There’s an air of pessimism among many seasoned Eurovision punters in the build-up to this year’s contest. It’s a weak year, goes the refrain; liquidity is poor on Betfair; bookies have been slow to price up. In a glum assessment, Rob at entertainmentodds.com blames the emergence of sites like his and this one over the last few years for making punters more clued-up and bookies more cautious, and suggests “it would be better for everyone if we returned to a situation pre-2009 when it was all kept behind closed doors”.
I have to respectfully disagree with Rob there. Every year I’m grateful anew for the opportunity on Sofabet to test my theories and engage in debate below the line with our incredibly insightful and unfailingly good-humoured community of commenters. I similarly enjoy the opportunity to read Rob’s detailed thoughts, along with Gavster’s sterling work over at esctips.com (their latest podcast is just out). I’m looking forward to watching rehearsals in the press centre with Gav and Rob, and sharing our respective impressions.
I do understand the pessimism about the slow build-up of this year’s market – it’s hard to believe that in the past, by Easter, I have had liabilities of £20,000 on just one entry qualifying. But new markets are being priced up; liquidity is slowly improving; I actually don’t think this year is as weak as many are making out; and I think it’s possible – with a positive outlook – to find potential opportunities. In an effort to provide some inspiration, below I attempt to answer the question: what are this year’s reasons to be cheerful?
I generally prefer to try to predict the actual results of Eurovision rather than how the market will move. But for all that sites like Sofabet now provide more opportunity for discussion, Eurovision remains far from adhering to the efficient-market hypothesis. There have been opportunities this year, like any other, to profit from anticipating how others’ thinking will evolve – just ask those who got on Armenia before its price crash, or laid the likes of Norway, Romania or Germany at single figures.
Last week I wrote an article suggesting that the UK, Austria and Ukraine would continue to shorten in price as the big event approached. If you feel like you’ve missed out on some of these trading opportunities, there are always others to be found. Keep looking at the OGAE votes, polls and rehearsal blogs when they start. For example, I’ll suggest that Israel offers a trading opportunity now that videos of Mei Finegold’s fierce live performances of ‘Same Heart’ are going viral (it’s also currently riding high in fan polls).
2. The first semi-final
With only 37 countries taking part, there was a real danger of two uncompetitive heats. As it is, the larger semi of 16 is as competitive as we could have hoped for in the circumstances. It contains the two entries – Armenia and Sweden – that comfortably head the win market; three other contenders in bookmakers’ lists – Ukraine, Hungary and Azerbaijan; big-hitter Russia; and respected entries from Belgium and Estonia.
Many of these have other factors in their favour beyond a good standing in the win market. The heavy representation of former Soviet nations gives these entries an extra boost, whilst Hungary has the pimp slot. As a result, we should see the emergence of a dynamic win and place market for this semi-final. Take your pick, and if you feel any of them are badly overrated, there’ll be opportunities to lay.
Add to that mix well-drawn, decent-quality entries from the Netherlands and Montenegro, plus Moldova representing the strong Soviet bloc, you’d think we’d have a set of outsiders given little chance and priced accordingly. We don’t, with five entries all trading at worst, around 4.0 on Betfair – so if you take the view that there’s a genuine no-hoper, you can get a layable price. I’ll suggest that San Marino, with a weaker song than failed to qualify last year, faces the most forbidding task. What’s your view?
3. The second semi-final
If heat one is highly competitive, the beauty of heat two is that it feels wide open. Firstly, there are no big voting blocs in evidence – biggest hitters Greece and Romania are separated from plenty of allies. Secondly, only badly-drifting Norway is anywhere near the head of the win market; next up is Romania. I happen to think the chances of both are overrated anyway, as I indicated in my analyses of ‘Silent Storm’ and ‘Miracle’.
When Paddy Power opened a win market on this semi, they went 1/2 about Carl Espen, 2/1 Paula & Ovi, and 10/1 bar. Norway may well end up winning this heat from Romania, but at those prices I think it’s worth looking elsewhere. Myself, I was tempted by some big odds about Greece. I know plenty will disagree with that, but the general principle applies: I reckon there must be value to be had outside the market leaders. Who’s your selection?
4. The final
The market suggests the winner is approximately twice as likely to come from either Armenia or Sweden as it is from any of the other 35 entries combined. Do you think that’s realistic? If not, you could be grabbing some of the value about what you consider the most viable alternatives, or at least laying whichever of those two market leaders you think are overrated.
Meanwhile, the western bias of fans and punters has been encapsulated in the appearance of three Scandi entries in the top five of bookmakers’ lists. History suggests we’re unlikely to see all of Denmark, Norway and Sweden finish in the top five, which means there’s an opportunity for punters to identify the Nordic entry they think most likely to fall by the wayside.
I’ve made the case for why I think Denmark offers a solid package. Norway has clearly been the choice of layers in recent days – but I also expressed doubts in my discussion of Sweden’s prospects, and at current odds (erstwhile favourite Norway is now about four times the price of Sweden) I’d suggest Sanna is currently being the most overrated. Do you agree?
5. Rule changes
Last year saw two significant innovations: the system of juries ranking each entry gave individual jurors more power to drag down entries they dislike; and producers decided the running order, after a random draw for which half each act performs in. How the latter panned out is especially interesting here.
The system of a producer-decided final draw last year did most to help those acts already in with a chance. Seven countries came within shouting distance of winning one or other of the semi-finals in 2013. Those unfortunate enough to be randomly drawn into the first half were placed 9th and 10th of the initial 13. Those drawn into the second half were placed 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 24th. Within the confines of whichever half, the earliest draw thus went to winning entry Denmark (18 is a great slot).
Also favoured were the two among the ‘Big Five’ considered to have the best chance of a good result: in the first half, Germany (11th); in the second half, Italy (23rd). Thus, most of the best slots were reserved for the strongest contenders. (The final two in the running order – Georgia and Ireland – had performed relatively poorly in their semi-finals, and neither were a threat to those preceding them.)
The significance of this? Producers clearly didn’t want to scupper the chances of any potential winner – or, more pertinently, risk being accused afterwards of doing so. I’m making the assumption that this will be the case again, which has a couple of implications. First, I reckon it’s unlikely that a market leader will get a terrible draw, like 2 – always a risk to be factored in previously.
And secondly, when the running order for the final is released, it may conceivably be worth parsing for clues about the relative strength of the contenders. That depends on the aforementioned assumption being correct, and opens up the risk of overthinking that is ever-present when trying to discern producers’ thinking in the X Factor from variables such as running order decisions. Still, in Eurovision terms, that’s a new opportunity altogether.
Rob wrote an excellent article about this topic a while back, but was disappointed at the added boost given to the market leaders by producers. I’m taking more of a glass half-full approach to the new system.
So, Eurovision 2014 need not be the betting famine you fear. Regular readers will know that caution is often advised on this site. It always applies in this game, and over-confidence is never encouraged. But being overly pessimistic can also be counter-productive. What I’ve tried to do here is suggest some of this year’s opportunities. Let me know what you think of them below.