For serious Eurovision bettors the Contest is a five-month long trading odyssey starting around Christmas and usually culminating in mid-May when the Grand Final takes place. It invariably offers twists and turns aplenty and can sometimes be a seat-of-the-pants, rollercoaster ride as a trading platform, but don't let that put you off.
Let volatility be your friend
In truth, for those who invest serious sums in the ESC markets on Betfair, the volatility is part of the appeal, and seeking to be on the right side of the biggest price movements.
The national qualifier season, which usually commences with Albania's 'Festivali i Kenges' and runs through until around mid-March, when all songs need to have been submitted, is when you have to be like a hawk on constant alert monitoring developments in each of the 40-plus competing nations. The big online ESC fan forums are the places to seek out the latest, breaking news.
There's more than one way to skin a cat trading the ESC markets but my m.o. is based around unearthing songs offering the potential for countries to trade significantly shorter. Betfair trading 101: back high, lay low. If you get first dibs on a song you have correctly identified as having potential contender status, and before the market has spotted it, you have the opportunity to Back countries at huge odds, leaving yourself in a great trading position when the market crash happens.
Hone your Spidey senses
How do you spot a serious contender? Identifying potential gems is essentially intuitive and, personally speaking, honed over 13 years of full-time ESC study. Music is subjective but you need to be able to recognise quality. For a song to give you winner vibes, you need to feel it in your bones. It's visceral.
All Eurovision songs have to be no longer than three minutes and in the first instance it's about hearing something you think is special; something you think has the scope to resonate with audiences across Europe.
Further down the line, it becomes about how those three minutes are visualised on stage, and performed. You can have the best three minute song in the world in studio form but if the artist in question lacks the live vocal ability and performance skills to do the song justice, then it's highly unlikely it can win. A golden rule with ESC is not to be completely won over by a polished studio version of a track. It's all about the live presentation.
Only six people are allowed on the ESC stage and the lead vocal must be performed live. New backing vocal rules do mean there is a bit less emphasis on live vocal prowess these days but you still need to be aware of an artist's stage presence, charisma and all-round stagecraft in delivering the song live. The modern Contest is a televisual one, and ultimately, ESC winners need to be the perfect marriage of song, artist and staging.
When you discover an entry lurking in a national qualifier which goes on to become a major contender at ESC, there is nothing sweeter. Back in 2017, Salvador Sobral's 'Amar pelos dois' popped up on my radar during the Portuguese national qualifier competition. It was magical, it transcended the Portuguese language and the artist in question, Salvador Sobral, was one of the song's biggest strengths.
He delivered such a nuanced, delicate performance and had an almost dishevelled look perfectly in keeping with this tender love song. Portugal was trading at three figure prices on the Betfair Exchange at the time and crying out to be backed.
You still need things to go your way if you back a country based on an entry which hasn't even yet won its national qualifier competition, as was the case with Portugal that year. And be prepared for infuriating 'what might have beens' - ESC history is littered with many a top five contender left on the scrapheap after failing to win its national final.
One of the most infamous national final casualties, was Margaret's, Rihanna-esque 'Cool Me Down' for Poland in 2016. There was so much heat around this song Poland had already been backed down to favouritism to win ESC 2016 around 6.0 on the evening of the Polish national final.
Margaret ended up being beaten by poodle-permed Michal Szpak on a night of crazy Betfair trading which saw Poland drift from 6.0 to over 100.0 in the space of about 15 minutes. Almost comically, and summing up the glorious unpredictability of ESC, Szpak actually ended up finishing eighth despite being written off by most as a no-hoper.
Snooze and you lose when it comes to the ESC trading game during on-season and the sudden, unexpected reveal of an entry. Songs often leak online ahead of their official release date so you need to stay on high alert.
I had literally dozed off the evening Blanche's sublime track for Belgium, 'City Lights', surfaced online in 2017. Available to back at 100-1 on the high street at the time, Belgium was being matched in single figures on Betfair in the space of an hour. It went on to finish fourth, Blanche's live performance not quite living up to the quality of the track in studio form.
Cut through the noise and oppose undeserved favs
While backing Portugal at over 100-1 was a classic example of backing a country being under-rated at the time by the Betfair Winner market, the other way to seek to build your book equity is to lay countries you think are being over-rated by the market and trading shorter than their actual chance.
The simplest way to identify these entries is if you can spot what have come to be known in ESC circles as fanw*nks. That means, entries which are highly rated by the avid ESC fan community but which you believe will go on to under-perform in the Contest itself.
Qualifier season is dominated by fan noise on the big ESC websites, forums and social media. Sweden, with six Eurovision wins to its name and the most top five results of any nation in the 21st century, takes ESC very seriously and its national qualifier, Melodifestivalen, dominates the on-season coverage. Six weeks of live shows, and a huge amount of scrutiny often leads to its chosen entry being over-rated. Identify an under-par Melodifestivalen winner and you will have the chance to lay Sweden artificially short on the Betfair Winner market.
Pre-rehearsal fortnight, fan polls and attempts to simulate the 50/50 jury/televote such as eurojury, drive the ESC narrative. But there exists what can only be described as a fan bubble which doesn't always reflect the wider ESC audience when it gets to see and hear the entries for the first time in May, and there can be some significant disparity compared to pervading fan sentiment. Correctly identify the fanw*nks in the lead up to the Contest and lucrative, short-priced lays will be at your fingertips.
At ESC, the winner is decided by 50% televote and 50% jury vote. Potential winners need to appeal to both of these constituencies.
Up until last year, the overall winner of ESC had always landed in the top three on both sides of the voting equation. Italy was a rule-breaker finishing fourth on the jury side but still managing to win.
Identify jury poison
The Betfair Winner market often ends up over-rating entries which look like surefire televoting titans. When a jury shortfall is glaring, these are the countries you need to get stuck into laying. 'Novelty' songs are anathema to jury members meaning, regardless of televote success, they can be virtually written off for the win, but this doesn't stop them often trading short.
A classic example of this was the Russian entry in 2012, 'Party for Everybody', performed by Buranovskiye Babushki, a group of grannies dressed in traditional garb, delivering the most lightweight but charming, televote-friendly of pop songs. Russia endured a significant jury shortfall in 11th placed and ended up finishing second overall, a long way behind the winner, Sweden, and Loreen's iconic 'Euphoria'.
Prepare for rehearsal game-changers
The two-week rehearsal period at the host nation's ESC venue, when accredited media get to see the live run throughs, is often the next big game changer. Some entries underwhelm; others unexpectedly shine.
In 2014 and being on-site in Copenhagen for first rehearsals, The Netherlands entry, a rank outsider performed by The Common Linnets called 'Calm After The Storm', was, to my eye, a total staging triumph, elevating this lilting, bluegrass song out of all proportion, and transforming it into a serious contender for the win. The Netherlands price rapidly plummeted across the ESC markets.
Elena Foureira's 'Fuego' for Cyprus in 2018 was a similar story, swiftly moving from also-ran status to front-runner for the win after Foureira delivered a Beyonce level performance of the song live at first rehearsal.
Follow online coverage
Keep an eye on Twitter for live reports of how the rehearsals are going as this can give you key pointers. I've attended every ESC going back to 2012 and intend to be in Turin, providing Contest coverage for my website, entertainmentodds.com, and for Betfair.
Social media indicators, forensically mined and scrutinised by tellystats.com, can also be your guide, particularly in trying to get a feel for public sentiment towards the songs, and potential televote appeal. ESC Tracker, which monitors chart impact across Europe post-semi-finals, is another useful yardstick.
People new to ESC don't realise the jury performances, responsible for 50% of the overall vote, take place the day before the big three Eurovision tv shows. Five jury members sit in their home countries watching a live feed on a tv monitor and are asked to rank the countries from first to last.
Again, for serious ESC traders it's imperative to keep abreast of jury run throughs via social media and the big ESC websites. Blue, performing 'I Can' for the UK in 2011, allegedly didn't realise the Friday night jury rehearsal counted for anything and performed badly, which was enough to inform astute traders the UK was a dead duck and confident lay for the win that year.
In 2016, the staging of Georgia's indie rock entry 'Midnight Gold' performed by Nina Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz, experienced technical glitches during the semi-final two jury performance which resulted in a number of re-runs. Shrewd traders acknowledged the fact, those re-runs equated to handy extra exposure for the track in front of jury members, latching onto Georgia as a value qualification punt. And seventh place on the jury side duly jettisoned Georgia through to the grand final.
The two semi-finals offer two more bites of the ESC trading apple. Countries can be trading long odds-on in the Betfair 'to qualify' market offering the window to land successful, cheap qualifying lays. Turkey had a 100% qualifying record going into ESC 2011, but served up a really poor, untelegenic rock entry called 'Live It Up' by Yuksek Sadakat. 'To Qualify' layers were rewarded when Turkey, which was backed as low as 1.1 if memory serves, failed to make the cut.
The composition of the Eurovision field changes every year and once the draw is made for the two semi-finals you need to delve into historical voting data to see which countries have the best and worst of it in terms of guaranteed points in the bank from their most reliable voting allies. Sometimes, you can spot close to qualifying bankers, and also countries facing an enormous uphill struggle to qualify. Let useful websites such as escstats.com be your guide.
A first half/second half draw remains a key factor within ESC analysis, despite the ESC producers having the final say on the precise running order, and trying their best to level the playing field. The two slot is never a good place to be, whereas last in the running order, the so-called pimp slot, brings with it an in-built advantage.
Following the two semi-finals you can garner clues regarding how they likely played out and who is being favoured by the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) for the ESC win when the grand final running order is revealed.
Historically, a late running order is an advantage. But it is also critical what precedes and follows an entry, and its opportunity to stand out instead of risking having the gloss taken off it by another strong entry.
In a close Contest like last year's, Italy's later running order draw of 24, and its main rival France being placed in the 20 slot following the high impact Ukraine, probably made the difference in edging things Italy's way, with Maneskin defeating Barbara Pravi by 25 points.
Stay calm under pressure
Come the grand final itself and in-running trading, it is a plate-spinning exercise staying on top of positions across the Betfair Exchange markets, but if you're fast enough glorious trading opportunities do arise. It's a night for cool heads and quick fingers.
With the jury points revealed first, you will invariably see countries who are towards the top of the leaderboard shorten significantly for the win, but if you've put in your analysis there will be countries you can feel confident will not earn a big enough televote to compete for the win and lay with a degree of certainty.
The most epic in-running ESC trading took place after the EBU introduced the new points reveal back in 2016. Traders simply had no precedent to work from and the fact Australia romped the jury vote, pulling 109 points clear of Ukraine, led the market to decide Australia had won.
Six figure amounts were traded on Australia for the win as low as 1.08 only for Ukraine to come storming back on the televote and snatch victory.
In the white hot heat of battle, and amid the adrenaline-fuelled, live in-running experience, Eurovision trading rewards nerves of steel and calm, rational thinking.
Royaume-Uni, nil points
You don't have to find the winner of Eurovision to make profit from ESC trading. The side markets can offer lucrative pickings. Top 10 finish, Top Balkan nation, to finish last... Talking of which, the UK has a lamentable recent record at the Contest but that often won't stop patriotic money from piling in. Shrug off any nationalistic pride and realise when your own country's entry is a complete dud, and get stuck in laying, or back it to finish last, as befell James Newman's 'Embers', the UK entry last year.
The difficulty for a lot of ESC fans is becoming too emotionally attached to songs and not wanting to see them perform badly. The shrewd ESC trader shrugs off personal sentiment and will spend as much time actively seeking out countries he thinks will fail, as much as those he feels confident will succeed. Ultimately, ESC trading success boils down to correctly identifying entries the markets are over-rating, and laying them, and those it is under-rating, and backing them, in a constantly evolving landscape.
People like me who trade ESC seriously do it not only for the potential financial reward but also because it is enormous fun. It is like trying to slowly piece together a giant jigsaw puzzle, and while the slogan 'you don't have to be mad to work here but it helps' often seems extremely apt when it comes to ESC trading, it's the 'Specials' betting highlight of the year, and the first two weeks of May, when the action will unfold in Turin, are sure to be eagerly awaited by a vast community of ESC gamblers.