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Blog: Let's Talk Ukraine

As of today (December 24th 2022) over 100,000 Swedish kronor (approaching £10,000) has been traded on the 2023 Eurovision winner market on the Betfair exchange. Now we would expect this number to be a few hundred times bigger once we get into May, but there’s an interesting stat I feel I should draw people’s attention to.

Over 80% of the traded volume in the market has been on Ukraine winning.

Let’s discuss Ukraine then.

When the first odds were compiled Ukraine started this Eurovision season as the favourite. Bookmakers have held Ukraine at odds of around 3.0 since the 37 countries competing in Liverpool were known, with the closest behind (the usual suspects of Sweden and Italy) being set in double figures. We have never had a Eurovision favourite so short without the song or artist being known.

The reason for Ukraine’s shortness is because of their landslide victory in Turin. 400+ points on the televote and a fourth place with juries for a song that is widely regarded as undeserving of either has led to a belief that this year’s Eurovision is set for Ukraine to do the double. That is because the geopolitical situation with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not likely to get any better any time soon and is likely to be ongoing sadly in May next year after a very hard winter. Call it sympathy, call it solidarity, call it whatever, enough of the betting community believes the voting public are likely to support Ukraine again in 2023 for reasons outside of the song.

But we have a song. The first song of the Eurovision season comes out of Kyiv.

Ukraine held their National Final on Saturday December 17th. The logistical challenges of the day above ground meant that the show went underground. The pressures on a reasonably small public broadcaster to help with Eurovision in Liverpool above all this moved the show date forward to December.

The ten song show was randomly drawn and as it so happened the band drawn last in the running order took the prize, snatching victory away at the final moment thanks to winning the local public vote (they placed second with the three person jury).

I think it is fair to say that this song winning was a shock to the betting markets. Both female artists who placed 2nd and 3rd were considered the pre show favourites, with tracks that had more obvious messaging and branding from Ukraine considering the current situation. The selection of Tvorchi saw Ukraine drift immediately on the Betfair Exchange, matching as high as 6.2 in the immediate aftermath. Those highs have been pushed down in recent days to see Ukraine now trading above 4s at the time of writing. But this is still a considerable step higher than the roughly 3.5 Ukraine was at before Tvorchi’s selection.

Was Tvorchi the wrong selection for Ukraine? In terms of winning potential the market believes so. The 2nd placed act, KRUTь, had a performance and narrative perfectly written from a journalist’s perspective and would be easy to frame as an emotional contender for Liverpool. Heart of Steel touches on the war narrative far less, is a straight-up electronic pop song rather than a tender ballad and the angle often taken by the social media commentators about their victory is the notability of a black singer representing Ukraine in this moment. One would hope that race wouldn’t be so notable in a 2023 Eurovision Song Contest (the lead singer moved to study in Ukraine five years ago) but sadly it appears that will be the notable narrative of Ukraine’s representation going forward.

Compared to a mother singing a lullaby to their child while daddy is protecting the land from invaders, that is no heart-tugging vote winner. In fact one issue for Ukraine for voters will be the disconnect between what the song is, and what the casual viewers will be expecting from a Ukraine entry. There is a risk that this entry, with a very polished visual production even in a Kyiv metro station setting, feels like an interval act rather than a competitive entry. I thought the performance was well done in the Ukrainian national final but missing the emotional call to action, the performance wasn't out to the audience but almost to the performer himself. The televote win margin was not sky high, and I note the running order and band's popularity as factors that drove them over the line.

That means the song needs to survive more on its own merits than Stefania ever needed to. Is the song good enough?

At the moment no. This song sounds like something a host country would send to Eurovision that would get buried in the final, ending about 21st. Be cautious with this though, it was effectively staged in the national selection and Ukraine always brings extra staging to May that is year upon year top drawer. Furthermore expect a song revamp coming up as well to make that production slicker, again, not unusual for a Ukrainian entry.

Without any political help the consensus I believe is that this song could be made into something with potential for the bottom end of the top 10. The unknown then is if the voters would support Ukraine enough to push them into a winning position once again. These Ukraine voters last year were very much the Eurovision casuals and are the hardest group to predict their voting patterns of. I suspect no matter what Ukraine will be short all season as the big unknown. That televote could be 400 points again, it could well be 40 (Ukraine did poorly in 2005 for example with a possible narrative after the Orange Revolution) and we won’t really be able to fairly estimate it until nearer the time. Expect Ukraine to go into May as one of three or four favourites in the win market but expect their odds to place inside the top 5 or top 10 to be longer than the others with more reliable votes due to their ‘quality’.

I will be keeping my possible range of Ukraine scores wider than anything else in all modelling that I do going through this year. I do have reasons outwith the song to doubt Ukraine’s possible success (a 9th place finish in Junior Eurovision, a winter of spiraling energy costs frustrating many in Europe, the curse of ‘host’ countries) but like the rest of the market I don’t have the balls to stick my neck on the line too much after the casuals won it last year. I also don't want that stress and would rather focus my energy on the songs that have quality when they appear.

But this early in the season we haven’t heard many songs from national selection and we haven’t heard much that sounded like a Eurovision contender. The closest we’ve come to I would argue is Bridges in Eesti Laul but that’s not got a clear run to victory against more well known local names (Eesti Laul often chooses the well known singer/songwriter combination, and is the national final I have had least success gambling on). The weaker the year the stronger Ukraine's chances for momentum and narrative to dominate.

I’m happy to say that on Tvorchi’s victory I took a small position against Ukraine at those shorter odds, and placed a bit more back when odds increased. From what I have seen online it appears once more that the Eurovision community traders were happy to oppose Ukraine, and the casuals more happy to back. The casuals won last year.

But I dare not recommend more against Ukraine, just like the rest of the community currently. What Ukraine being short does do is push the rest of the market out to inflated odds. Should that be the case again this season it means that the low-risk play currently would be to look for each-way value with the bookmakers. Rather than opposing Ukraine, good each-way betting can take advantage of the value in the place market, with a big juicy bonus should Ukraine fall out of contention.

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