trading even shorter to qualify in semi 2.

As for the semi win markets, Finland in semi 1 and Austria in semi 2 are both trading odds-on. Sadly, this has resulted in the bookmakers acting more Scrooge-like than ever by refusing to offer each-way prices so far, StarSports aside, which isn’t taking many chances by only going e/w two places, a third the odds.

In semi 1, Finland and Sweden feel lock-ish for the top 3, likely leaving only one top 3 place up for grabs. Semi 2 has a more open look and outside of Austria, at least another five nations have legitimate top 3 claims.

As the professional gambler, Dave Nevison, once put it in describing his outlook to a day’s top Flat racing, ‘You can’t go to the fair and not go on all the rides’ and with Eurovision trading you can have the full Alton Towers experience delving into the side markets.

Looking at the Top 10 market, seven of the top 12 in the betting are solo females, along with a female duet (Austria) and a female group (Czech Rep). Competition among the fairer sex is fierce and it is highly unlikely all nine will achieve a top 10 finish. There look to be short-priced countries there to be shot at, and to consider laying for Top 10.

Spain is considered an odds-on favourite to be the Top Big 5 country this year. Blanca Paloma has some competition on her hands with Italy’s Marco Mengoni also trading odds-on to achieve a top 10 finish, and many are keen on France’s chances. Grand final running order could yet end up crucial in deciding this mini-battle.

Top Baltic and Top Balkan are also competitive affairs this year. The market makes it a coin toss between Estonia and Lithuania to rule in the Baltics, while the odds are pretty close between Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia in the Balkan battle.

We have the big Amsterdam and London concerts this weekend, and with OGAE and Eurojury results filtering through, there will be further odds adjustments as we head towards the start of rehearsals in Liverpool at the end of the month.

The market makes it a coin toss between Estonia and Lithuania to rule in the Baltics

This year the markets are going to be clutching at straws more than ever due to the media blackout of rehearsals. The only available video footage will be released and strictly controlled by the EBU via its social media channels.

There will be no press centre-generated gambles of old, and we will be without the focus group effect the press centre previously offered. It won’t be until semi-final one eve, and the first tv rehearsal of semi one, that any verifiable information will start to feed into the markets.

The fans are vociferous in their adulation of Finland this year. This begs the question whether a first tv viewing of Finland, from the pimp slot in semi 1, might see its odds contract further.

Sweden is leading Finland in the early OGAE polls, and recently reverted to odds-on status to win ESC 2023. It is unclear how the Swedish staging issue is being resolved and we could yet see the gap between Sweden and Finland at the top of the Outright market narrow.

It is worth noting Skybet is offering e/w 5 places, a fifth the odds, inevitably at shorter odds but this at least offers ESC bettors greater leeway.

Confirmation of this year’s voting rules can be found here. Jury criteria remains as it was despite some reports to the contrary.

Each juror shall rank all the competing songs in each show from their least favourite to favourite based on the following criteria:

– composition and originality of the song,
– quality of the performance on stage,
– vocal capacity of the performer(s),
– overall impression of the act.


  1. Great article Rob. I love your nuanced and careful style of writing. And you are always respectful towards the participants. The David Attenborough of gamblers/traders hehehe. On most points I actually agree. That the semi finals are more driven by the televoting fans, even before the infamous rule changes from last year, is true. But I slightly disagree with you about the extend of their influence.

    Even in the semi finals, with 100% televoting, what matters is the live on-stage chemistry and conveyed emotions. In the pre-rehearsal stage, much more so with the OGAE fan vote, in which their age becomes more fluidic (young to old: they all vote in a similar bubble of favouritism), the up-tempo entries to me seem to have a mild advantage. Even more so in this age of dystopia, where semi-world wars in Ukraine and the damage of the Corona pandemic dominate the news, fans seem to like the more rebellious & fun acts more (Maneskin) more.

    However, it only takes 3 mins of exquisitely staged music, and emotions can become só effective that even non-fans get aboard. Running order in smaller semi finals matter, but I think the entries that perform before or after them….and even an accidentally clogged up group of contenders, let’s say 4 or 5 in a row, in either the first or second half, matter too. But on the whole running order is a bit less decisive than with the longer attention span needed for a grand final (and all its interval acts antics).

    Also, to me it seems obvious that the EBU slowly wants to turn the contest into an ‘MTV Videoclip Performance Contest’ than a real song/singing competition. The new jury rules seem to indicate that, but also in general the wish to involve the audience more. Let’s not forget that the viewing figures of the contest have gone down quite a bit too in recent years due to the ‘streaming addiction’ of viewers for different series.

    So involving the televoters more, and with it the new ‘rest of the world televote’ (yup, you can pay for your vote via credit card now, thát influence is around 2% on the total outcome), only seems logical (although it’s also a cheap way to wipe out that 2022 jury fiasco; partially facilitated by the EBU).

    But with vocals I agree with you, because for televoters great vocals matter less than great emotions. Look at Albania 2015, San Marino 2019 and Estonia 2017. Disastrous vocals, but if it were for 100% televoting, all three of them would have qualified.

    But there are other entries that are all about emotions too, and that never really managed to get into the TOP 3 of the betting odds before the rehearsals. Let alone being noticed heavily by OGAE. I mean, why bother playing below examples at gay clubs and fan concerts anyway. Austria 2018 (a very good televote in the semi final), Netherlands 2014 (come on, not just a staging miracle, and pretty much disregarded by fans pre-rehearsal), Portugal 2017 (never TOP 3 in the odds pre-rehearsal).

    But also look at Cyprus 2018 and Italy 2021. Certainly not slow-down entries, and not that wildly influenced by the fans pre-rehearsal. But viewers at home connected with the rebellious emotions or summery vibes that they conveyed.

    So Eurovision still is quite a unique wild beast were not just the fans come into play. It’s a melting pot of music genres, in which every music genre can excel at sticking emotion-wise. Because a much bigger demography than just fans decide the fate of a country, even with semi finals.

    Hence dark horses still can rise, especially now all rehearsals are closed for fans and traders alike (sneekily smiling at you Rob ;-)). Or for that matter they still nééd to earn the title ‘dark horse’. Also, for that same matter we ought to be careful in over-interpreting the fan concerts.

    One last remark: The unique line-up of this year –an almost total absence of down-tempo entries / modern pop ballads…I count max. 6– leave room for some unexpected twists too. There simply can’t be 4 more powerwomen ‘Fuego’s’ or ‘SloMo’s’ all clogging up in the TOP 10, nor can Maneskin create so many bands ending in the Grand Final line-up.

    • Rob

      Thanks for posting, Gert. You are right – live performance still matters & can be a game changer with entries. And let’s hope we see some game changers this year. In politics they talk about ‘swing voters’ and these undoubtedly exist in terms of the ESC voting audience too.
      The main point I was trying to make is, there is a significant proportion of fans that are intransigent in their views & nothing will sway them. You get a clear sense of this if you ever spend any time reading comments on the various forums. And this year we need to try and change our mindset analysing the semi-finals by thinking about these potential fan faves that would miss out on qualifying under the old 50/50 voting format but will now get through. It is these borderline calls that traders often need to get right to forge semi-final profit.
      With the backing vocal rule change, and the switch to 100% televote, live performance ability is not as significant as it used to be in the semi-finals. Artists can get away with being mediocre and I think this is a shame for the Contest.
      With these fan polls, they are assessing the official videos. That used to be a red flag in itself because live performance mattered in the past but it’s less of a red flag now because of the rule changes. I actually think the jury side of things is now being contaminated by eurojury and juries are becoming more closely aligned with the fan bubble. Another disappointing development imho.

  2. neomichael

    Hi Rob and every other reader betting in ESC. Nice article as always!

    For Netherlands based on a recent live video (if it wasn’t autotuned) I believe they are back in the Q game.

    From my side I don’t buy the hype with France. I am anticipating to flop like the French entry back in 2018 where the had been finished 2nd in OGAE and 4th in Eurojury then finished 13th in the final. Judging from the same year’s Cyprus improvements during rehearsal period, I am looking forward for Israel’s performance, she (Noa Kirel) is very talented and with a good staging (which is what all this secrecy , high budget , as well as the recent short teasing video with fans’ reaction, could all imply ) can sneak in top5 or even higher.

    In another topic, does anybody else experiencing restrictions in bookers sites or is it my perception that bookers have become less generous and a lot more careful recently? Betsson: Lot of manual approvals and declines, Sportinbet/Bwin: Does not allow to bet anything larger than 1 € , Kaizen: Restricted cash outs and decreased limits by a factor of 2 to my account. And if yes how are you dealing with this if betfair is not available in your country? (I am from Greece).

    • neomichael

      In addition, Bet365 last year was offering e/w 4 places, 1/4 the odds, while this year it dropped to 1/5.

      • Rob

        Hi Michael. Thanks for posting your latest thoughts. Fully agree with your appraisals on both. Netherlands much improved. I’m assuming they’re going with something similar staging-wise, the 2 of them facing one another. I read 3 backing vocalists will also be present on stage, so scope for maybe the pianist to be retained as well? I think it’s an under-stated gem but of course it is reliant on the fans voting for it in the sf. Maybe after all the criticism, this is extra motivation for televoters to support Netherlands presuming they do it justice live in Liverpool?
        France – fully agree too. I’ve not seen a single video of La Zarra performing live that suggests she’s any good. I think it is being wildly over-estimated, like a few others, partly due to Eurojury. People seem to be forgetting the importance of connecting with the viewer, and live performance still matters. I think she is almost an anti-Pravi in this aspect.
        Sadly, yes, all the books are more miserly than ever. A fifth the odds, only offering win-only on the 2 sfs, most prices offered much shorter than current BF odds… unless you are very quick backing 1 before the books are able to re-adjust their odds. I have great sympathy for anyone who does not have access to Betfair.

        • neomichael

          Haha, thanks for the sympathy. Yes indeed being quick most of the times pays back especially for slow reacting bookers. I’m glad to be here guys as all recent years. Looking forward for the rehearsals and your opinions. Good luck everyone!

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