The UK is set to host the Eurovision song contest in 2023, with organisers removing it from Ukraine’s grasp following the ongoing invasion from Russia. The show is deemed the largest entertainment spectacle in the world with more than 200 million viewers tuning in to watch the sublime to the ridiculous and the best and worst music that Europe (oh, and Australia) has to offer.
But what about the host city? What does it take to put on the biggest Eurovision party there is?
Some 50,000 tourists will descend on your city from all over the world. You’ll put on 12 live shows, plus plenty of rehearsals – and need to schmooze about 1,500 journalists and bloggers. And that’s not counting all the delegations.
And the kicker – usually you have no idea if you’re going to be hosting it until around midnight on the night of the final of the previous year. Imagine having to put on the world cup, with less than a year’s notice – and you never even bid in the first place. And it’s all down to the host broadcaster, who may never have put on an event at this scale.
What does a city need to host Eurovision?
1. A venue
This is the most important part – but sometimes the hardest. You need an arena that can hold a giant stage, up to 15,000 fans, commentators from up to 50 countries – and a massive camera and sound system. Plus it’s going to need to be empty for about a month before the tournament.
If you don’t have anything that fits the bill, you could do what Azerbaijan did and just build a brand new one, or do what Denmark did and stick it in an empty warehouse.
Then it’s got to be able to cope with selling thousands of tickets – when demand will massively outstrip supply. This was another area where Kiev previously fell flat. The local agency just couldn’t cope with demand: it became luck of the draw if the website would work for you.
Portugal’s ticket system was better – but it used a queueing system that was easy to bypass. The result was thousands of unhappy fans with access to Twitter – and a chance to lose some of that hard-earned good PR for your city.
A venue is useless if the 1,500 journalists can’t work, mingle with the acts, and fight over the best PR tat. In Lisbon, the arena was on the site of the EXPO World Fair 1998 – so they had a ready-made home. But yours has to be big, and come with a working area, press conference hall, interview rooms, radio studios and ideally somewhere to eat.
3. Hotel rooms
Some 50,000 tourists come to Eurovision – do you have somewhere to put them? Can you build it in a year? The official line from the European Broadcast Union (EBU) is that every entrant to Eurovision could host it, but could Moldova really find enough space in Chisinau for everyone? It’s a tough ask. Plus hoteliers might rub their hands with glee at the opportunity to put up prices – but that doesn’t go down well with the EBU, so you’ve got to be able to keep a firm grip on the industry.
Thankfully, London and the UK, is jam-packed with hotels.
How’s everyone going to get there? A city needs a bustling airport that can cope with an influx of Europeans – and the odd Australian. Thankfully, London has two major airports in the form of Gatwick and Heathrow, to name just two.
5. A ‘Euroclub’
When you’ve got 1,500 journalists, most of whom are Eurovision fans, they expect to party.
In some cities, only delegations and the press are allowed in. But recently they started extending that to fans as well. In Kiev, they had a huge Euroclub where everyone could buy a wristband.
So with expectations set high, Lisbon brought them back down to earth with a tiny venue. That forced the fan clubs to set up their own club, which itself was too small; 1,600 wristbands sold out in a few minutes. Any host city needs to seriously think about where they’re going to entertain a bunch of adrenaline-fuelled Eurovision fans.
A big problem that no host city, or host fan club, has dealt with properly is what to do with fans who don’t drink or club. There’s a lack of sober, quieter places.
6. A Eurovision village
This is another opportunity for the host city to show off to tourists – usually, it is in a central square with big screens, beer tents, merch stalls and a stage. There are special performances – screenings of all the live shows and a place for people from all over Europe to mingle.
But if you put it somewhere to show off your city, it often ends up being miles away from the arena – forcing people to make big trips back and forth across a city. That’s fine in Lisbon, where you’ve got great and cheap public transport, but it won’t work as seamlessly everywhere else.
Could every city do it? You really do have to wonder.