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Early Odds Review: Sweden, Russia and Italy

The three countries we outline today are the ones that in a normal year would be top of the pile in these early stages of the betting market. Sweden may have won twice in the past decade but Russia has only won once, back in 2008 with Dima Bilan, and the last Italian victory was in 1990 (they were however absent between 1997 and 2011).

These are countries which are constantly in the mix. Sweden has been in the top 10 all but once since 2010, with Russia and Italy only missing out twice in that period. Considering around 40 songs compete in a Eurovision Song Contest annually, that these nations bat so high consistently is a sign of guaranteed quality which means they often start as ante-post favourites. It’s a little different this year due to the return of highly rated 2020 acts from Bulgaria and Iceland (we already wrote about those here), but these three countries are currently tucked in just behind.

Sweden is currently trading at 11/12.5 on the Betfair exchange. We already know the list of Melodifestivalen entrants with numerous artists of Eurovision pedigree in the mix (already discussed here). The question mark is whether any eventual winner could be a winner of Eurovision. Both early Melodifestivalen favourites Eric Saade and Danny Saucedo have stated they are taking part for the love of the contest and to show off new styles. Not they are in it to win it While their profiles are huge, considering these quotes their prices look very short (both around 3/1 to win Melodifestivalen).

Returning 2020 winner The Mamas were popular with many and will no doubt be in the mix to win again. However from a betting perspective I note that when The Mamas did win Melodifestivalen the odds on Sweden then drifted out to over 50/1. The Mamas winning Melodifestivalen would once again likely bring top-quality production, hooks and harmonies but missing the spark to turn a possible top 5 into a winner. I did though say just as much about their chances of winning Melodifestivalen 2020, and the press bubble at large was equally surprised at the size of their televote.

There are of course 28 artists in the race for Melodifestivalen, but realistically few of them are in the mix to get the ticket to Rotterdam. Sweden could have a great hit lurking, but looking at the list of acts in the lineup I think it would take something truly spectacular to shorten their current price. Much has been said about this being Christer Björkman’s last show of twenty years and his well discussed ambition of equalling Ireland’s seven wins while being part of the Swedish team - yet I interpret his move into focusing on hosting this year’s show as a sidestep away from following through a potential winner to Eurovision victory. Sweden's price may also drift if Danny Saucedo struggles or misses expectations in the first show.

Russia are next up; last year they selected the mega viral band Little Big to represent them. The community expects the same group to be selected, but as usual we hear very little from the Russian delegation. When Little Big was announced it caused Russia’s odds to drop quickly last year, before drifting massively when the overly simplistic and rushed sounding Uno got released. Russia sending Little Big is akin to Sweden sending The Mamas. You could easily see them scoring well on one side of the leaderboard (televote for Russia, jury for Sweden), but to actually win the competition they need something that’s going to appeal to both sides, at least moderately.

There is potential for Little Big to be sitting on something like this, but there’s also a far greater chance that, if selected once more, they have a song that is 100% them which is very likely to be in the top 5 without chances of the grand prize. This may suit the band very well. Odds are currently 12.5/14 on the Betfair exchange, but have rolled up and down lots in recent times as we, as usual, have little to hear about what Russia are actually up to.

The final country in this short preview is Italy. Italy have Sanremo, the most gigantic and established song contest in the land, which is an indirect selection of the Eurovision song. The winner is under no obligation to go to Eurovision (although artists need to reject the invitation beforehand nowadays) and songs are often longer than the Eurovision three minutes, which has on more than one occasion scuppered the magic of some brilliant compositions.

That latter point should be a concern in particular for this year. Sanremo 2021 has been delayed until March, rather than early February, to try and run the show with as few Covid-19 restrictions as possible. This is proving to be problematic as it will give the winner just one week to prepare a Eurovision-ready version of their song, adding time pressure to this difficult decision.

Sanremo betting odds are already available and while I recognise former winners and some big hitters in the Italian music scene in the mix, I don’t have the knowledge about the Italian music scene to invest anything currently. Sanremo’s format as a 5 night marathon also gives time for lesser known names to get love from the Italian public. Many recent winners like Francesco Gabbani and Mahmood came from well within the pack despite not coming close to winning if the show was just a one night extravaganza.

The odds on Italy are longest of the three we mention at 15.5/17.5 on the Betfair exchange, drifting in recent days in part due to the uncertainty of their selection format. Compared to the other two nations I feel that is a little long, if only because we’re expecting Russia and Sweden to have compromised years without a winner with added razzmatazz, and the Italian music scene has that in bucket loads currently.

Odds on these three countries will of course fluctuate as the season progresses and more information becomes available. Assuming that Melodifestivalen stacks Semi Final 4 with the best acts as usual, we may not have heard the Swedish competitors until the end of February, meaning market fluctuations in the next few weeks are more likely to be based on how the other National Finals play out.

If you believe the songs that we will hear from now until then aren’t likely to be anything special, then I’d be tempted to invest in these now as odds will drop, and in a poor year anything par for the course from these three nations should be in the mix. On the contrary it can only take one song to drop from MGP in Norway or Dora in Croatia and the whole market moves out two points to compensate. For now I’d say keep an eye on things for value, but there’s nothing particular to recommend.

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