Analysis of the draw for 2015 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals. Which countries does Ireland want to be drawn with and which do they need to avoid?

Adrian Kavanagh, 11th January 2015

The draw for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals takes place on Monday 26th January in Vienna. After this draw, Ireland will know whether its act will be taking part in Semi Final 1 (on 19th May 2015) or Semi Final 2 (on 21st May 2015) and will also know the 15/16 other countries that will be competing against this act for one of the ten qualifier slots from this semi final. The three Big 5/Host countries that will have the right to vote in this semi final will also be known after this. This post will assess the possibilities facing Ireland ahead of this draw and pinpoint what would be an ideal/nightmare draw for the Irish act. 

First of all, to note the format for this semi final draw. 39 countries will be taking part in the two semi finals (down on the numbers taking part in last year’s semi final, with the Ukraine not taking part this year while Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are not making a return to the contest after missing out last year’s contest. However, Serbia, Cyprus and the Czech Republic are returning to the contest; Cyprus and Serbia missed last year’s contest while the Czech Republic are returning to the contest for the first time since 2009.

The remaining 33 countries in both semi finals will be drawn from a series of five pots. The numbers of countries in these different pots vary between six and eight. The countries in each of the different pot will generally be countries that have exhibited a strong Eurovision voting relationship between each other over recent contests, although the strength of the relationships between the countries in some of the pots is not as strong as that in others. This is a recognition of the existence of voting blocs within Eurovision, especially following the introduction of televoting in 1998 and the semi final system in 2004. The pots system is an attempt to “break up these voting blocs” somewhat and limit the potential of some countries qualifying for each final by default due to being able to rely on a strong pre-existing support base due to “friends and neighbours voting” and/or “diaspora voting”, as discussed in previous Eurovision posts on this site.

Note that the pot names listed here are not official ones – these are names assigned by me.

Pot 1: The Balkan/post-Yugoslav Bloc pot – Albania, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Switzerland, Slovenia and Malta: Serbia have the best qualification record of the seven countries in this pot. Malta, Albania and FYR Macedonia have mixed results in terms of qualification, while the Swiss and Slovenes have both only qualified from the semi final on three occasions from eleven/twelve attempts, although both countries qualified for last year’s final. Montenegro qualified from a semi final for the first time ever in 2014. In terms of past support for Irish entries, the country we really want to draw here is Switzerland (ranked tenth in terms of “friendly Eurovision” countries for Ireland out of the 38 other countries competing in this year’s contest). Out of the other countries, Slovenia would be the next preferred option on that same basis, while Montengro would be the country to avoid. The average points awarded to Ireland at past contests from Albania and FYR Macedonia are relatively similar, mainly due to a high vote from the Macedonian jury at last year’s semi final, so it is a toss up really as to which country we would want to get/avoid in this semi final. With the exceptions of the Maltese and the Swiss, Ireland would usually not expect to get too many points from countries in this pot, so ideally we would be drawn with just three countries in this pot (although it would be better to get four countries including Malta and Switzerland than it would to get drawn with three countries but with all of these being based in the Balkans). Dream: Malta, Switzerland, Albania. Nightmare: Serbia, Slovenia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro 

Pot 2: The Viking pot (Scandinavian/Baltic Bloc pot): Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Latvia: This is a rather mixed pot in terms of semi-final qualification records. Sweden, Norway and Denmark have qualified from most of the semi finals that they have competed in since the introduction of the semi-final system back in 2004. The fortunes of the other countries in this pot in terms of semi final qualifications have been relatively similar over the past ten years, with these countries reaching some of the finals and missing out on others. In terms of voting patterns, most of Ireland’s biggest Eurovision friends fall in this pot and it would be very good to have a chance to win votes from four of these countries in the semi-final. Since 2004, Ireland’s highest average points levels from countries in this pot have come from Latvia and Denmark. But to be honest, we should expect a few Eurovision points in most cases from any of the countries in this pot, even though Ireland’s average points tally from Estonia and especially Iceland is somewhat lower than from the other countries in this pot. In terms of their strong records in recent contests, it might, however, be no harm to avoid one out of Sweden and Norway, although we have won a slightly higher average number of points from Sweden than from Finland across all contests since 1998. Ideally we would be  Dream: Denmark, Latvia, Finland, Sweden. Nightmare: Norway, Estonia, Iceland

Pot 3: The post-Soviet Bloc pot: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Israel and Lithuania: Ireland would not expect to win too many votes from the countries found in this pot – with the notable exception of Lithuania – and most of these countries are ranked towards the bottom of the list when it comes to countries that award Ireland Eurovision points on a regular basis. After Lithuania, Israel would rank as the next best country for Ireland to be drawn with in this regard, with Russia and Azerbaijan being the next highest countries in terms of the average points being awarded to Irish acts at contests since 1998. To make matters worse, some of the contest’s big hitters fall in this pot with these countries in this pot accounting for three Eurovision wins since 2004 and Russia and Azerbaijan have qualified from every semi final they have competed in and also have usually tended to be among the main contenders for the overall victory. Armenia has qualified out of every Eurovision semi-final that it has competed in with the exception of the 2011 contest and the Armenian act generally does fairly well in Eurovision contests, as evidenced in last year’s fourth place in the final. Georgia and Moldova have only missed out on qualifying for the final on two occasions, although both countries missed out on last year’s final. Israel’s qualification record is a decidedly mixed one and the country has missed out on the final over the past few years. Belarus is decidedly the least successful country in this pot, but they have qualified for the last two finals (in 2013 and 2014). In the early 2000s, Lithuania would probably have ranked as the least successful of the countries in this pot, but in more recent contests the Lithuanians have proven to have been more consistent qualifiers, although they failed to qualify for last year’s final. With seven countries in this pot, the nightmare scenario would be to be drawn with four countries from this pot. From the point of view of average points awarded to Irish entries over the past fifteen years, the dream and nightmare draws would be as follows: Dream: Lithuania, Israel, Azerbaijan. Nightmare: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia. (Georgia has yet to award Ireland any Eurovision points.) But as few points would be expected for an Irish act from any of these countries in any course (with the notable exception of Lithuania and the less significant exception of Israel), on the basis of wanting to avoid being in competition with some of the contest’s “big-hitters” then the real dream and nightmare draws here would be: Dream: Lithuania, Belarus, Israel. Nightmare: Azerbaijan, Russia, Armenia, Georgia (The real nightmare would be to get four big-hitters from the post-Soviet bloc drawn in Ireland’s semi-final.)

Pot 4:  The West European/Greek Diaspora pot: Belgium, Greece, Cyprus, The Netherlands, Ireland, San Marino: The last two pots have a lot less coherence to them than the previous three but this pot is probably defined in terms of countries showing strong support traditionally towards Greece based around either support from that country’s diaspora. From a competitive perspective, Greece is the country to avoid here. The Greek act has qualified from each semi final it has competed in since 2004  and Greece is of the strongest competitors in Eurovision. By contrast, the Belgians and Dutch (with the exception of a good contest for both of these countries in 2013 and a second place for The Netherlands in last year’s final) have qualified for the final on few occasions. Cyprus have had a mixed record also in terms of semi final qualifications, while San Marino have only qualified for the final on one occasion (2014). This pot is very interesting as there is also a big difference in terms of voting propensity for Irish act between the three potential dream draws (San Marino, Belgium and the Netherlands) and two obvious nightmare draws (Greece and Cyprus). It really matters here in terms of which two countries we get from this pot, or rather which countries we do not get drawn with (ideally Greece and Cyprus). Dream: San Marino, Belgium. Nightmare: Greece, Cyprus, The Netherlands (although The Netherlands would not amount to an especially awful draw)

Pot 5:  The Central European/”All the Others” pot: Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal: This pot is mainly comprised of the Central European countries taking part in this year’s contest, but with Portugal also being included – no doubt due to a strong diaspora voting relationship between Portugal and Romania.  With the obvious exception of Romania, which has qualified for every semi-final that they have competed in since 2004, none of the countries in this particular pot have had exceptionally strong Eurovision records in recent years; the Hungarians probably having the stronger record, as evidenced in a fifth place finish in the Copenhagen final in May 2014. Of course the Czech Republic is the only country competing in this year’s contest that has yet to qualify for a Eurovision final.  From the point of view of average points awarded to Irish entries over the past fifteen years, the dream draw would be Hungary and Portugal (although the average points won from Romania and Poland are not significantly lower than those won from Portugal) while the nightmare draw would be Moldova and the Czech Republic. Ireland has yet to win a point from the Czech Republic, but in fairness the Czechs have only had one opportunity to vote for an Irish act in their Eurovision history, namely Dervish in the 2007 Helsinki Final. This is a pot containing countries from which an Irish act would be hoping to win a few points (but not very many points) from, irrespective of which countries are drawn out of this in Ireland’s semi final. On that basis, it would probably be best to avoid Romania in this draw given that country’s perfect qualification record over the past decade. Dream: Hungary, Portugal, Poland. Nightmare: Czech Republic, Romania, Moldova 

The Big 5/Host countries: France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Austria: The nitty gritty and tension of semi final qualification is not for these countries, but they do get to vote on one of the semi finals and will be assigned as such in tomorrow’s draw. Ireland definitely wants to see the United Kingdom voting for its semi final given that our nearest neighbour is also closest to us in terms of Eurovision support and easily the top ranked country in terms of average points awarded to Irish acts over the past decade and a half. Although we have not received exceptionally high levels of points from hosts, Austria, or from Germany, in past contests, their record in supporting Irish Eurovision acts would be better than those of the rest of the Big 5 countries (Spain, France and Italy). We definitely do not want to get France (a country with a very low points average in terms of support for Irish acts) and Italy (a country that has still yet to award any points to any Irish act since it returned to Eurovision in 2011 and which ranked Ireland in last place in the jury vote and televote at the 2014 semi final – does any other country in Eurovision hate Ireland more???). As Germany have already been preassigned to vote in Semi Final 2, it may in some instances be better to avoid Germany especially if the 17-country second semi final was to contain four countries from the Balkan and Soviet pots. In which case, Spain would be the most acceptable alternative! Dream: United Kingdom, Austria, Germany. Nightmare: France, Italy, Spain.  

Draw Position: The draw tomorrow will also decide what half of the semi final final each country will be performing in, but it will not be assigning actual draw positions. Based on my earlier analyses, it would bemuch better for Ireland if they were drawn to perform in the second half of a semi final. Rather controversially, this year as in 2013 and 2014) it has been decided that the draw positions for countries taking part in the Eurovision semi finals and final will be decided by the show producers and not by a draw, as has been the case in previous Eurovision Song Contests. Only the starting position of the host country, Austria in the Final will be decided by a draw (for obvious reasons). In which case, can we glean which countries Austria loves/hates the most when we see which countries they assign the much desired No.16/17 semi final draw positions and the No. 17-23* Final draw positions and who they assign the very dreaded No. 2 draw position to. It was very obvious last year as to which countries Denmark liked (Sweden, Austria) and did not like (Belarus, Azerbaijan, Russia) in terms of how the draw for the final was organised. (* No, I’m not mistaking the numbers in the Final – while my analysis suggests being drawn last to perform in a semi final is statistically the best draw position to get, it suggests that the best draw position in a Final in statistical terms is to be drawn to perform in the second last position. Being drawn to perform last (26th position) in a very long Eurovision Final does not always help an act’s prospects, as Ireland found to its cost in 2013 and the United Kingdom discovered in 2014 (and also Slovenia in 2003).)

To recap, the dream draw for Ireland would be to be drawn in the latter half of  Semi Final 1 (16 contestants) with Malta, Switzerland, Albania, Denmark, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Belarus, Israel, Belgium, San Marino, Hungary, Portugal and Poland, with the United Kingdom, Austria and Germany voting in this semi final. (If it means avoiding Semi Final 2 – especially if there were four Former Yugoslav states and four Former Soviet states (excluding Lithuania) in this semi final – it might be preferable to get drawn with Spain instead of Germany, given that it has already been agreed that Germany will be voting in this semi-final.


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One Response to “Analysis of the draw for 2015 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals. Which countries does Ireland want to be drawn with and which do they need to avoid?”

  1. 2015 Eurovision Song Contest Semi Final allocation draw | Adrian Kavanagh's Blog Says:

    […] Blog posts from Adrian Kavanagh on the Eurovision Song Contest, sports and other entities! « Analysis of the draw for 2015 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals. Which countries does Ireland want… […]

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