Editorials & Opinion

Analysing the patterns of 14 years of Eurovision semi-final draw allocation pots

This is an updated version of an article published on 25 January 2020

With a Eurovision Song Contest that was getting increasingly popular year on year, the one semi-final introduced in 2004 had already become unsustainable by 2007. In Helsinki, 28 countries battled it out for just ten places in the final. On the other hand, ten countries were granted automatic qualification no matter how popular their entry was in 2007.

The introduction of two semi-finals in 2008 meant that every entry, with the exception of the Big Four and the host nation, would start on a level playing field. Yet, the EBU decided to make that playing field even leveller. Step forward, the draw allocation pots…

That 28 country semi-final…

With two semi-finals now in place after the battle royale in the 2007 semi-final, the EBU had to conduct a draw in order to allocate countries to each semi-final. Prior to the allocation draw, the countries were separated into six pots which grouped together countries who had a tendency to award points more often to each other than to other participants.

By doing this, it would ensure that so-called “voting blocs” would be split evenly between the two semi-finals, thus reducing their voting power. The idea was deemed a success. Indeed, the pot system remains in place for next week’s 2022 allocation draw in Turin. This makes the 2022 contest the 14th consecutive contest to have used pots in its semi-final allocation draw.

From Belgrade to Turin

In ten of the fourteen years so far, semi-finalists were allocated to six pots. In 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2021, five pots were used. Nevertheless, ever since 2008, four of those pots have consistently tended to include countries from four distinct regions:

  • Balkan: Nations from the Balkan region consisting primarily of former Yugoslav states.
  • Nordic: Nations from the Nordic region, sometimes featuring Baltic nations.
  • Soviet: Nations from Eastern Europe, consisting primarily of former Soviet Union states.
  • Mediterranean: Nations in Southern Europe, often with a Mediterranean Sea coastline.

The graphs below use the following key:

  • B: Balkan pot
  • N: Nordic pot
  • S: Soviet pot
  • M: Mediterranean pot
  • O: Other pot
  • O1/O2: 1st and 2nd “other” pot in years in which there were 6 pots
  • F: Automatic finalist
  • A: Automatically allocated to a semi-final
  • X: Did not participate

The other one or two pots usually include countries that tend to have a varied voting history with no more than one significant voting partner. Therefore, to look into this deeper, let’s take it pot-by-pot, region-by-region and bloc-by-bloc…

Balkans

Country0809101112131415161718192122Balkan Pot
AlbaniaBBBBBBBBBBBBBB100%
Bosnia & HerzegovinaBBBBBXXXBXXXXX100%
CroatiaBBBBBBXXBBBBBB100%
MontenegroBBXXBBBBBBBBXB100%
North MacedoniaBBBBBBBBBBBBBB100%
SerbiaFBBBBBXBBBBBBB100%
SloveniaBBBBO2OBBBBBBBB85%
SwitzerlandO2O2BBBBBBO2BBO2BO264%

Since the introduction of the pot system, eight Eurovision nations have spent more time in the “Balkan” pot than in any other. The former Yugoslav states of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have all appeared in the same Balkan pot together on every occasion they’ve participated without exception. Albania has also appeared in the Balkan pot on every occasion.

However, Slovenia has twice been separated from their former Yugoslav neighbours. This would suggest Slovenia is the most distant former Yugoslav nation, with Albania being deemed as more indispensable to the Balkan bloc. Switzerland is the final nation to spend most of its time in the Balkan bloc, no doubt due to its significant Balkan diaspora resulting in above average televoting scores to nations in this region.

When the Balkan pot is full to the brim, particularly in 2009, 2012 and 2016 where all of the Balkan nations took part, either Slovenia or Switzerland were cast aside into one of the miscellaneous “other” pots. This suggests neither have stronger ties anywhere else. No other country has even found itself in the Balkan pot except for Malta and Austria. Malta’s move to the Balkan pot came in 2015 when two Balkan absences from Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia but only five allocation pots meant there was a space that had to be filled. The same occurred in 2021, when Austria moved to the Balkan pot due to a return to only five allocation pots and absences from Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro.

The withdrawal of Bulgaria in 2019 caused pot 1, the Balkan pot, to be shrunk from seven to six in order to create six equal pots of six countries. Once again it was Switzerland, the nation with the weakest ties to this group who found itself moved to one of the “other” pots. Montenegro’s return in 2022 once again cause Switzerland to shift to its second home.

Nordics

Country0809101112131415161718192122Nordic Pot
DenmarkNNNNNAFNNNNNNN100%
FinlandNNNNNNNNNNNNNN100%
IcelandNNNNNNNNNNNNNN100%
NorwayNNFNNAANNNNNNN100%
SwedenNNNNNFANFNNNNN100%
EstoniaNNNNNNNNNNO2NNO186%

The Nordic pot is arguably the most solid and inflexible of them all. On all possible occasions, the core group of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have always been assigned to the Nordic pot. Interestingly, for the first time ever Estonia left the Nordic pot in 2018 to swap places with Ireland in one of the “other” pots. However, for the 2019 draw, the two swapped back to their normal homes. In 2022, with a return to six smaller allocation pots, Estonia left the Nordic pot again in order to allow Australia to stay for a second consecutive year.

Over the years, three other nations have appeared in this pot. Latvia has been present on five occasions, Lithuania three times and Ireland twice. The only time Ireland, Latvia and Lithuania appeared in the Nordic pot together was in 2013. On this occasion, only five pots existing meant six places had to be filled. Nevertheless, Denmark and Norway were already pre-allocated to semi-finals and Sweden was an automatic qualifier. Therefore, all three were shifted from the “other” pot they shared in 2012 to the Nordics in 2013.

With Australia making their debut in the Nordic pot in 2021, this suggests that there is now enough voting data to suggest Australia tends to align its votes with the Nordic countries more than any other. Also, due to the decrease from six to five pots in 2021, the decision to move Australia into the Nordic pot rather than the previously-used Ireland, Latvia or Lithuania as well as Estonia’s removal in 2022 suggests that Australia’s ties to the Nordics are now among the strongest of any country outside of the core Nordic group.

Soviets

Country0809101112131415161718192122Soviet Pot
BelarusSSSSSSSSSSSSSX100%
GeorgiaSSSSSSSSSSSSSS100%
RussiaSFSSSSSSSSSSSS100%
UkraineSSSSSSSXSFSSSS100%
AzerbaijanO2SSSFSSSSSSSSS92%
IsraelSSSSSAASO2SO1FOS73%
ArmeniaSSMMMSMSSSSSSS71%
MoldovaSSSSSOO2OO2MMMSO143%

Four nations have always appeared in the Soviet pot each time they’ve been in the semi-final allocation draw. These are Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. Azerbaijan‘s perfect record is ruined due to the fact they were assigned to one of the “other” pots for their debut year in 2008. Of course, there was no Azerbaijani voting history for the EBU to analyse so it could not be presumed they would exchange points with other former Soviet states more often than not despite their geographical location.

In 2013 and 2014, Israel was pre-assigned to a semi-final in order for it not to clash with national holidays in the country. In 2019, they are an automatic finalist. Nevertheless, on only three other occasions has Israel not been present in the Soviet pot. All of these occasions were when there was a full Soviet contingent participating in the semi-finals, in 2016, 2018 and 2021.

Interestingly, between 2010 and 2012, Israel was deemed to have closer voting histories to the Soviet nations than Armenia. Instead, Armenia found themselves as part of the southeastern European pot. Furthermore, Moldova was also a consistent part of the Soviet pot up until 2012 – unlike Armenia. Yet, since 2013, Moldova has been shifted into either the “other” pots or the Mediterranean pot, presumably as their voting ties with the former Soviet nations weaken.

However, 2021 saw an unexpected return for Moldova to the Soviet pot. With an extra Soviet pot space available due to the decrease in pots, the EBU determined that Moldova were the right country to fill that gap rather than Israel who had done previously. However, in 2022, Israel was favoured over Moldova to fill the gap left by Belarus’ departure.

Our analysis continues on the next page!

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Ryan Cobb

My first memory of watching the Eurovision Song Contest was back in 2001 and, over the years, my passion and enthusiasm for the contest has very much turned into an obsession. I adore music and I love geography, so this contest is a natural fit for me. If la la loving Eurovision was a crime, I'd certainly be a criminal!

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