Eurovision 2017 Semi-Final Allocation Draw: What is in store for Ireland

Adrian Kavanagh, 25th January 2017

As reported on the ESCBubble website, as well as the official Eurovision Song Contest website, the allocation draw for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals will take place on Tuesday (31st January) morning in the Column Hall of Kyiv’s City State Administration. After this draw, Ireland will know whether Brendan Murray will be taking part in Semi Final 1 (on 9th May 2017) or Semi Final 2 (on 11th May 2017) and will also know the 17/18 other countries that will be competing against Brendan Murray for one of the ten qualifying slots from this semi final. The three Big 5/Host countries that will have the right to vote in the different semi finals will also be known after this. This post will assess the possibilities facing Ireland ahead of this draw and pinpoint what would be an drawn/nightmare draw for the Irish act. 

First of all, to note the format for this semi final draw. 43 countries will take part in Eurovision 2017 and 37 countries (excluding the hosts, Ukraine, and the “Big 5”) will be taking part in the two semi finals (up slightly on the numbers taking part in last year’s semi finals, with Romania and Portugal returning to the contest (although Bosnia-Herzegovina are not taking part in 2017).

The remaining 37 countries in both semi finals will be drawn from a series of six pots. In most cases, there are six countries in a pot, with the exception of Pot 1 (which contains seven). The countries in each of the different pots 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, as will be noted later. This is a recognition of the existence of voting blocs within Eurovision, especially following the introduction of televoting in 1998 and the big increase in annual participants following the introduction of 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 has been discussed in previous Eurovision posts on this site.

18 countries will take part in Semi Final 1 on 9th May and 19 countries will take part in Semi Final 2 on 11th May. As noted on the official Eurovision website, it has been agreed that Switzerland will be pre-assigned to Semi Final 2, while Germany have already been assigned to vote in that same semi final.

Note that the pot names listed here are not official ones – these are names that I have assigned to them based on geographical links/commonalities.

Pot 1: Former Yugoslav Bloc pot – Albania, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Switzerland: Serbia has the best qualification record, by far, of the seven countries in this pot. Slovenia, Croatia, Albania and FYR Macedonia have mixed results in terms of qualification, while Montenegro has only qualified from the semi final on two occasions (albeit over the relatively recent 2014-15 period) while Switzerland has only been successful on three occasions. With the notable exception of Switzerland (and that country especially likes Irish ballad entries), Ireland would usually not expect to get too many points from countries in this pot (with our best level of points during the televoting era having come from Croatia, Albania, FYR Macedonia and Slovenia – in that order, although Macedonia only ranks ahead of Slovenia largely on the basis of a strong jury vote score for Molly Sterling in 2014). Ideally we would be drawn with just three countries in this pot, which would mean that we would be drawn in the smaller Semi Final 1, BUT the fact that we know that Switzerland will be in Semi Final 2 does complicate matters somewhat. The main hope here really would be that we avoid getting drawn with Serbia, given the relatively low number of points for Irish acts from Serbia but also given Serbia’s past level of success in qualifying from semi finals. Dream: Switzerland, Croatia, Albania, Slovenia. Nightmare: Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro 

Pot 2: Viking pot: Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Sweden: This is a rather mixed pot in terms of semi-final qualification records. Sweden have only failed to qualify from the semi final on one occasion from eight attempts. 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 (although Norway missed out on last year’s final and Denmark have failed to qualify from the semi final on the last two occasions). 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. Since 2004, Ireland’s highest average points levels from countries in this pot have come from Denmark. But to be honest, we would normally expect to win a few Eurovision points in an average year 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. The average number of points earned from Norway and Sweden are quite similar, but Sweden’s strong record in qualifying suggests that the Swedish act is best avoided at the semi final stage. Dream: Denmark, Finland, Norway. Nightmare: Sweden, Estonia, Iceland

Pot 3: Former Soviet Bloc pot: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Israel: With Ukraine directly qualifying for the Final as hosts, Israel now replaces Ukraine in this pot, given the traditionally strong voting relationships between Israel and most of the Former Soviet states. Ireland would not expect to win too many votes from the countries found in this pot 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. (Israel, Azerbaijan and Russia would rank as the best countries to be drawn with 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, accounting for twoEurovision wins since 2008. As well as accounting for those wins, Russia and Azerbaijan have qualified from every semi final they have competed in, while both countries have been among the main contenders for overall victory on a number of occasions during the 2000s. 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 a fourth place in the 2014 final and another Top 10 placing in the 2016 final. Georgia have only missed out on qualifying for the final on two occasions. Belarus is decidedly the least successful country in this pot, but they have qualified for two of the last four finals (in 2013 and 2014). 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: Israel, Azerbaijan, Russia. Nightmare: 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 case, on the basis of wanting to avoid being in competition for a qualification slot with some of the contest’s “big-hitters” then the real dream and nightmare draws here would be: Dream: Israel, Belarus, Georgia. Nightmare: Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan

Pot 4: Other Balkans/Central European pot: Hungary, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria: The last few pots have a lot less geographical coherence to them than the first three pots do, although this pot is at least focused on a specific region – parts of Central and Eastern Europe, but excluding the Former Yugoslav states and most of the Former Soviet states (with the exception of Moldova). From a competitive perspective, Greece and Romania are the countries to avoid here. The Romanian act has qualified from each semi final that it has competed in since 2004 (only missing out in 2016 because of that country’s late disqualification from the contest), while Greece has only failed to qualify on one occasions, albeit last year. Hungary also has a very good qualification record – only missing out on the final on two occasions across the ten semi finals that Hungary has taken part in. Cyprus have had a mixed record also in terms of semi final qualifications. Bulgaria have only qualified for the final on two occasions, but one of these occurred last year and Bulgaria went on to finish in fourth place in the 2016 Final. Hungary has been the most generous of these countries in terms of awarding points to Irish acts in the past, followed by Romania and Cyprus, while Ireland has won very few points off Moldova and Greece. If qualification records are also factored in here, then there is an obvious advantage here for Ireland in being in a different semi final to Greece. Dream: Hungary, Romania, Cyprus. Nightmare: Greece, Bulgaria, Moldova

Pot 5: Southern and Central Europe/”All the Others” pot: Austria, Czech Republic, Malta, San Marino, Portugal, Australia: This pot has the least obvious geographical coherence of all the pots, including three southern European countries and two central European countries, as well as Australia. Australia took part for the first time in 2015, but got a bye to the Final (and finished in fifth place in that), before going on to finish in a close second place in last year’s Final (having won the jury vote for that). Australia would be expected to do well again this year. With the exception of Malta, the qualification records for the other countries in this pot are not good – San Marino and the Czech Republic have only qualified for the final on one occasion, whereas Austria and Portugal have only a slightly better qualification record (although Austria did win the 2014 contest and Austria’s Zoe qualified for last year’s Final – finishing in 8th place in the Televote for the Stockholm Final). This is a relatively good pot in terms of awarding points to Irish Eurovision acts. In terms of the average number of points awarded to Ireland by these countries, Australia, Malta and San Marino have proven to be the most generous to Ireland out of this group, while Ireland has yet to win a point off the Czech Republic/Czechia. A very strong 2017 national selection in Malta suggests that Malta have a good chance of improving their qualification record this year, so there may be a good basis for arguing that Ireland might fare better if drawn with, say, Portugal and Austria, instead of Australia and/or Malta. Dream: Australia, Malta, San Marino. Nightmare: Czech Republic, Austria, Portugal

Pot 6:  The Benelux-Baltic Pot: Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belgium, The Netherlands. This pot does not seem to make much sense in geographical terms, combining a number of Baltic states (excluding Estonia) with the Benelux states in Western Europe (not including Luxembourg, of course) and Ireland. The voting patterns of countries in this pot tend to resemble those of the countries in Pot 2, however. Even though this pot includes a country that has won the contest on a record number of occasions, countries in this pot have enjoyed little in the way of  Eurovision success during the 2000s. 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 and actually have the best qualification record out of all the countries in this pot. The qualification records for Ireland, Latvia and Poland have been decidedly mixed over this period. The Belgians and the Dutch have qualified for the final on relatively few occasions, but their Eurovision records have improved quite notably over the past few years (with good contests for both of these countries in both 2013 and 2016, a second place for The Netherlands in the 2014 final and a fourth place finish for Belgium in the 2015 final). Latvia (5th best) and Lithuania (7th best) rank amongst the countries that have awarded the highest average level of Eurovision points to Ireland over the 2000s, while Ireland has also fared well, in terms of winning Eurovision points, with Belgium and The Netherlands, but unfortunately Ireland can only get drawn with two countries from this pot. Poland’s record of voting for Irish acts is the worst of all the countries in this pot and – given the strength of the Polish diaspora, as evidenced in last year’s televote pattern – this is the country Ireland really wants to avoid in this pot. Dream: Latvia, Lithuania. Nightmare: Poland, The Nethlerlands, Belgium

The Big 5/Host countries: France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, Ukraine: 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 a semi final to vote in as part of the January 31st 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 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, although Italy did offer a lot of support to Zena Donnelly (the “douze” points) at the 2016 Junior Eurovision Song Contest). Ireland has also won relatively few points at Eurovision from Ukraine across the 2003-16 period, although – similar to the case of Italy – Ireland’s Zena Donnelly did win a large number of votes from Ukraine at the 2016 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. As Germany have already been pre-assigned to vote in Semi Final 2, it may in some instances be better to avoid Germany especially given that the 19-country second semi final was to contain four countries from the Balkan/Former Yugoslav pot (Pot 1), however one of these four countries will be Switzerland and we would like to be in the same semi-final as the Swiss. The larger second semi final, hence, might not be the worst prospect of all for Ireland, so long as the United Kingdom, at least, is drawn to vote in this semi final also. Dream: United Kingdom, Germany, Spain (i.e. Semi Final 2), Nightmare: France, Italy, Ukraine.  

Draw Position: The draw on 31st January 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 be much better for Ireland if they were drawn to perform in the second half of a semi final. Rather controversially, this year (as has been the case in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016) 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 was the case in earlier Eurovision Song Contests. Only the starting position of the host country, Ukraine, in the Final will be decided by a draw (for obvious reasons).

To recap, the dream draw for Ireland would be to be drawn in the latter half of  Semi Final 2 (even with 19 contestants) with Switzerland, Croatia, Albania, Slovenia, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Israel, Belarus, Georgia, Hungary, Romania, Cyprus, Australia, Malta, San Marino, Lithuania and Latvia, with the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain voting in this semi final. What Ireland wants to avoid is to be drawn in the first half of Semi Final 1 (even with its smaller (18) number of contestants) with Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldova, Portugal, Austria, Czech Republic, Belgium, The Netherlands and Poland, with Ukraine, Italy and France voting in this semi final.


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