Turin Around: Non-Capital Cities and Eurovision Hosting

aerial view of city buildings

After Italy won Eurovision 2021, a number of major cities started bidding to host the contest. Not only the expected suspects, like Rome, Milan, and Bologna; but also some surprising candidates, like Sanremo. After months of waiting, along with fears from the fandom about how slow the Italian broadcaster was working (“host city when”?), on October 8, RAI announced that Turin would be the host of the 66th Eurovision Song Contest in 2022.

Located near the Alps in northwest Italy, Turin is a substantial yet overlooked city within Italy. The host city of the 2006 Winter Olympics, Turin is known for its collection of art from across the centuries. It’s the home of the famous football club Juventus FC, and its rival Torino FC. Plus, the silent film Cabiria, which was shot in Turin, was the first of its kind distributed across the world.

Turin’s selection also involves an interesting trend—along with Tel Aviv in 2019 and Rotterdam in 2021, Turin marks the third straight year where Eurovision would not take place in the capital city of a country. This marks the first time since 1957-1958-1959 (Frankfurt-Hilversum-Cannes) where this happened at Eurovision. Looking forward to it, it’s not only a piece of trivia, but also a note to what Eurovision could be for the future.

How Capitals Function Within Europe:

Compared to other capital cities across the world; European ones are smaller, with Moscow having the largest population with 12.1 million people in 2016—slightly larger than London and Paris. Despite this, especially in larger cities across the continent, their significance still lingers in terms of development.

For Paris and London, the other two European capitals which have more than ten million people, they show very centric development in relation to their countries, with Parisians having 64% higher GDP/capita than the average French person and having a significant center in the creative economy. Despite having two major urban areas in the Midlands and the Northwest in Liverpool and Manchester, London still has the largest population and most of the people are concentrated in the southeast of England.

The role of the capital ranges from relatively small (1.4% of the German population lives in Berlin), to assuming all of the state (e.g. Malta and Cyprus). In Italy’s case, Rome only has about 7% of the Italian population. In addition, Italy has a balanced distribution of urban conglomerates, with Milan in the north and Napoli to the south. Milan, thanks to its history in design and its concentration of universities and events, was one of three cities which outperform Rome in the creative economy, one of only eight EU countries where this phenomenon happens.

While the bidding process involves determining what venue would be the most suitable for a huge event, it also hints about how major cities can benefit from the contest. For most of the 2000s, countries like Latvia, Greece, and Serbia held the contest in their own capital. When considering where to host Eurovision 2020 (later 2021), one reason Amsterdam took out its bid was how to handle other conferences that year. A pertinent issue, however, was tourism peaked for them in 2019, 21.7 million people visited Amsterdam—a city of just under 900,000 people.

While not the global city Amsterdam is, including having only 1.2 million visitors in 2019, Rotterdam still stands out in the Netherlands. Through their multicultural population, its status as one of Europe’s biggest ports, and its resurrection as a bustling city after the Second World War, adds to the city’s charm and attracts attention, ultimately gaining the right to host Eurovision for 2020. Because of the pandemic, any success for Rotterdam’s tourist sector was quite limited, but they still managed to get 30,000 tourists to come into Ahoy for the different shows and provided tours for the delegations. With a bit of creativity, a different host city could pull its own weight

Jerusalem Prays, Tel Aviv Plays—a Case Study

For their first two Eurovisions, Israel held them in Jerusalem, which the government considers their “eternal capital”. The 1979 Contest was held days after the Camp David Accords, in which Israel established relations with Egypt; whereas the 1999 Contest saw modernization within the contest and hope for the new millennium, ending with the contestants singing “Hallelujah” for the victims of the Balkan Wars.

When Netta won Eurovision 2018 with “Toy”, the bidding process became more contested. Just days afterward, the U.S. government moved their embassy to Jerusalem. Selecting Tel Aviv over Jerusalem ended that battle, albeit with discord amongst those in the capital, though they were unable to convey how the EBU would handle hosting over the Shabbat and other concerns. This is where Tel Aviv came into play: established in 1910, its secular position in Israeli society not only neutralized the Shabbat question, but also presented another face to the country.

Compared to other Israeli cities, it is not rooted in ancient history, but is better known as a modern Jewish city since the destruction of the Temple. Leaning more towards Western Europe than the rest of the country, the inhabitants look to mimic it and impress them with their sense of chic. This has extended back to the 1930s, when a wave of European refugees arrived and the city saw the construction of the Bauhaus-influenced white buildings that became ubiquitous today.

Despite 10,000 people coming to Tel Aviv for Eurovision, half the tickets went unsold for the grand final, and didn’t give the clear tourism boost the city expected. On the other hand, conferences saw potential in Tel Aviv because of it. Holding only 43 international conferences in 2018, Israel saw its potential in that realm expand, as security issues became less of an issue.

For Turin:

Before Covid-19 struck, Italy saw an increase in tourism in 2019 by 6.2% to 44 billion Euros, with most of their visitors coming from Germany, Austria, and the United States. Of these visitors, almost 30% of them traveled to the center of the country, because of the vibrancy of art in the area. That said, the north and northwest regions also garnered an increase at the center’s cost, one of which includes Turin.

Turin’s notable moment in the limelight was in hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics, which was partially a way to bolster tourism. Beforehand, most people visited Turin for business, with only 20% coming over for leisure. Once considered an “industrial” city and a “one-brand town” despite its attempts to shake off their reputation, the residents of Turin developed pride in hosting the games, expecting it to garner some positive benefits. By the end, 84% of its population surveyed believed that Turin would at least “somewhat” create a new image of itself as a visitor-friendly city.

This also has backing with statistics—only getting about 1,000,000 tourists prior to the games, the number exploded to 6,000,000 afterwards, becoming one of Italy’s most visited cities. Their “city/mountain” hosting strategy helped through keeping events within the same geographical area, as well as having the “20 March 2006” initiative to maintain their stadiums. Combined with further engagement in winter sports, nine years later Turin was named the European Capital of Sport.

However, struggles remain, especially coming out of the pandemic. High prices for lower-profile exhibitions, Fiat leaving, and the economic downturn stripped Turin of its once-shiny glow as a viable tourist destination. But since 2006, Turin has made itself more relevant, including being named a Global City in 2018.

The obstacles are there, along with the opportunities of a non-capital city hosting Eurovision. By going out of the comfortable, it can provide a new face to the country, and ease off pressure from already loaded cities. If this continues as the trend, smaller countries may struggle, and that may put the whole thing off. But through time, it will help with Eurovision’s main ideal–to bring the continent together; through telling a country’s story, the work of their other cities can do it well.

Published by Elda Mengisto

Frequent writer, aspiring scholar, occasional fencer. I'm a lover of all things beautiful and light.

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