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Organising Eurovision: the sour victories

Quick recap: Eurosong.be is publishing a series of posts on how different countries would organise Eurovision, with 30 posts to be published on Mondays and Thursdays every week for 15 weeks. This is a second intro post – the first was on choosing host city and venue.

The sour victories

Taken from De zure zege (2), 18 January.

It’s not a given that every country wants to organise Eurovision (ed: unless you’re Denmark). And given the cost to the broadcasters is a victory actually desirable? Some years there are rumours that a broadcaster has deliberately sent a less good song in order not to run the risk. And for some broadcasters the euphoria (nice!) after victory was soon replaced by disillusionment.

It’s now an explicit contractual commitment of participation to organise the next contest in the event of victory. Before, when this was just an assumption, the winner declined the honour six times (in 1957, 1960, 1963, 1972, 1974 and 1980), with high costs given as the reason every time except for 1972, when Monaco cited lack of a suitable venue as their excuse.

These days there’s no getting out of it, however broadcasters are not obliged to demonstrate their ability to organise the contest  as a condition of participation. Does every country have the necessary infrastructure and/or financial resources?

Russian roulette

Following Azerbaijan’s victory in 2011 many asked whether the country – which had been very keen to win – had the right infrastructure. This question proved justified, as there was no suitable venue, however there was (oil) money, and a brand new arena was built. As far as we know there are no oil reserves under Moldavian, Lithuanian or Slovenian soil.

In 2013 Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia and Portugal did not participate in the contest due to high costs, and this year Croatia, Cyprus and Serbia are citing the same reason for staying at home for at least a year. Serbian broadcaster RTS announced in September that they had decided not to participate as they couldn’t make the budget work – participation would cost €350K, with only €200K expected to be recovered from sponsorship and advertising.

If participation costs – a fraction of the cost of organising the contest – are too expensive, one can ask whether some broadcasters are playing Russian roulette by participating. For example, what would have happened if one of those staying at home this year had won in 2013?

The cost

If money is no problem you can build yourself an arena (or fix up a dilapidated shed) like the Azerbaijanis did after their victory in 2011, or turn the contest into a high tech showcase by renting 2000m² LED displays (Moscow 2009).

It goes without saying that the budget determines both possibilities and limitations. Belgian broadcaster RTBF, who organised the festival in 1987, are reported to have carried the resulting debt for 20 years, and RTS had to borrow some five million euros at commercial rates to finance the 2008 show.

However, broadcasters can almost always count on a more than decent cash injection from (local) government (or, Danish style, from licence payers). Thus, of the total budget of about 42 million euros for the 2009 contest more than half, about 23 million, came from the Russian state. The organising broadcaster also receives financial support from the EBU, derived from the contributions of participating countries.

The size of the arena can also contribute to broadcaster pressures, particularly when errors are made in estimating ticket revenues. In 2010 NRK overestimated sales. During the semi-finals and rehearsals the venue was barely half full, a result of uncertainties over flights – a few week before Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull had brought air traffic across the whole of Europe to a standstill (events, dear boy…).

As a comment left on the post states, in the event of a victory maybe small countries should have the courage to keep things small. Or use a existing venue. 

Eyjafjallajökull, 27 March 2010
photo: Henrik Thorburn
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