Eurovision 2018 Semi-Final Allocation Draw: What is Ireland’s “dream draw” and “nightmare draw”?

Adrian Kavanagh, 23rd January 2018

As reported on the official Eurovision Song Contest website, the allocation draw for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals will take place on Monday (29th January 2018) in Lisbon City Hall (at 13.00 Common European Time). After this draw, Ireland will know whether the Irish act will be taking part in Semi Final 1 (on 8th May 2017) or Semi Final 2 (on 10th May 2017) and will also know the 17/18 other countries that will be competing against the Irish act 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 2018. 37 countries (excluding the hosts, Portugal, and the “Big 5” countries – France, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain and Italy) will be taking part in the two semi finals; up slightly on the numbers taking part in last year’s semi finals, with Russia making their return to the contest.

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. This means that four countries from Pot 1 (the “Former Yugoslav” pot) will be taking part in the slightly longer Semi Final 1, with the other three countries in that pot taking part in Semi Final 2.

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 the number of countries taking part each year 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 almost 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.

19 countries will take part in Semi Final 1 on 8th May and 18 countries will take part in Semi Final 2 on 10th May.

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 exception of Switzerland, Ireland would normally not expect to get too many points from countries in this pot (with our highest level of points during the televoting era having come from Croatia and Albania out of these six other Pot 1 countries). 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 2. 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, irrespective of them having narrowly missed out on the Final in 2017. It would not be especially disastrous if FYR Macedonia, Slovenia or Montenegro ended up in Ireland’s semi final instead of Albania or Croatia, given the poor qualification record of these countries. Dream: Switzerland, Croatia, Albania (in Semi Final 2). Nightmare: Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia

Pot 2: Viking pot: Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Iceland and Sweden: One change to this pot from last year’s semi final draw, with Ireland and Estonia effectively “swapping pots”. 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 nine 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 the 2016 final and Denmark have failed to qualify from the semi final in 2015 and 2016). The fortunes of the other countries in this pot in terms of semi final qualifications have been relatively similar to Ireland’s over the past fifteen years, with these countries reaching some of the finals and missing out on others. In terms of voting patterns, some 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, with Finland being the next most “generous” Viking country to Ireland, albeit just slightly ahead of Sweden and Norway in terms of the average number of points awarded from countries in this Viking pot. 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, although Ireland’s average points tally from Iceland is somewhat lower than from the other countries in this pot. As Ireland is in this pot, we can only get drawn with two other countries – Denmark and Finland would appear to be the obvious choices here. Dream: Denmark, Finland. Nightmare: Sweden, Norway, Iceland

Pot 3: Former Soviet Bloc pot: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Israel: With Ukraine returning to the list of semi-final qualifiers after having hosted last year’s contest, they now replace Israel in this pot. 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. (Azerbaijan, Russia and Belarus 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, but we are talking relatively small averages here.) To make matters worse, some of the contest’s big hitters fall in this pot, accounting for four Eurovision wins since 2004. As well as accounting for those wins, Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan have qualified from every semi final they have competed in, while these three 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 three occasions. Belarus is decidedly the least successful country in this pot, but they have qualified for three of the last five finals (2013, 2014, 2018). 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: Azerbaijan, Russia, Belarus. Nightmare: Armenia, Ukraine, Georgia. (Georgia has yet to award Ireland any Eurovision points.) Although there might be a good argument here for swapping Russia with Georgia, irrespective of the low (no!) points to Ireland from Georgia, on the basis of Russia’s qualification record. 

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 – taking in 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 occasion (2016). Hungary also has a very good qualification record – only missing out on the final on two occasions across the eleven semi finals that Hungary has taken part in. Cyprus has had a mixed record in terms of semi final qualification, but the Cypriot act has made the Final across the three previous years. Bulgaria have only qualified for the final on three occasions, but two of these occasions occurred over the past two years and Bulgaria went on to finish in fourth place in the 2016 Final and in second place in the 2017 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, but also Bulgaria and Moldova (given that both of these countries finished in the Top 3 at the 2017 Final). Dream: Hungary, Romania, Cyprus. Nightmare: Greece, Bulgaria, Moldova

Pot 5: Southern and Central Europe/”All the Others” pot: Austria, Czech Republic, Malta, San Marino, Israel, Australia: This pot has the least obvious geographical coherence of all the pots, including two southern European countries and two central European countries, as well as Australia and Israel! 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 the 2016 Final (having won the jury vote for that).  Despite an abysmally low televote score, Australia also earned a Top 10 finish in the 2017 Final (solely on the basis of a very high jury score) and Australia probably would be expected to do well again this year. The qualification records for the other countries in this pot are not as good – indeed, San Marino and the Czech Republic have only qualified for the final on one occasion. 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. However, Ireland has yet to win a point off the Czech Republic (Czechia). Dream: Australia, Malta, San Marino. Nightmare: Austria, Israel, Czech Republic

Pot 6:  The Benelux-Baltic Pot: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belgium, The Netherlands. This pot does not seem to make much sense in geographical terms, combining the Baltic states (and Poland) with the Benelux states in Western Europe (not including Luxembourg, of course). With Estonia being swapped back into this pot to replace Ireland, this pot does make somewhat more geographical sense this year. The voting patterns of countries in this pot tend to resemble those of the countries in Pot 2, however. 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 Estonia, Latvia and Poland have all been decidedly mixed since the semi-final system was introduced in 2004, although Poland’s record in more recent years has been very good. 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 2013, 2016 and 2017, as well as a second place for The Netherlands in the 2014 final and a fourth place finish for Belgium in the 2015 final). The Baltic States – Latvia (5th best), Lithuania (7th best) and Estonia (8th best) – rank high among 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. 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 the 2016 televote pattern – this is the country Ireland really wants to avoid in this pot. Dream: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. Nightmare: Poland, The Nethlerlands, Belgium

The Hosts and the “Big 5” countries: France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal: 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 29th 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 is easily the top ranked country in terms of average points awarded to Irish acts over the past decade and a half. The next most generous country to Irish Eurovision acts out of this group would be the hosts, Portugal, so we would also like to have Portugal drawn to vote on the Irish semi-final. 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 its support (or lack of same) for Irish Eurovision acts. And we definitely do not want to get Italy; a country that has still yet to award any points to a Irish Eurovision 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. (However, Italy did offer a lot of support to Zena Donnelly (the “douze” points) at the 2016 Junior Eurovision Song Contest.) Dream: United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany, Nightmare: Spain, France, Italy.  

Draw Position: The draw on 29th January will also decide what half of the semi final final each country will be performing in, but it will not be assigning actual positions in the contest running order. 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 questionably (in my opinion), this year (as has been the case in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017) 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, Portugal, in the Final will be decided by a draw (for obvious reasons).

Dream Draw: To recap, the dream draw for Ireland would be to be drawn in the second half of Semi Final 2 (with 18 contestants) with Switzerland, Croatia, Albania, Denmark, Finland, Azerbaijan, Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Romania, Cyprus, Australia, Malta, San Marino, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, with the United Kingdom, Germany and Portugal voting in this semi final.

Slide1

Nightmare Draw: Ireland wants to avoid being drawn in the first half of Semi Final 1 (even with its smaller (18) number of contestants) with Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Armenia, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldova, Austria, Israel, Czech Republic, Belgium, The Netherlands and Poland, with Spain, Italy and France voting in this semi final.

Slide2

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