Eurovision Song Contest: The Luck of the Draw…or the Running Order?

Adrian Kavanagh, 13th May 2016

Song, performance and staging matter in terms of ultimate Eurovision success. “Diaspora” and “friends and neighbours” voting can also help a country’s prospects of doing well in the contest, though of course not in themselves proving sufficient to win the contest for those countries that can especially benefit from these voting trends. But another key factor that can shape a country’s hopes of winning the contest is the position in the contest running order that they get to perform in, with the usual rule of thumb suggesting that a later draw position will significantly help a country’s hopes of doing well in the contest. Positions in the running order had traditionally been decided by a draw up to the 2012 contest. But since the 2012 contest in Malmo, participating countries have just drawn to decide whether they will perform in the first half or second half of a contest, with the host TV producers then deciding the running order based on what combination of entries works the best in terms of producing a better TV show. (The host country is the only one that draws to decide their position in the Final running order). 

Eurovision wins and draw position in the 2000

Year Winning Country Draw Position
2015 Sweden 10
2014 Austria 11
2013 Denmark 18
2012 Sweden 17
2011 Azerbaijan 19
2010 Germany 22
2009 Norway 20
2008 Russia 24
2007 Serbia 17
2006 Finland 17
2005 Greece 19
2004 Ukraine 10
2003 Turkey 4
2002 Latvia 23
2001 Estonia 20
2000 Denmark 14

Table 1a: Draw position of winning Eurovision acts in both finals during the 2000s

As Table 1 shows, most of the countries that have won Eurovision Finals during the 2000s have tended to enjoy the advantages of a late draw position. The main exception here is the 2003 contest in which Turkey managed to narrowly win the contest (a two point win over Belgium’s Sanomi which was performed in 22nd position on the night) while performing 4th on the night of what was (up to 2012) the largest ever final in Eurovision history with 26 acts performing. The only other exceptions here relates to 2004 and 2014. Ukraine’s Wild Dances won the contest while performing in 10th position on Final night. Between Ukraine’s 2004 win and 2014, none of the winning acts in Eurovision Finals have performed any earlier than 17th on Eurovision Final night, meaning that the winners of these finals had come exclusively from the last third of the draw. This pattern was broken in 2014, when Austria’s Conchita Wurst won the Final, while performing 11th on the night. Sweden also won the contest from 10th place in the running order in 2015. So has running order become less important? Well, probably not. This reflects the changes made in terms of the way that the running order was determined at recent contests, with this now being determined by the host TV producers instead of a draw. The only draw now is to determine whether an act performs in the First Half or the Second Half of a semi final/Final (although the position of the Hosts in the running order is still determined by a draw). What was evidenced in 2014 and 2015 was that countries allotted later positions in the running order in the First Half of these Finals went on to win the contest. (More by design rather than coincidence, contest favourites drawn to perform in the First Half of Final tend to get these later positions in the contest running order. For instance, in 2015 Australia nearly got the latest position possible in the running order for an act selected to perform in the First Half of the Final (12th), while in 2016 Australia got the latest possible running order position (13th) for an act selected to perform in the First Half of the Final.

Year Winning Country Draw Position
2015 SF 2 Sweden 13
2015 SF 1 Russia 12
2014 SF 2 Austria 6
2014 SF 1 The Netherlands 14
2013 SF 2 Azerbaijan 4
2013 SF 1 Denmark 5
2012 SF 2 Sweden 11
2012 SF 1 Russia 14
2011 SF 2 Sweden 8
2011 SF1 Greece 19L
2010 SF 2 Turkey 17L
2010 SF1 Belgium 10
2009 SF 2 Norway 6
2009 SF1 Iceland 12
2008 SF 2 Ukraine 4
2008 SF1 Greece 19L
2007 SF Serbia 15
2006 SF Finland 16
2005 SF Romania 14
2004 SF Serbia and Montenegro 20

Table 1b: Draw position of winning Eurovision acts in semi-finals during the 2000s

In the semi-finals (Table 1b), as there have usually been fewer countries competing, especially in recent years since the introduction of the two semi-finals system in 2008, there has been a tendency for more wins by acts drawn to perform earlier in the show. (Most of these early wins tend to be from entries, such as Austria in 2014 or Denmark in 2013, which go on to win the actual contest.) But there is also still an obvious advantage here towards acts performing later in the show with three of these semi-finals being won by acts drawn to perform from last position in the show (Greece in 2008 and 2011, Turkey in 2010). (There is also an interesting pattern here wherein a number of the acts that went on to win the contest are shown not to have won their preceding semi-final, including Azerbaijan in 2011, Russia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2004.)

In fact despite the stronger showing of the later performing acts, none of the Eurovision finals during the period have been won by an act that performed last on the night in these contests (and you have to go back to 1989 for the last act to win a Eurovision final from the last performance position – Yugoslavia’s Riva with Rock Me). But there have been two instances in the 2000s where Eurovision finals have been won by acts that performed in the second-last draw position, namely Latvia’s I Wanna in 2002 and Russia’s Believe in 2008.

Draw position and the Eurovision semi finals

Figure 1: Average points per position in the running order at Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals between 2008 and 2015

As Figure 1 shows, when looking at the average number of points won by acts in these contests, there is a general tendency here for acts drawn to perform in the latter part of the semi-finals to do better than those drawn to perform earlier on the night. The best draw position to get statistically in a semi-final is to be drawn to perform in last position on the night. It is worth noting that the last position draw does not necessarily guarantee qualification. Indeed it has been a graveyard position for a number of up-tempo acts in the past (Ireland in the 26-country 2013 final, Serbia in the first 2013 semi-final, Spain in the 2009 final, Slovenia in the 26-country 2003 final, The Netherlands in the second 2009 semi-final) – although this was not the case with the up-tempo acts drawn to perform from last place in the 2010 semis, as Turkey won their semi-final and Iceland finished third the other one, while Greece went on to win the other 2011 semi-final while performing from last position.

There is a general trend also that ballad or mid-tempo entries tend to do much better from the last draw position than the more up-tempo entries do, but especially in the finals which tend to be longer and in which viewers may be more in the mood for more mellow fare after having already listened to twenty-four or twenty-five other acts prior to this. There is not a straight-forward relationship at play here with certain mid-contest draw positions proving to be more advantageous draw positions than some of the later draw positions. In a similar vein, performing first on the night is not statistically the worst position to be drawn to perform in (and this is actually a draw position that can work well for certain types of entries, especially the more up-tempo numbers). Instead the worst draw position to be in statistically in a semi-final is 3rd position. Being drawn in 2nd position at a Final is traditionally the real Eurovision “draw of death” – and no entry performed from 2nd place has ever won a Eurovision final or semi-final to date. In 2009 Ireland’s Sinéad Mulvey and Black Daisy unluckily missed out on the final after having attained the cursed 2nd draw position, but their result was much better than that of the Czech Republic’s entrants, who attained the dreaded nil points after being drawn to perform second in the other semi-final of that year. The 2010 Oslo final saw the poison chalice of performing second in the final fall to Spain, but luckily for them their act was intruded on by an “over-enthusiastic” fan and Spain were invited to perform again at the end of the show, thus attaining a more desired draw position by default (and no doubt gaining some extra Eurovision points as a result).

Figure 2: Qualification levels by position in the Eurovision semi-final running order between 2008 and 2016. (Note: a yellow square denotes qualification, squares in bold pinpoint the last running order positions in individual semi-finals)

As Figure 2 shows, there have been notable differences between the different semi-final draw positions in terms of the number of acts that have successfully qualified for the contest final after having performed in these draw positions. (Successful draw positions are highlighted in yellow, with the last draw position in each semi-final being made evident by a heavier border.) Looking at the period from 2008 onwards, given that the two semi-finals system was introduced in that year, a number of trends become readily apparent.

First of all, certain draw positions (14th, 18th, 19th, 17th) have higher than average number numbers of qualifiers associated with these, but acts performing from other draw positions (11th, 5th, 3rd, 4th, 8th) across these contests have tended to be more likely not to qualify than to qualify based on the trends noted above. The advantage of having a very late draw position – and especially those of performing either in the last or second-last draw positions – also becomes evident here.

Most of the acts that have performed either in the second-last or last draw positions in these semi-finals have gone on to qualify for the Eurovision final. Prior to 2016, the only exceptions to this rule were (for acts performing in second-last position) Switzerland in the second 2013 semi-final and FYR Macedonia in the second 2008 semi-final and (for acts performing last on the night) Serbia in the first 2013 semi-final and The Netherlands in the first semi-final of 2010. However at the 2016 contest, both of the countries (Bosnia-Herzegovina/Albania) performing in the second-last position order slot failed to make the Final.

Somewhat confusing these trends is the unusual qualification system associated with the 2008 and 2009 contests, in which the country finishing in tenth place in the televote was not guaranteed qualification for the final but could miss out at the expense of a lower placed entry if that entry scored higher amongst the back-up juries. Thus, Sweden (performing 2nd on the night) qualified for the 2008 final due to a strong ranking from the Eurovision back-up juries, even though the Swedish act finished in 12th place in the semi-final televote behind tenth-placed FYR Macedonia (performing 18th on the night, as highlighted in grey) and Bulgaria. Had the qualifications in this case been based solely on the televote and the Macedonian act had qualified, this would have meant that every one of the acts that performed second from the end in these last fourteen semi-finals, apart from Switzerland in 2013, would have been successful in terms of qualifying for the final!

Songs are not disadvantaged from being placed next in the draw besides (other) strong entries. The fear has been that songs might find it difficult to stand out if they are in the same part of the draw as a strong entry or a number of strong entries, but the chart above suggests the opposite – that songs are probably more likely to be overlooked by the voters if they find themselves next in the draw to a number of (other) weaker Eurovision entries. Figure 2 suggests that, over these recent semi-finals, songs have probably had a better chance of making it to the Eurovision final when they were scheduled to perform before or after other qualifying entries. The chart shows a tendency for non-qualifier draw positions to cluster together in a similar vein to the manner that qualifier draw positions likewise cluster together.

Draw position and the Eurovision final

When it comes to the Eurovision final, a late draw position again offers countries a better chance of success with generally higher average points over the past decade of Eurovision finals being associated with those countries that have received the later draw positions. However, it is interesting to note from the chart below (Figure 3) that being drawn to perform in last place is not the best draw position statistically to get in a Eurovision final, as opposed to the trend noted earlier for the Eurovision semi-finals. The 26th position in the running order – across the four finals that have included 26 countries (2003, 2012-2014) – has been an especially poor one in terms of the relative success levels of the countries performing from that slot. (That being said, when the contest temporarily moved to a 27-country Final in 2015 Italy went on to win the televote (but not the actual contest, due to a lower jury vote ranking) while performing in the last position in the Final running order/

Figure 3: Average points by draw position in Eurovision finals, 2003-2015

The best position in the running order to get statistically – based on this analysis (see Figure 3) – would be the 18th position in the Eurovision final running order. A number of the later positions in the running order – 24th, 22nd, 20th, 25th, 21st and 17th) – are also associated with higher than average points levels at a Eurovision Song Contest Final. In the earlier part of the show, the 10th positions in the Eurovision Final running order is seen to be best to get in the First Half of the show based on voting patterns in previous contests, with 11th and 13th also emerging as good position to attain in the Final running order – especially in the context of countries who have been drawn to perform in the First Half of the Grand Final. The worst running order position to get, according to the past voting statistics, in a Eurovision Final is the 2nd position in the contest running order, with the next worst being the 26th, 4th, 15th, 8th and 9th positions in the Final running order. (While 15th position is in the lattern half of the Final running order, it also counts as an “early” position in the running order to attain for a country that had been drawn to perform in the Second Half of the Final. The 3rd place position in the running order proves not to be the worst to get in statistical terms in a Final, as opposed to the case for semi-finals, but along with the first (1st) and 26th positions in the running order it can be shown to still compare unfavourably with other potential draw positions. Ultimately,  while there are of course exceptions to the rule, the overriding trend is – as Figure 4 shows – that an act has a better chance of doing well in a Eurovision Final the later the position it attains in the contest running order.

Figure 5: Average points by draw position in Eurovision finals, 2003-2015

Figure 4: Average points by draw/running order position at Eurovision Finals, 2003-2015

Figure 4 also shows that – while it is best to perform in last position in a Eurovision semi-final – the best position overall to attain in the Final running order is to perform third from the end of the show – the third last position in the Final running order. This was the position that Russia attained in last year’s Final (25th in a 27-country Final) and they went on to take second place from that running order position. (Of course, the third last position in the running order in a regular 26-country Final is the 24th position in the running order.)

Indeed, the impact of getting to perform in first position in the Eurovision Final running order can vary depending on the type of song being performed. More up-tempo songs can do well from this draw position, as with the entries from Cyprus (2002), Iceland (2003) and the contest winners from The Netherlands (1975) and 1976), but ballad type entries can struggle from this position in the running order, as happened over the past five contests with low scores for the ballad acts from Romania (2008), Lithuania (2009), Finland (2011) and the United Kingdom (2012).

Figure 5: Numbers of wins by position in the contest running order at Eurovision Finals/Semi-Finals, 1956-2015

Figure 5: Numbers of wins by position in the contest running order at Eurovision Finals/Semi-Finals, 1956-2015

The most successful running order position in terms of the number of wins at the Eurovision Song Contest Final is quite clearly the 17th position in the Final running order, as illustrated by Figure 5 above, with this position accounting for seven wins at the Final – including Sweden’s win in 2012 but also three of Ireland’s winners (1980, 1992 and 1996). The next best positions, based on the analysis, are the 8th and 14th positions in the Final running order – both of these accounting for five wins each – although none of the entries that won from 8th in the running order position occurred during the 2000s (the latest being Israel in 1998), while the most recent win from 14th in the Final running order occurred in 2000 (Denmark). The next most successful positions in terms of Final wins, after these, would be the 3rd, 9th, 18th and 20th positions in the Final running order, with each of these accounting for four contest winners. However, the most recent win from 3rd position in the Final running order was Ireland in 1994, while the most recent win from 9th position in the Final running order was Switzerland in 1988,  the most recent win from 18th position in the Final running order was Denmark in 2013 and the most recent win from 20th position in the Final running order was Norway in 2009. No act has ever won a Eurovision contest (either a Final or a semi-final) from the “dreaded” 2nd position in the contest running order. The same rule also applies in the case of acts that have performed from the 21st, 25th and 26th positions in the contest running order, as well as acts that have performed from 16th position in the Final running order (although one act – Finland in 2006 – has won a semi-final from this position in the contest running order).

 

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