Eat, Sleep, Trade, Repeat
It often leads to raised eyebrows when people find out what my profession is. ‘Trader of TV betting markets’ isn’t the sort of thing that appears on a lot of CVs. ‘Risk assessor’ is sometimes more palatable though doesn’t tell the full story.
It was the advent of Reality TV in the mid-Noughties that initially piqued my interest in a new, niche corner of the betting world. Bookmakers were dangling odds on an assortment of UK shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, The X-Factor and Celebrity Big Brother. Internet betting was in its infancy, and working as a freelance journalist with a knowledge of odds, I found myself in the right place at the right time to take advantage. Getting a handle on the key variables at play – essentially how the production team are editing the show to present the various contestants (‘reading the edit’) – the conclusion was swiftly reached: “There’s gold in them, thar TV betting hills.”
The Rise Of Eurovision Betting
In August 2009 the time felt right to launch the UK’s first TV betting analysis website at entertainmentodds.com. Success on a domestic front also encouraged me to expand my modus operandi, and seek to conquer Europe through the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010.
I had always enjoyed the Song Contest purely as a TV event but without any money exchanging hands. It was a night to feel that tangible spirit of togetherness with all of Europe… and Israel, and latterly Australia but that’s not important right now.
It was like It’s A Knockout’s Jeux Sans Frontières and the European Football Championship all rolled into one set to a quirky party tune sung by a guy in drag wearing an outfit made of baking foil that made him look like a futuristic Teletubby. What’s not to love?
My pre-Eurovision 2010 thinking was simple: by applying the same sort of analysis skills that were serving me so well on the UK TV betting events, and getting to grips with the additional factors at play on the Eurovision stage, it could potentially give me an edge on the Eurovision markets too. What I came to discover was the Song Contest is the most lucrative TV betting event of them all.
The Clever Gambler Takes No Risks
There is possibly a misconception serious Eurovision Song Contest bettors are risking vast sums. My default position is one of risk aversion and aiming to put myself in a position whereby a profit is ensured on all the most likely eventualities with any potential losses scrupulously managed and kept to a bare minimum.
If you consistently manage to back countries at high odds, and then lay them at short odds on the Betfair Exchange’s Eurovision Outright market, you can end up with an ‘all green book’. That’s the target because it means you will turn a profit on any outcome.
Looking back to 2010, in January I was studiously researching historical voting data, trawling Eurovision fan forum sites for the latest news, and checking out the early offerings by way of each country’s 2010 song as soon as they became known. This was at a time when you were part of a selective crowd utilising the internet to research the competition in as much detail as possible.
Lena’s ’Satellite’ pops up on my radar. It’s catchy, it’s instant, she is as cute as a button in the way she performs it and it is clocking up seriously impressive YouTube views, at a time when YouTube views were something of a new barometer in assessing a song’s appeal. Germany is 16-1 to win Eurovision. I take an early financial interest.
Germany of course went on to win Eurovision 2010 on what proved to be a successful first betting foray into the competition. My verdict, to borrow from a famous Hugh Grant quote: what the hell have I been doing with my time? This Eurovision trading lark is a potential licence to print money.
The beauty of Eurovision is that each Contest evolves differently. No year is the same and the subjectivity of music means there is always uncertainty, uncertainty that in betting terms you can take advantage of, and which can regularly throw up fantastic value.
How To Start Your Eurovision Betting Life
My advice to the first time Eurovision investor for the upcoming 2017 season would be to always seek ‘value’ and never be afraid to think outside the box in trying to unearth a big-priced contender.
The Netherlands in 2014 is a prime example. The Common Linnets presented a bluegrass song with a unique charm that could potentially stand out among the field. My initial favourable view contrasted with its place in the odds as a 125-1 shot. Blown away watching the first rehearsal in Copenhagen, it soon became a case of investing in The Netherlands on every market at my disposal.
Standing on the threshold of my biggest ever win, it was galling to see The Common Linnets beaten by Conchita but its victory in the Semi Final and the profits it earned me in various side markets made that bitter pill of final defeat easier to swallow.
Value remains the cornerstone of my trading methodology. Defining ‘value’ is much harder but in Eurovision terms it boils down to spotting entries you believe are under-rated – meaning their odds are too big – and entries you believe are over-rated – meaning their odds are too short.
In the former scenario you want to be a backer; in the latter one you want to be a layer. You will not always win by spotting value in the Eurovision markets but you will put yourself in the best position to forge a profit in the long run.
An early Eurovision Outright bet is much like an ante-post horse racing bet. You don’t know if your selection is even going to make it to the starting post and if it doesn’t your investment has gone down the drain, right? Not when you have the Betfair exchange to trade on.
Take Poland’s 2016 selection. Margaret’s song ‘Cool Me Down’ jumped out on first listen. Applying a value approach, Poland was worth backing in my opinion, despite the inherent risks attached – Margaret might not win the Polish National Final, it might not come up to scratch performed live…
Poland was available to win the whole Eurovision Song Contest at 66-1 with a UK bookmaker at the time and you could get matched on Betfair at bigger odds than that. My view was heat would very likely build around this song once more of the Eurovision community got to hear it and the odds would drop. The odds did drop. So much so Poland traded as low as 5 come the night of the Polish national final.
For a stake of around £70 my potential profit on Poland winning ESC 2016 stood at approximately £5,000. Aware of the uncertainty over Margaret’s song, it was a no-brainer to lay Poland (to not win Eurovision 2016) at an average of around 5-1 on Betfair. This means I acted as the bookmaker in the Betfair transaction taking other punters’ cash who wanted to back Poland at 5-1.
Here’s the tricky maths part but the key aspect of trading. I layed £600 on Poland at 5-1 on Betfair (what we in gambling circles call 6 in the new decimal odds system). This meant I had a liability of £3,000 on a Poland win – what I would potentially have to pay out to those Betfair backers. But I already stood to win £5,000 on a Poland win for a stake of £70. So I had reduced my potential profit on a Poland win to a total of £2,000. If any other country was to win the lay bet would hand me £600. Minus my stake of £70 on Poland that means I would walk away with £530.
In a nutshell, I had managed to back Poland at high odds and lay Poland at low odds and in doing so gave myself an all-green book with potential profit figures of:
Poland wins: Profit of £2,000.
Any other country competing at Eurovision 2016 wins: Profit of £530 (£600 – £70)
As history tells us, Margaret did not win the Polish National Final, and Poland’s Outright odds duly bounced back out on Betfair from 5 to 90 in the space of a few minutes on a dramatic night of trading.
While it was disappointing to see a potential contender in Margaret’s ‘Cool Me Down’ crash out, rendering my potential £2000 profit on a Poland win largely impossible – as my view was Michel Szpak had virtually zero chance of winning Eurovision 2016 – no matter. The drop in Poland’s odds had enabled me to create a great position on the entire field with the ‘anyone but Poland’ lay bet, a position I would further build upon in the lead up to Stockholm.
A Quick Example Of Turning A Guaranteed Profit
So try and spot a song early in the qualification process you believe could do well. Yes, many countries often have the infuriating habit of choosing badly at the National Final stage and fail to select the song all your Eurovision knowledge suggests would be the best option. But as per Poland’s Margaret in 2016, it can enable you to trade your way to a guaranteed profit.
It is this laying aspect of the Betfair betting exchange that is the trickiest part of trading for those unfamiliar with the maths of betting odds but absolutely pivotal as a serious Eurovision Song Contest trader. Laying is often perceived as too expensive but doesn’t have to be. If you lay £10 on a country that is 20-1 to win Eurovision 2017 (21 on Betfair’s decimals), you initially need a balance of £200 to cover the potential downside, with a potential upside of only £10.
It doesn’t look very appealing at first glance. But if you think the true odds on that country winning are 50-1. 20-1 is a great value lay. And if you repeat this laying process across a series of countries, suddenly your Eurovision Outright ‘book’ can look much more attractive and you won’t necessarily need a four figure Betfair balance to cover the expense.
This is purely mythical for the sake of explanation but if you managed to lay £10 at Betfair exchange odds of 21 consecutively on each of 21 competing countries at Eurovision, you would end up with no loss if any of those 21 countries were to win, and a profit of £210 on any of the remaining 22 countries winning (assuming a 43-runner field). A wonderful ‘book’ position that would not impact your Betfair balance at all. This is essentially the aim of the prudent trader.
It seems a contradiction but the layer wins by successfully identifying losers. If there are 43 countries competing at Eurovision 42 of them will lose which equates to 42 chances to successfully lay. Only one country will ultimately win, which is why laying, in theory, gives you a better chance of turning a profit.
Laying semi-finalists on the Betfair exchange’s ’To Qualify’ market – investing in countries you think are more likely not to qualify – is a cheaper way to lay, as is laying in the top 10 market simply because the odds are much shorter so you can cover the potential loss with a smaller Betfair balance.
Again, it is all about identifying countries you think the betting market is over-rating. My conclusion of Iceland at Eurovision 2015 on all known evidence heading to Vienna was that it was a very poor, repetitive song and Maria Olafs was a weak live vocalist. And yet Iceland was available to lay at 1.3 to qualify on Betfair. As a layer, that equates to a potential £100 profit while risking a loss of £30.
As such, Iceland was identified as a great value lay, and ended up my biggest qualification lay across the two semi-finals. Watching the first rehearsal live in the press centre only consolidated my view Iceland would struggle to qualify and was definitely not a 1.3 shot. Iceland went on to finish 15th in its 17-strong semi-final, duly failing to qualify.
The Marathon Of National Finals
From the beginning of January through to the final in May, it is five months of relentless Eurovision study and Betfair trading which builds into a frenzy come the Semi Finals and Grand Final. It is hard work but also enormous fun. It takes a certain kind of personality to apply the time and energy to trading – solitary, obsessive, meticulous, single-minded, cold-blooded – monitoring the Betfair markets like a hawk, night and day. ‘Eat, sleep, trade, repeat,’ is my mantra during Eurovision season.
My main advice to a newbie investor: hone your ‘odds too high, odds too low’ Eurovision betting gauge, and trade accordingly; never invest more than you can afford to lose. On a further note of caution, if you really put in the hours prepare for your social life to transform into a frozen tundra.
‘Hey Rob. We’re all going out for some beers on Friday night. Do you fancy joining us?’
‘No thanks I’m staying in to the watch the Belarus Eurovision national final.’
As a sole tumbleweed blows through the living room, I console myself with the knowledge life as a Eurovision trader enables me to earn a tax-free income, and exist in a state of blissful, self-employed freedom…
… Yes, with a certain jeopardy attached, and yes, with very few mates who truly understand the avant-garde genius of Switter Boys feat. Kate & Volga but trading the Eurovision markets is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride I wouldn’t miss for the world offering the lure of untold riches, not to mention enormous entertainment along the way.
Follow Rob’s Eurovision analysis this upcoming season at www.entertainmentodds.com.