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Tomorrow’s 2013 SPOTY election: David Herdson says that the value bet could be that Murray doesn’t win

December 14th, 2013

The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) is, like X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother or Eurovision, very much an election.  As with all elections, working out the likely chances comes down to correctly understanding four things: the candidates, the campaigns, the voters, and the electoral system.

Since Andy Murray won Wimbledon in the Summer, he’s been extremely long odds on to win, to the extent that if you believe the bookies, he might as well be given the trophy now.  There are indeed good reasons expect his name to end up on the trophy but I’m not quite convinced he’s nailed on.

There are no rules about how the public should assess who they vote for and as such, it’s a very subjective process.  However the following rules of thumb are worth considering:

First-time or rare achievements are rewarded more than the same feat repeated (so don’t expect Chris Froome to win simply because he’s done what Bradley Wiggins did last year).

Sportsmen and women who compete as individuals do better than those who compete in team v team sports.

Those who perform well towards the end of the year stand more chance than those whose achievements came at the start.

Those towards the end of their career do better than those who might have another chance of winning if they don’t this year, except –

Sportsmen and -women very rarely win a second award.

Candidates will do better where they have a sporting or national/regional block vote behind them.

It’s FPTP so multiple candidates from one sport, region or gender can split votes to the benefit of others.

•Watch how the candidates are presented in the first 30 minutes: good early publicity is worth votes.

Emotion matters; so does personality.

To that end, Murray being the first Brit to win a Wimbledon singles title since 1977 (when Wade also went on to win SPOTY), and the first man since 1936, is a more natural successor to Wiggins in SPOTY terms than Froome – though Wiggins is nearer the end of his career than Murray.  The Scot should also benefit from name recognition and a substantial local vote.

On the other hand, there are three reasons that make me pause for thought.  Firstly, those who’ve watched him closely know he has a dry, sardonic wit; those who haven’t are more likely to think him surly.  Again, personality matters.  Secondly, while it might have been the throwaway remark of a teenager, Murray’s comment about supporting anyone playing England still rankles with some English viewers who aren’t tennis fans; there may be some negative voting.  Finally, Murray will not be at the awards ceremony on the night which may make a difference at the margins.

If so, who would they vote for?  Tony McCoy is second-favourite 16/1 with bet365 at the time of writing.  However, I have my doubts: McCoy has already won the trophy once and while he is almost certain to win a Lifetime Achievement award at some point in the future, winning the main trophy again for sustained achievement over a career might be asking too much.

On the other hand, Mo Farah, third favourite at 33/1 with Stan James seems the only value in the field to me.  Unlike Murray, whose achievement was on a British scale (someone will win Wimbledon every year), Farah is a true great of track and field: only the second man in history to hold both World and Olympic 5000m and 10000m titles simultaneously.  There is a risk of a split athletics vote but Farah’s achievement and personality stand out.  Still, I wouldn’t be risking too much on a Mo upset.

Beyond the main prize, there aren’t any betting markets as far as I know but a few predictions just for fun:

The Overseas award usually goes to an athlete, a tennis player or a golfer, however, with the exception of Usain Bolt, there’s no particularly obvious candidate from those sports, and Bolt has already won three of the last five prizes, including last year.  This may be an exception then when another sport gets a look in.  Lionel Messi is one option but with the World Cup next Summer, the panel may feel that award premature, so I’ll go out on a limb and suggest Vettel to be the first F1 winner since 1977.

Past Teams of the Year have been dominated by national representative teams.  On that basis, the British and Irish Lions is the most likely, following their tour win in Australia.  That, however, was a competition between only two teams and again, 2013 may be a SPOTY to break the mould here.  To my mind, the most obvious winner should be Team Sky, for a second successive Tour, plus numerous other wins.  Whether the selection panel – chosen by, though not of, the BBC – will allow media considerations to influence them is to be borne in mind.  A third choice then is one I make with both my heart and head.  If the measure of a team is its ability to rise above the sum of its individual components, the Bradford City is that team, becoming in 2013 the first fourth-tier side to reach a major Wembley final, and the first to defeat three (near full-strength) top-flight teams in one cup run: one over two legs, another who reached the Champions League knock-out stages, and a third who went on to win the FA Cup.

Coach of the Year can be tied up with the Team of the Year, but if it isn’t, then Ben Ainsley ought to be the favourite by some way, assuming he’s eligible (there have been foreign winners who’ve coached British teams; there’s never been a British winner who’s coached – or skippered in his case – a foreign team).  The fact that he’s nominated in the main category may count against him in this one.

The Lifetime Achievement award is one of the most unpredictable: the winner can be domestic or foreign; recently retired, still active or having long-since left the field; and a competitor, coach or administrator.  Starting from a clean slate, by far the most obvious candidate is Sir Alex Ferguson but he won the award back in 2001.  Assuming they don’t break with precedent and award him a second trophy we’re probably looking overseas or recognition for deeds some time gone.  That latter group is huge but Sachin Tendulkar would fit the former very well.

I don’t know enough about the other awards to even make a commentary, never mind a half-informed guess.  Whatever, while this SPOTY may not be a betting classic, enjoy the show, the sports and the betting opportunities they bring.

David Herdson