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Prepare For The Rollercoaster

I am writing this piece on the eve of the Eurovision Rehearsals which begin at 10:00 CET in Rotterdam tomorrow morning. I will have press access via ESC Insight, writing plenty of non-betting based articles there and appearing occasionally on their podcast. If you like my style please check it out during these coming two weeks - I work alongside some great people with great thoughts. BetEurovision will have some coverage and podcasts during the fortnight, but ESC Insight is very much my primary gig.

This is going to be one hell of a Eurovision fortnight that we have waited two years for. I’ve made allusions to this previously, but if there’s any year for the form book to be ripped to pieces and everything to go wrong, this is the year for it.

That said, within the betting community we have been getting better at predicting the outcomes year upon year. Part of that is our skill (blows own trumpet here) but honestly a large part of that is our increased understanding of the various proxies which exist. We are well used to what Spotify streams, YouTube stats, OGAE polls, Euro Jury randomness and what it all means, so we get it right more often than we don’t (just ignore the hilarity of our podcast tips at this point, I've had a good year outside of them and most of the tips did eventually shorten).

My book for this year's Eurovision is very conservative. I’m up on all the favourites with Norway as my only loss due to laying Tix as soon as it was clear KEiiNO weren’t going to Eurovision and before the odds drifted. I’ve left my position relatively untouched and low-risk because there’s just so much we don’t know this year. Let me explain.

A Different Build Up

Let me start by discussing our 2021 songs. Within the pack of favourites at the front we have Malta and Switzerland, alongside France and Italy. The first two of these are basically untested in a competitive environment. Both are internally selected and both have great vocalists doing their thing with a modern production behind them. Both are popular. Both of them are popular due to music videos, and we still haven’t seen either of them in full flight with their three minute versions, such has been the trouble with the build up to the 2021 Contest.

Sasha Jean Baptiste is in charge of staging for both, promising of course, but not everything she touches turns to gold. Does Destiny have the sassy charisma to slap out the “excuse my French” line well? What will she be doing during the electro swing instrumental? And, will she actually deliver the vocals that she can, but can’t be relied upon.

For Gjon’s Tears, will the presentation be as simple as him on a piano? Where will the sparkle come from? Can somebody style his University Challenge look to be contemporarily cool and can he actually be endearing while his face contorts through those top notes?

Despite a comprehensive national final victory and stunning performance of France’s entry, we are promised a new version of Voilà. Måneskin, one assumes, will be the type to not give a toss at a rehearsal and will only turn up the attitude for the live show. Couple to this how so many of the songs this year have been internal selections and have only been in pre-recorded acoustic versions on the preview party ‘tour’, and we're left entering rehearsal period with so much about the performers' ability still unknown.

Generally we know what to expect from a National Final winner (Sweden, for example, will likely just polish up Voices - and hopefully will polish up his vocals, because if he performs like in the below video in rehearsal he drops all the way to a NQ), but with all of these unknowns in the running this year there’s heightened chance for us to get it all wrong on first impressions.

When something comes out of nowhere and shines on stage in rehearsal, such as a Fuego or Calm After The Storm, you normally have this explosion of noise and buzz from the press centre. The press centre will likely be a silent socially-distanced place this year, and most of the press are using the online platform instead.

There are movements in the market that happen immediately, but there are also movements that happens in the hours and days after as press talk to each other in their echo chambers and discuss their thoughts. Psychologically the more people you hear agreeing with your views, the more fervently you believe them yourself. After that great first rehearsal, I remember Fuego trading down into low 20s/high teens. By Eurovision week it touched favourite status. Will those same movements happen again this year if we don’t all get to meet? If you are gambling for the next two weeks make sure to be following a wide variety of websites, bloggers and journalists to find out the full spectrum of opinions.

How Is The Audience Different?

I came into the 2021 National Final season expecting two things. One, a huge love of joy, fun and novelty in National Finals, and secondly a huge loyalty towards those 2020 artists. The latter of them held true - Uku won Eesti Laul despite not having its most interesting song, The Mamas really milked out the best of In The Middle and The Roop had the landslide of all time in the Lithuanian selection. There has indisputably been a residual sense of loyalty to last year’s artists around the continent.

However the difference now is that we are talking about the majority of the acts being the 2020 participants, not just one act to feel sorry for. If that loyalty is divided equally then the effect of it is practically zero. If I had to name a 2020 artist who would get significant loyalty it would be Daði Freyr from Iceland, but I have no idea how big that effect would be. None of us do.

The point about the 2021 National Final season rewarding fun didn’t come to fruition. Barbara Pravi won in a landslide. Rena Rema Ding Dong lost to Behöver Inte Dig Idag. Portugal ended up with a ballad, and Fyr og Flamme, odds on favourites in Denmark, only just squeezed through a weak National Final. The hypothesis that televoters would want more fun in 2021 actually doesn’t appear that true. Good news for ballad lovers - covid-19 may have left many without the ability to taste, but the music taste of the continent appears unaltered.

How The Show Will Be Different?

There’s further doubt and conservatism in my mind because the show itself is going to be so vastly different than what we are used to. With only 3,500 people all sitting well away from the stage, the atmosphere in the Rotterdam Ahoy may never truly get going. I’m expecting the show to sound more like it does at a jury show on the Monday, and never get into the full euphoria of the traditional Saturday night. Who does that help or hinder?

We also have a new executive supervisor for the show in Martin Österdahl. Does the show that get created differ in any unique way? Unlikely I’d say, as both the Malmö and Stockholm hostings were Österdahl creations and they have been arguably the most influential contests of this decade. Will be watching with interest however.

The key changes of course are what Österdahl has delivered upon so that this Song Contest will take place, despite the pages and pages of health and safety regulations that need to be followed. Some of the adaptations are to be honest slightly farcical (the pre-recorded backing vocals rule may reduce some delegation sizes, but many others are just bringing dancers instead), yet with two weeks to go it appears that the Song Contest will happen, with artists, with an international audience, and all should be proud of that.

There is huge risk in this though. Should anybody travelling contract Covid, or a close contact in their delegation catch it, they have to use their back up tape recorded in a TV studio at home. Should anybody get covid after being in Rotterdam, they may be stuck in a hotel room while Europe watches their rehearsal from a week prior. It would be naive to assume nobody travelling to the Netherlands will test positive (tests need to be taken every 48 hours). And then, if someone does test positive, what impact will that have on the market?

Early suggestions based on Australia, who are staying at home, is that using the back-up tape is bad news. Australia was trading under 3s to qualify when the news came out, and that has crept its way up to 4s. The drift may continue. Imagine for a second the furore if the day before the Semi Final, we hear the news that a Victoria or a Barbara tested positive. Will it make a difference? Will there be a big lay? What price then becomes value? Is there even potential that the sob story effect of a big fan favourite using a backup tape becomes a positive?

All of these factors are reasons why I’ve been incredibly cautious in setting up a book for this year’s Song Contest so far. Now we approach rehearsals, some songs will suddenly start to shine, and others will fall and there should be value to be had if you can react quickly. I have a personal saying here that 99% of your success in the Song Contest is the song and the preparations beforehand, but that counts for nothing if you don't deliver in those three minutes. This year, because we know so little about the 2021 cohort, that saying is stronger than ever before in my following of this entertainment spectacular.

Welcome to the Eurovision Song Contest 2021. A Song Contest hopefully unlike any other and, despite the breadth of proxies and data, possibly the most unpredictable for a generation.

Time to make the final pre-rehearsal adjustments to my book and to prepare for the rollercoaster fortnight that awaits. I'm ready. Are you?

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