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Monday, December 4, 2023

Mamma mia, here they go again. War and inflation on the pricey road to Eurovision Song Contest in 2023.

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It’s the biggest and strangest live-music event on the planet, and the odds are pointing to Sweden as the hot favorite to win Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, after Åkersberga-native 2012 victor Loreen cruised to the finals with the love ballad “Tattoo.”

That may help put history on the side of the six-time-champion country that produced the 67-year-old contest’s most successful winner of all time — Abba and the disco hit “Waterloo” in 1974.

The legendary Swedish group could be viewed as an everlasting draw for other European countries. Thanks in large part to Abba’s overnight success, Sweden became the world’s third-biggest music exporting country, creating something of a money-money-money high-water mark in the largest global music competition.

“What happened in the next 10 years changed lives,” Johan Hakelius, the political editor in chief of Fokus, Sweden’s leading current-events weekly, wrote in 2021. “The lives of the four members of Abba and of Stikkan Andersson, but it can be argued it permanently changed more or less every Swede’s life.”

Though hardly the highest-grossing band ever, Abba’s net worth was estimated at upward of $900 million as of this month, according to Wealthypersons.com. An enduring legend, the Abba Voyage virtual London concert featuring the original four has sold over a million tickets since its launch last year and now plans a global tour.

Yet Eurovision’s star may have faded somewhat, as only 37 countries will compete this year, the lowest number since 2014, in part due to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Last year’s emotional contest was won by Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra with “Stefania,” adopted as a rallying cry for a country torn asunder by the full-scale Russian invasion only weeks earlier. That deadly conflict, now nearing its 450th day, has sparked soaring inflation across Europe, hampering the postpandemic economic recovery.

Kalush Orchestra auctioned off the Eurovision trophy — a glass microphone — for $900,000 to help fund the defense of their country.

Russia, a big Eurovision spender and one-time winner, has been banned due to its invasion, and that has meant other countries have had to contribute more to the production, the BBC reported. The Balkan countries North Macedonia and Montenegro pulled out last year due to registration costs, rumored to be about $5.4 million per country. The same reason was believed to be behind Bulgaria’s withdrawal this year, though the country hasn’t confirmed that speculation.

Eurovision is co-produced by 40 European public broadcasters, which augment the spectacle’s budget, alongside the host country’s public broadcaster, national and international sponsors, ticket-sales revenues, and a host-city contribution. Europe’s “big five” — the U.K., Germany, Spain, Italy and France — automatically qualify for the final because their broadcasters contribute the most financially.

For the host broadcaster, the stakes can be even higher for a successful show drawing many tens of millions of viewers. Michela Favaro, deputy mayor of Turin, Italy, told the BBC last year that costs to Turin, last year’s Eurovision host city, totaled some $12 million, but said “what you get back from the investment is much higher.” As well, though, she said the country would have struggled to justify the expenditure had a cost-of-living crisis emerged earlier in the year.

Turin’s chamber of commerce reported that the contest brought in €100 million — €23 million from tourism and an equivalent of €66 million in international advertising for the city. The city’s visitor figures were up 18%, and 52% of tourists said they had come to Turin for the first time, with 59% saying they’d be back.

The European Broadcasting Union’s Brand Impact Report in 2022 showed 161 million watched last year’s show and that the 40 competing songs were streamed more than 544 million times.

The contest that started with seven countries in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1956, is expected to draw 160 million viewers worldwide this year, roughly on par with last year’s viewership, which was reportedly lower due to Russia’s exclusion from the competition and a decline in viewers in the under-attack Ukraine.

This year’s host, Liverpool, will likely be watching closely. The Merseyside city in England’s northwest is holding Eurovision court this year as a stand-in for last year’s winner, Ukraine, but Ukraine is still the No. 3 favorite to repeat as winner. The BBC is expected to pay between £8 million and £17 million ($10 million and $21 million) to stage the event. The BBC reported that organizers are predicting a £30 million ($37.5 million) impact on the local economy.

A study from marketing intelligence group the Data Appeal Company, estimated that overall spending on the May 13 final alone will reach $914,67. Hotel prices surged from £450 to £8,000 per night once the announcement was made on the host city, they noted.

Research from MoneyTransfers.com last year found that host countries have been tightening up on Eurovision spending over the past 10 years. The report estimated Turin’s costs at €16.3 million ($17.8 million), but a fraction of the €60 million spent by the Caucasus country Azerbaijan, which splashed out an extra €100 million to build a stadium when it hosted the contest in 2012.

“There has been a fair bit of debate and even research over the years into whether hosting Eurovision is worth the money. No winning country has refused to host [the following year] since Israel in 1980, but there has certainly been speculation that some cross their fingers that their acts won’t come top of that famous leaderboard,” said Jonathan Merry, CEO of MoneyTransfers.com, at the time of the survey’s publication last May.

Eurovision’s second semifinals on Thursday saw the 9th favored act from Austria advance to the finals, alongside countries including Belgium, Slovenia and Australia. After Sweden, neighboring Finland’s bare-chested rapper Käärijä is the bookmaker’s second favorite, with his party anthem “Cha cha cha,” followed by the national contestants from Ukraine, France and Spain.

Semifinalists were picked by the public, and the final will be determined both by the public and a jury of music industry professionals.

The contest counts for audience generation and monetization on its official entertainment partner, the social-media group TikTok, which had counted over 1 billion video views for the 2023 contest by May 2. U.S. viewers can tune in to the show via NBCUniversal’s Peacock, operated by Comcast
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Eurovision’s most famous winner beyond Abba? The Canadian-born Céline Dion, who scored a victory in 1988 for two-time winner Switzerland with a French-language song performed in Dublin.

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