Professor Joe Goldblatt
Nearly seventy years ago a television spectacular was launched with seven nations participating. The United Kingdom sent apologies stating that they were too busy with their own cultural programmes and could not participate.
Fast foward to the present day and we see the United Kingdom eager to host Eurovision 2023 and there is now a scramble to find an appropriate host city with Scotland particularly keen to welcome thousands of fans and billions of viewers to this over the top spectacular.
The cost of hosting Eurovision is significant and has been estimated to range from £10 to £40 million and perhaps even more. The controversy regarding these costs has also increased in recent years with local tax payers asking, appropriately, what do they actually receive in return for their largess?
In the history of mega or major events such as the Olympic Games, there has never been a definitive long term study of the economic impacts of these events as being benefitial to the destination that hosted the event. Most economic benefits are actually short term and are derived from tourism and increased local temporary employment associated with the event.
However, in addition to the economic, social, cultural and in recent years, environmental impact considerations I have identified another impact that I believe trumps all of them.
The Glampact value from the improved branding, improvement of the destination in terms of external image making, and increased focus upon culture and particularly live entertainment may ultimately become in Scotland the primary positive impact from hosting this very expensive event.
Glamour is defined as an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing. Traditionally this term has been associated with aesthetics such as hair styles or haute couture in women’s clothing. I believe this term may now be applied to destinations such as Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.
The term mega event was coined by Professor Colin Hall and generally refers to large-scale cultural or sports events that have usually at least a national profile and impact, and often an international one. In addition, these events often require the resources of a geographic region or nation to deliver them effectively. This is why many nations designate a host destination and then apply resources from the entire nation to support the mega event bid. If it is awarded by the sanctioning body such as in the case of Eurovision the European Broadcast Union, resources will continue to flow from the region and nation to deliver the event.
When destinations such as Scotland’s major cities decide to submit a bid to host Eurovision is will be preceded by an internal discussion among civic leaders and key stakeholders regarding the trade offs of hosting such an event and at what opportunity cost for the rest of the civic or national budget. Civic leaders are constantly under increased pressure to provide additional funding for health care, education, and security, as well as leisure services, culture and much more. Therefore, when hosting Eurovision, these funds may need to be shifted in the short term to pay for the bread and circuses of a mega event.
Therefore, the argument that must be effectively made by civic leaders is that the investment will accrue significant short, medium and long term benefits for the host destination to provide an agreed upon return on the investment. Although this is very difficult to measure, recent research has confirmed that there are potentially at least four benefits of hosting Eurovision.
Firstly, there is the benefit of participating in a pan European event and demonstrating a unity of spirit with other countries.
Second, there is the potential for increasing the host destination’s civic pride and confidence from hosting such a major event that generates world wide attention. The title of Eurovision City is is significant and similar to Olympic City in terms of international recognition of a city that has successfully welcomed the world in a positive manner.
Third, there are the short term economic benefits that include new employment, increased footfall and accommodation demand from tourism, improved infrastructure, and also the potential for external investment through commercial sponsorship of the event.
In addition to these big three benefits for Scotland’s major cities there are also significant political benefits that may accrue from the honour of hosting Eurovision. Kyiv, Ukraine, the winner of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest would ordinarily have hosted the 2023 event. However, due to the protracted war that opportunity has been shifted to the second place winner, the United Kingdom. If Scotland were to succeed in being awarded the Eurovision competition event it may demonstrate to its European neighbours that despite the disruption caused by Brexit, the United Kingdom wishes to continue to support the family of European nations. Even more importantly for Scots, who voted 62 percent to remain in the European Union, this is an opportunity to open the door even wider to admission to the EU if Scotland is successful in its quest for independence.
Therefore, there are many challenges and opportunities in feverish play as the United Kingdom and her Scottish major cities decide if, how and when to submit a bid to perhaps one day achieve a lasting glampact from hosting the world’s equally loved and hated over the top spectacular known as the Eurovision Song Contest 2023.
Over seventy years ago the United Kingdom and Edinburgh faced a similar decision when Sir Rudolf Bing successfully convinced citizens and their civic leaders that a festival of music, drama, and dance could create a platform for the flowering of the human spirit following the extensive devastation of World War Two. The citizens and civic leaders grabbed this opportunity with both hands and full hearts and in 2022 we shall commemorate the seventy – fifth anniversary of this internationally recognised and respected cultural phenomenon.
Could 2023 be a similar threshold moment for our country? It is my fondest hope that we will once again rise up and with both hands and full hearts embrace this opportunity as one that may be truly transformational for our future. As many other bid cities have discovered, even if we lose the opportunity to host this mega event during the bidding process, we shall have won new confidence that we may summon the aspiration and ambition to be considered a major player in terms of hosting future international cultural events.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. To learn about his other views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot