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

Adrian Kavanagh, 12th May 2017

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/Position in Running Order in the 2000

Year Winning Country Draw Position
2016 Ukraine 21
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 1: 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, 2014 and 2015. 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 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.

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.

Slide1

Figure 1: Average points by running order position at Eurovision Finals between 2003-2016

The best position in the running order to get statistically – based on this analysis (see Figure 1) – 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 position 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 positions 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 past voting statistics, in a Eurovision Final is the 2nd position in the contest running order, with the next worst being the 4th, 26th, 3rd, 1st, 15th, 14th, 9th and 8th positions in the Final running order. (While the 14th and 15th positions are in the latter half of the Final running order, these also counts as very “early” positions in the running order to attain for a country that has 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 2 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.

Slide2

Figure 2: Average points by draw/running order position at Eurovision Finals between 2003-2016.

Figure 2 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 the 2015 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. Austria’s Zoe finished 8th in the televote from that position in the running order at the 2016 Final.)

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 The United Kingdom (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). The producer-led running order allocations now effectively mean that the general tendency will be for up-tempo entries to be allocated the first position in the running order to “start the show with a bang”, as was the case in 2016 (Belgium) and as will be the case in 2017 (Israel).

Slide3

Figure 3: Numbers of wins by position in the contest running order at Eurovision Finals/Semi-Finals, 1956-2016

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 3 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 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). Last year, Ukraine’s Jamala became the first act to win the Eurovision Final from 21st position in the contest running order.

 

 

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