An important part of the Eurovision host city selection is the venue that the contest is hosted in, as this will dictate many aspects of the show once it takes place. Over the past two decades, we have seen venues of all shapes and sizes, spanning all over Europe from Lisbon to Baku. As the venue for the 2022 contest in Turin has now been confirmed, let’s look at what makes an ideal venue for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Context: Why Is Modern Eurovision Hosted In Large Venues?
Historically, Eurovision has primarily been an event for television, with older contests generally having a limited number of spectators in the audience. With contests being held in venues that were concert halls and television studios, the audience was very much supplementary to the contest itself. Even when it was hosted in Birmingham in 1998, the audience was limited to 4,000, despite Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena (the largest indoor arena in the UK at the time) having a maximum capacity of 13,000.
This changed from 2000, after Sweden hosted the 2000 contest in Stockholm’s Globe Arena (recently renamed the ‘Avicii Arena’), with an audience of 16,000. Eurovision 2000 felt like a ‘new’ contest, and certainly more aligned with what we are used to today, compared to the ‘classical’ pre-1999 contests. Sweden set a precedent for Eurovision venues, suggesting that the bigger the venue (and the audience) the better the contest will be.
When The Venue Is ‘Too Big’
Following their victory in Stockholm’s magnificent show in 2000; Denmark hosted the 2001 contest. The venue chosen was the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen: a 38,000-capacity football stadium that is home to the Danish national football team. Initially, there were difficulties finding a suitable venue for the 2001 contest in Denmark, but the company who owned Parken agreed to install a retractable roof, so it could host Eurovision. Parken is the largest venue that the contest has been hosted in to date, with a capacity over twice that of the Globe arena the year before. However, the size of the arena led to issues on the night. Many in the audience complained that couldn’t enjoy the show properly as there were sound issues and they were unable to see the stage. While some viewers felt as though the vast arena and did not make for good television, with the large stage being more suitable for a concert like Live Aid than the Eurovision song contest. Overall, it was felt that the Parken Stadium was too big a venue to host Eurovision.
Ten years after Eurovision 2001, the contest was again hosted in a football stadium – this time in the German city of Dusseldorf. With a capacity of 36,000, the Espirit arena was nearly as large as the Parken in Copenhagen. It seems that the EBU had learnt some lessons from Copenhagen 2001, as the arena for the 2011 contest proved to be a good venue overall, with space being better utilised compared to ten years before. However, there were still some murmurs that the arena was too large for a live television event such as Eurovision.
Similar issues have been observed in Sweden when the Friends arena has been used to host Melodifestivalen. The 50,000-seater stadium in Stockholm, often touted as a potential venue for a future Eurovision in Sweden, has hosted the Melodifestivalen final since 2013. Although SVT consistently hosts a brilliant show in this venue, the Friends Arena has faced criticism for having poor acoustics and reduced atmosphere compared to smaller venues (e.g. Globe Arena).
Another issue that is found with larger venues is the inability to fill seats, particularly with the semi-final shows. During the 2007 contest in Helsinki, during the Semi-Finals there were a large section of empty seats visible in the Hartwall Arena. While many prefer the Eurovision venue to have as many seats as possible, it’s important ensure that all the available seats will be taken, particularly for the less popular semi-final shows.
The Globe Arena (~16,000 capacity) used for Stockholm 2016, and the Alitce Arena from Lisbon 2018 (~20,000 capacity) are recent examples of large venues that worked well for Eurovision. Both were hailed as good venues that were suitable for a live TV event, and able to capture a good atmosphere, while also allowing a large number of fans to attend.
When The Venue Is ‘Too Small’
On the other hand, some recent venues for Eurovision have been criticised for being too small to host modern Eurovision. Historically, venues were never ‘too small’, as long as they had enough room for stage, orchestra, and a small audience (generally up to 4000) they would suffice. The 1982 contest exemplifies this point, after the contest was hosted in the 2000-seat Harrogate International Centre in Harrogate, UK. Forty years later, it is almost unthinkable to imagine modern Eurovision hosted in such a small venue, in the 13th largest town in Yorkshire.
The most recent example of a Eurovision arena receiving criticism in relation to its size is in 2019. When Israel had the opportunity to host, following their win in 2018, the host city selection came down to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Both cities had moderately sized indoor arenas, with Jerusalem offering a slightly larger venue out of the two cities. Despite Jerusalem being previously declared as the host city, Tel Aviv was awarded the contest instead. On paper, Tel Aviv seemed an ideal host city: an LGBT hub with a Mediterranean climate that can accommodate thousands of fans. However, the Israeli city had limited options for indoor arenas that could host Eurovision. In the end, the chosen venue was Pavillion 2 of Expo Tel Aviv, with a capacity of 9,000 in the main arena and an additional space for 1,500 fans in the green room. Reportedly, the stage had to be scaled down to accommodate more audience space, following criticism that Expo Tel Aviv would only host 4,000 fans. Given that the previous year’s venue in Lisbon had nearly double the capacity of Expo Tel Aviv, many fans were underwhelmed by the compact size of the 2019 venue. Many had concerns that the stage would be too small, and that the show would feel amateurish compared to previous years. By the time of the contest, most of these qualms had evaporated, and the majority of the fandom was fairly pleased with the 2019 arena. Although it was noticeably smaller than previous venues, overall Expo Tel Aviv was a fine venue for the contest.
Similar concerns were raised in the run up to the Eurovision 2017, as the Ukrainian broadcaster had some difficulties in selecting a suitable venue for the contest. At one point, the Ukrainian culture minister stated that no suitable venue existed for Eurovision in Ukraine, and that a brand new one should be built to accommodate the EBU’s needs. Eventually, Ukraine opted for the International Exhibition Centre in Kyiv, with an audience capacity of 11,000. After experiencing Eurovision 2016 in Stockholm’s magnificent Globe Arena, the smaller 2017 venue in Kyiv was disappointing for some fans.
What Is The Ideal Size For A Eurovision Venue?
While fans understandably want Eurovision to be bigger and better each year, sometimes having the contest in a smaller venue scales down the size of the contest, and resets the expectation that Eurovision needs to be in a massive arena. This opens up the opportunity for smaller countries to host the contest, despite not having large arena. Had the EBU demanded larger arenas for the 2017 and 2019 contests, then Ukraine and Israel would have had to forfeit hosting Eurovision. Part of what makes Eurovision great is the opportunity for host countries to showcase their culture and put their unique spin on the contest. If we set the precedent that Eurovision must be hosted in gigantic football stadia, then the contest will only be hosted in a select number of cities in a few countries.
On the other hand, Eurovision is the world’s largest non-sporting TV event, and its venue should reflect this. Having the contest in a large arena allows more scope for the stage, and gives more fans the opportunity to view the contest in person. Large venues also tend to have lower ticket prices, part of the issue with Expo Tel Aviv was that it’s small size meant that ticket prices ended up being high to cover costs.
The ‘sweet spot’ for Eurovision arena capacity seems to be somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000. Although this can be squeezed down to 7,000 if needs be, anything less than 10,000 should ideally be avoided. Anything over 20,000 may not be suitable for a live TV event such as Eurovision. Although fans will have differing opinions on how big the venue for Eurovision should be, perhaps the fandom should embrace the variety of smaller and bigger venues that comes with the contest being hosted in a different city each year.
Pala Alpitour: Turin’s Venue for Eurovision 2022
After months of deliberation, Italy has finally confirmed that Eurovision 2022 will be hosted in Turin. The venue is confirmed to be the Pala Alpitour arena (also known as the PalaOlympico); a former venue for the 2006 Winter Olympics and one of the largest indoor arenas in Italy. Pala Alpitour’s maximum capacity for spectators is 18,500; although, for Eurovision this is likely to go down to around 13,000, as this has been the capacity for previous contests. Eurovision Executive Supervisor Martin Österdahl has expressed his praise for the 2022 venue already, stating:
As we saw during the 2006 Winter Olympics, PalaOlimpico exceeds all the requirements needed to stage a global event of this scale.Martin Österdahl, Eurovision Executive Supervisor
Although we are yet to see how Turin will utlilise the venue’s space, Pala Alpitour meets all EBU requirements for hosting Eurovision, and we can be confident that it will host a brilliant show that both arena spectators and viewers at home will enjoy.