England & Wales Culture, sport and tourism

Flying the flags: How Liverpool City Council helped host the Eurovision Song Contest

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Credit: Marketing Liverpool

Liverpool City Council’s Claire McColgan, Director of Culture, and Harry Doyle, Cabinet Member for Health, Wellbeing and Culture, discuss Liverpool’s hosting of Eurovision 2023 and the involvement of the city council. It highlights the significance of the Eurovision Song Contest as a major television programme and its impact on local economies.

It’s safe to say that media and entertainment represent big business. According to PwC’s Perspectives from the Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2023–2027: Resetting expectations, refocusing inward and recharging growth report, total world entertainment and media revenue in 2022 was $2.32tn. Despite the report, which dates from last year, saying that the rate of growth was set to decline sequentially in each of the following five years, it noted that there would be five years of continued growth up to 2027, at which point the sector would approach $2.8tn in revenue.

In the television industry, the power of programming cannot be underestimated. The 2022 FIFA World Cup final, which was shown on TV, was watched by near to 1.5 billion people, while Super Bowl LVIII in February averaged 123.4 million viewers across TV and streaming platforms. The effect of filming in a locality can also be profound: Game of Thrones, which saw filming take place in Northern Ireland, for instance, had a role in attracting one in every six out-of-state visitors to the area in 2018 — with this accounting for 350,000 visitors and more than £50m for the local economy.

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Arguably one of the world’s biggest television programmes is the Eurovision Song Contest, which was inspired by the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy and has been held annually (with the exception of 2020) since 1956. According to the Eurovision Song Contest Brand Impact Report 2023, 96% of people are familiar with the competition, which is higher than the percentages for both the Oscars and the MTV Video Music Awards. Last year’s edition of the contest reached 162 million people over its live final and semi-finals across 38 public-service media markets, while the 2022 competition reached 161 million individuals over its three live shows.

In 2023, Eurovision was hosted by the UK on behalf of Ukraine due to the Russian invasion, with Liverpool in Merseyside chosen as the host city by the BBC (which was invited to hold the contest by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organiser of the competition). The contest took place at the M&S Bank Arena, with the semi-finals held on May 9 and 11, and the final held on May 13. Liverpool City Council led on the bid to host the competition, as well as delivering Eurovision in partnership with the BBC and national government.

“It is completely in our DNA as a city to do major events and to do them really well, and I kind of think Eurovision was the next step in our journey on that road,” says Claire McColgan, Director of Culture at Liverpool City Council. “I don’t think any other city could have done what Liverpool did,” adds Harry Doyle, Cabinet Member for Health, Wellbeing and Culture at the council. “I think there’s a lot of heart in Liverpool and that real sense of social justice in particular, and that all shone through for us [which] was what we wanted.”

Bringing Eurovision to Liverpool

The road to Liverpool’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest can be traced back to the 66th edition of the competition in May 2022, which was won by Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra with the song “Stefania”. Traditionally, the country that wins the contest hosts the event the following year, but Ukraine had been defending against Russia’s full-scale invasion since February 2022, and based on discussions with the Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (Suspilne Ukraine) and an independent security assessment, the EBU had to announce in June 2022 that the 2023 contest would not be in the country.

The UK had come second in the 2022 competition with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man”, and after Ukraine’s win, the EBU immediately started exploring whether the runner-up broadcaster, the BBC, could hold the contest if a security analysis concluded that Ukraine was unable to. In July 2022, the EBU announced that it, Suspilne and the BBC had agreed that the BBC should host on behalf of Ukraine. Soon after the UK was asked to hold Eurovision, the BBC, working with the EBU, began the process of choosing the host city.

More than 20 cities from across the UK responded to a request for information, and the BBC longlisted 7 destinations, including Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester and Sheffield. These locations were invited to submit proposals demonstrating how well they met detailed requirements and published objective criteria, and Glasgow and Liverpool were ultimately included in a final shortlist. Liverpool came out on top following a best and final offer process, with the BBC Eurovision Highlights report noting that its proposal demonstrated a cultural offer that best showcased the contest and Ukrainian cultural richness, as well as the ability to meet strategic priorities and a high commitment level.

Eurovision - Ukraine Arrival
Credit: Marketing Liverpool

“One of our targets within the City Plan is around being the most exciting city in the UK, and so naturally, it really fit with us to go for this amazing opportunity,” says Harry. “It made absolute sense for us to position ourselves as an international city as well.”

“2008 was European Capital of Culture [for us], and over the last 20 years, we’ve really built up that kind of cultural narrative of culture as the rocket fuel for regeneration,” adds Claire. “Not all of the council is under intervention, and this part we’re very good at. I think that an objective for the council was to showcase the stuff that we were really good at at that moment in time.”

Claire explains that Liverpool’s bid for Eurovision had a number of different components. “One was about the technical, and that kind of got us through the first stage,” she says. “Then it became all about the content — we put forward really interesting collaborations with Ukraine, and we talked about an education programme and a community programme. We’re in a very good position as a city of owning the arena, so we had a really good joint Liverpool approach to things without having to go through lots of different parties.”

Marking the event

According to the Culture, place and partnership: the cultural relations of Eurovision 2023 report, Eurovision host cities are required to facilitate logistics for the live shows and their visitors, organise a fan village and arrange an official event nightclub, though they are free to create extra programming. After Liverpool was chosen to hold the contest in 2023, the process of creating the narrative of hosting on Ukraine’s behalf followed two parallel tracks, with the BBC working with Suspilne to produce the live shows and Liverpool (which is twinned with the Ukrainian city of Odesa) creating place-based programming with input from the Ukrainian Institute Kyiv. Claire says that Liverpool delivered its side of Eurovision in six months using a gold, silver and bronze structure, with a substantial amount of money provided by the British Government for work with Ukraine and on enhanced security.

Eurovision - Ukraine Arrival
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Eurovision’s official fan zone, the Eurovision Village, opened to the public at Liverpool’s Pier Head on May 5 and operated until May 13, with free daily programming – with the exception of the Grand Final day – and a Discover Ukraine zone near the main exit, which allowed Ukrainian non-governmental organisations and Ukrainian businesses in the UK to engage visitors with Ukrainian culture, design and food. The city additionally created a wraparound cultural festival named EuroFestival, which was held from May 1 to 14 and presented 24 commissions — 19 being collaborative projects between Ukranian and UK artists — to showcase the uniting power of art and music. The Baltic Triangle’s Camp and Furnace was the setting for EuroClub, the official Eurovision nightclub, with Eurovision fan group OGAE UK taking charge of the programming.

The EuroStreet programme, which included EuroGrants of up to £2,000, offered a chance for communities across the region to celebrate the contest. “We gave out grants to a significant amount of organisations who did huge amounts of work, from showcasing their own culture within community centres to making dumplings in the Wirral,” Claire notes. Meanwhile, EuroLearn gave schools and non-school educational settings an opportunity to mark the competition, with packs for teachers covering lesson planning around the music of Eurovision and Ukrainian fairytales. “Even if you couldn’t go to a show or couldn’t go into town, you were touched by Eurovision in some way,” says the Director of Culture.

Examples of Eurovision-related activities in Liverpool included the EuroFestival commissions Protect the Beats, which saw the Nelson Monument surrounded by sandbags and the video installation Izyum to Liverpool at Liverpool Cathedral, which offered an insight into the journey of escape undertaken by many Ukrainians since Russia’s invasion. Another example, which was also part of EuroFestival, was EuroCamp, an LGBTQI+-focused event including drag, music and more. “We [also] had choirs going into care home settings to really bring Eurovision alive,” says Harry.

Credit: Marketing Liverpool

Eurovision’s impact

According to the Economic Impact of Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool report, the net additional organiser spend for Eurovision 2023 at a Liverpool level is estimated to have come to £10.9m. However, the gross local spend in Liverpool for the contest is estimated to have been £54.9m by visitors.

Allowing for displacement and deadweight, the net additional visitor spend in the city is thought to have come to £42.3m. Furthermore, Liverpool City Council has said that Eurovision boosted the Liverpool City Region’s economy by £54.8m net, with parties benefitting including shops, restaurants and accommodation providers. “We had lots of struggling businesses, and it helped them get through what was a really difficult period,” Harry notes.

The report says that there was a total of 473,000 attendees at Eurovision-related events in Liverpool city centre, with an estimated 306,000 people visiting Liverpool city centre due to Eurovision. Ten percent of visitors were international, and more than 100,000 UK residents from outside the Liverpool City Region went to Liverpool city centre for Eurovision. Liverpool City Council notes that there were 250,000 visitors to the Eurovision Village while it was open, and that there was an audience of just over 326,000 for the EuroFestival.

Eurovision VIP Event at St Georges Hall
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As for job opportunities, the Economic Impact of Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool report says that the total organiser and visitor spend for Eurovision 2023 is estimated to have created employment equal to 589 one-year full-time equivalent jobs in Liverpool and 611 in the Liverpool City Region. Eurovision-oriented job fairs were held from March 2023, and these events actively engaged more than 3,000 jobseekers. EuroStreet and EuroLearn also engaged directly with 50,000 people, according to the city council, with the overall programme estimated to have reached 2 million. The Eurovision 2023: Community and Wellbeing Strand report notes: “Liverpool’s hosting of Eurovision shows how community and wellbeing can be built through cultural involvement.”

Eurovision - Ukraine Arrival @intangibleobjects rug
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“Doing events outside London matter, because there are places like Liverpool which matter and matter more internationally than sometimes London does,” says Claire. “It’s got a different relationship with different places across the world because of the football, because of music and because of all [its] things. I think Eurovision really showed what a city with really strong leadership can do when it comes to something like culture.”

“I think it’s reminded people that there is a world outside of London,” adds Harry. “It’s about that understanding that cities like Liverpool in the North can hold their own. They are absolutely crucial for development in our country and the economic success of the country as well.”

Ahead of the contest, it was estimated that the competition could be worth £25m to Liverpool that year and an additional £250m from an increase in visitor numbers over the upcoming three years. With the first figure having clearly been surpassed, it will certainly be interesting to see the longer-term impact of Eurovision 2023 as time goes on. Liverpool City Council has already revealed plans to celebrate Eurovision 2024 (set to be held in Malmö in Sweden), with a Malmö on the Mersey screening party for the final, the return of EuroClub at Camp and Furnace, and a screening party at St George’s Hall in the pipeline. With the city also set to help host Euro 2028 at the new Everton Stadium, it remains to be seen how its links to television will benefit the local area even more.



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