Running Orders for 2021 Eurovision Semi Finals – Who Wins/Loses?

Adrian Kavanagh, 30th March 2021

The producers of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest (taking place in Rotterdam in May) have just announced the running orders for the two semi finals. As is always the case, some countries have fared better than others with these semi final allocation decisions.

Semi Final 1

Figure 1: Running Order for Eurovision Song Contest Semi Final 1 (@ Eurovision, 2021)

16 countries take part in Semi Final 1. This is a tough semi final with few, if any, obvious non-qualifiers, so running order positions could be crucial here. The draw to allocate countries to either the first half or second half of the semi final was made in Rotterdam back in January 2020 (for the 2020 contest, but when that was cancelled it was decided to keep the same allocations for the 2021 contest). After the entry from Belarus was disqualified, this left seven countries drawn to perform in the first half of Semi Final 1 and nine drawn to perform in the second half. Cyprus has effectively been moved back into a “First Half of the Contest” running order position, as a result, while Ireland has attained the latest possible running order position for a country drawn to perform in the First Half of the contest.

Semi Final 2

Figure 2: Running Order for Eurovision Song Contest Semi Final 2 (@ Eurovision, 2021)

17 countries take part in Semi Final 2. This semi final looks, to me, to be a much tougher prospect than the equivalent semi final was shaping up to be in 2020 and it contains a number of entries that can enjoy real prospects of challenging to win this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. After Armenia withdrew from the contest a few weeks ago, this has left 9 countries drawn to perform in the First Half of the Semi Final and 8 drawn to perform in the Second Half.

Figure 3: Average number of points per running order position (based on an analysis of results across semi finals betweeen 2008 and 2019 by Adrian Kavanagh) for a 16-country semi final.

Does Running Order Matter?

In short, yes it does. The usual rule of thumb is that the later a country is drawn to perform in a Eurovision semi final or final, the better their prospects of doing well tends to be.

In a Final, the “draw of death” traditionally is the #2 position in the running order and that is also a bad position to get in a Semi Final; however, statistically the #3 slot in the running order is a worse position to get in a semi final contest. Hence, this is a bad running order for Russia (and also Slovenia) in Semi Final 1 and for the Czech Republic (and also Estonia) in Semi Final 2. In the Second Half of the contest, the worst running order positions to get are position #11 and position #10; probably because these tend to be earlier in the Second Half of the contest and because an entry positioned to perform in the middle of the show may get easily forgotten about. So this is also a bad running order allocation for Belgium and Croatia in Semi Final 1 and for Albania and Georgia in Semi Final 2.

Serbia (in Semi Final 2) and Ireland (in Semi Final 1) could be viewed as winners here, as both countries attained the latest running order positions for a country that had initially been drawn to perform in the First Half of the Eurovision semi finals. In the case of Ireland, it is worth noting that the #7 position, although statistiscally not a bad running order position to attain, is still a relatively early running order position to get (admittedly more down to the results of the semi final allocation draw from January 2020, rather than the decisions of the producers, in this instance). The only Irish acts to qualify between 2011 and 2019 were acts that were drawn/allocated to perform among the final four positions in the semi final running order in those semi finals (Jedward: last in the 2011 and 2012 semi finals, Ryan Dolan: #13 running order position/fourth last in 2013, Ryan O’Shaughnessy: second last in 2018). The only other Irish acts to qualify out of a semi final – Brian Kennedy (#8 running order position, 2006), Niamh Kavanagh (#12 running order position, 2010) – both had later running order slots than the #7 running order slot that Lesley Roy will perform from in May.

Who are the big winners here in terms of the semi final running order allocations? The best position to attain, as evidenced on the data presented in Figure 3, is the last position in the running order. This obviously helps Malta in Semi Final 1, although as (currently) the favourites to win Eurovision, it could be argued that Malta does not need the boost of the prime slot in the running order. But this running order allocation does definitely help Denmark in Semi Final 2 – before the running order, Denmark would have appeared to be outsiders to qualify from this semi final, but attaining the prime slot in this semi final’s running order does push Denmark back into contention to make it out of this semi final.

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