Since yesterday’s announcement, much has been made of Swedish broadcaster SVT’s surprise decision to hold the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 in Sweden’s third-largest city of Malmö. A smaller city, with less accommodation options and the smallest arena since 2007, the decision had many puzzled. Not only that, the city and venue is of course located just a stone’s throw away across the Öresund from the Danish capital Copenhagen – even more telling is that the estimated travel time by public transport from Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport to the 15,000+ seat Malmö Arena is shorter than getting from Malmö’s own airport.
While the fact that the location is close enough for some fans to claim that the contest is practically in Denmark, a multinational, multicultural extravaganza like Eurovision is a boon for a city which has suffered from its fair share of bad press, most notably for ethnic tensions which have plagued the city’s outer suburbs and its reputation at home and abroad for a number of years.
SVT’s previous penchant for rotating hosting duties amongst the country’s three largest cities initially played in the minds of some, noting that it would be Gothenburg’s turn after Stockholm’s hosting of the contest in 2000. However, even its own national final Melodifestivalen abandoned the concept in 2002 so given the right circumstances, one could assume that it would be thrown out the window in favour of a more calculated decision. In the end, Gothenburg ended up abandoning its bid for hosting rights of the world’s largest song contest, with its main indoor venue Scandinavium being occupied during the provisional dates set by the European Broadcasting Union.
Despite one contender bowing out of the race early, the decision was still likely to have been a hard one for SVT. While the concurrent World Hockey Championships and a strain on accommodation were an early sticking point for the Swedish capital, Stockholm held the rest of Europe’s – and probably Sweden’s – expectations, and offered a new venue in the form of the massive Friends Arena, which is said to seat over 60,000 in concert configuration.
In the end though, it may have been the sheer size of the arena that counted against it. Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet reported yesterday that Thomas Perslund, CEO of the Friends Arena, had said that SVT were worried that the arena would be simply too big. This was confirmed by SVT’s Eva Hamilton who said in an interview with Sveriges Radio, “it’s small, and we know that for a reasonable cost we can do an excellent TV production”. Those that can recall the contest in Denmark in 2001 will remember the huge Parken Stadium being decidedly lacking in atmosphere, and leaving many with the empty feeling that bigger isn’t always better.
If the EBU didn’t have direct influence in the decision, they will undoubtedly be pleased with SVT’s announcement, after they declared during their press conference at this year’s contest in Baku, Azerbaijan, that they would be looking to see the contest reduce in size and scale in the coming years. This was primarily over concerns that Eurovision was turning into an almost tit-for-tat contest between nations about who could hold the biggest contest, with huge, multi-million Euro budgets becoming the new norm. Sympathetic, and probably more pliable Scandinavian broadcasters would be an ideal target for active reduction in the scale of the contest, having less to gain from the contest than countries such as Serbia, Russia and Azerbaijan, who viewed the contest as a way to show themselves off to the rest of Europe, and indeed, the world. Furthermore, it paves the way for smaller nations to be able to host the contest without the massive contrast that would undoubtedly come should the contest ever be held in one of the number of Eurovision nations without even medium sized arenas.
The decision is still worrisome for many fans, who fear not only for a dramatic reduction in the availability of tickets in a much smaller arena, but also woes in finding nearby accommodation and a dilution of the “Eurovision spirit” with fans already scoping out plans for and booking hotels in the Danish capital instead of Malmö, which was quickly booked out in mere hours after the announcement went public. And while the Danes might also be rubbing their hands with glee at the announcement, Malmö’s “victory” might be justice for the city after having been abandoned by big-brother Stockholm in co-hosting duties for the World Hockey Championships in favour of Helsinki. And for fans – well, the host city is only one small part of the Eurovision tale. What we can expect from Malmö and the Eurovision Song Contest 2013, only time will tell.