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Spanish Eurofans: The Ultras of The Eurovision Song Contest Community Written by on February 4, 2023

Benidorm this weekend is packed with Eurovision fans across the city, whether they have tickets or not fans are here in their droves to celebrate the Spanish selection show for Eurovision in Liverpool. But what is it about the Spanish fans that make them travel in such numbers and provided the loudest and most passionate community in the Eurovision world? Ben Robertson tries to understand…

I’m sitting right at the back of Benidorm’s Palau Municipal d’Esports watching the semi finals. I’ve heard from a fellow journalist that the venue tonight is able to hold around 2,000 people, of which about half of them are standing tight around the stage with the others on the benches either side. While the staging effort and size might be comparable to the Eurovision Song Contest, with plenty of pyro and props for seemingly every act, the venue itself is very much National Final.

But this National Final hits differently. I took the time during one of the performances to close my eyes for a second and listen. The crowd here in Benidorm fed on every possible scrap of gimmick, dance, vocal flourish, charisma or joy that shined from that stage and gave unimaginable amounts of love to the acts on stage. Listening alone you would be mistaken for thinking that this sports hall contained 20,000 of the Eurovision communities’ most vocal supporters. And many of those had been on their feet for hours, we saw queues forming to get into the venue while the afternoon rehearsals were still ongoing.

It got me thinking, the Spanish Eurovision fans are surely the most passionate Eurovision fans in our community.

The Benidorm Streets Are Buzzing

For those coming here for Benidorm Fest there is something much like a mini-Eurovision squeezing in around the skyscrapers. While the show itself is in a small venue and tickets for the final sold out within one minute, there are numerous venues for Eurovision dancing into the early hours all week and an open air concert this Friday will feature former and current Benidorm Fest and Eurovision artists from home and abroad.

I meet up with Jakob Traxler and took a Coca-Cola on the terrace of the KU Lounge Bar. This is the venue for the Benidorm version of the EUROFansCLUB, Jakob’s private venture to provide a space for Eurovision fans which we saw in Turin and has plans for Liverpool. I ask him to explain what it is organise Eurovision events in Spain compared to other countries while the big screen plays ‘Woki Mit Deim Popo‘ in the background.

“Spain is different from Europe in terms of hours, the day is structured differently. In the UK or Turin dinner is at least two hours earlier, so things here start after midnight.

But when fans are showing up they immediately come with a party feeling. At the Turin parties the first hours took some time until the crowd got going and everyone was hyped up. Here in Spain within two songs you have this feeling.”

Jakob tells me about the event he organised last week in Vienna, where he again noticed this phenomenon that it took a while before everything “got heated up” Suzy, the Portuguese representative at Eurovision 2014, was one of the acts that evening. According to Jakob, Suzy always ensures she starts her sets in northern Europe with an uptempo track, in this case ‘Toy’ by Netta, to ensure she has the crowd on her side. That requirement to set up a show isn’t needed in the same way here in southern Europe.

We see this vibrant passion whenever the Spanish fans are present, no group of Eurovision fans needs a reason more than this one to be loud and proud. Jakob recalls 2018, when Eurovision was held in Lisbon. That weekend of the final it was estimated that over 20,000 Eurovision fans had made the journey to Portugal, with or without tickets, transforming the atmosphere in and around the Song Contest with their presence felt everywhere.

Listen carefully to how loud the reactions are during the Spanish performance that year, despite the song not being close to being considered a favourite to win, it is cheered home by the masses like it’s performing an encore at the end of the night. Watch carefully too and you’ll probably spot, this year and practically every other year, the front rows of Eurovision’s standing area to be dominated by the Spanish fan community, who have likely queued all afternoon to get a spot at the front of the stage.

No other nation has such a group of supporters as the Spanish do.

And this passion isn’t just fleeting and a once-a-year phenomenon but a constant mainstay in the country. The Barcelona Eurovision Party is expecting an audience of 2,500 people this year, with Madrid expecting 3,000. These preview parties have the sufficient mass of Eurovision fans to sustain two events in Spain for years to come. Both of Spain’s biggest cities are home to regular Eurovision nights that arguably give the city as much of a Eurovision loving vibe as London or Stockholm.

What I don’t understand is why and how the Spanish Eurovision community got like this? If we ignore Chanel’s 3rd place in Turin, the previous Spanish results are 24th, 22nd, 23rd, 26th, 22nd and 21st. It is almost like the growth of the fan community here follows an inverse correlation with their Eurovision success. Why is a love of the Song Contest booming in Spain today?

A Twenty Year Old Love Story

I ask this question to Daniel Borrego Escot, a journalist here at Benidrom Fest for broadcaster RTVE. His belief is that the love of Eurovision began twenty years ago.

“I think that the Spanish people, the Spanish Eurofans, first got excited about Eurovision in 2002 with Operatión Triunfo. Lots of people fell in love with Eurovision, people got crazy, and in those years 2002, 2003 and 2004 we finished top 10.”

Operatión Triunfo was more than just a national selection, but a cultural phenomenon of a reality show. Millions of viewers were gripped not just by the weekly performances and eliminations but the drama that unfolded as the acts lived and rehearsed in the same house, “The Academy”.

Daniel now is 28, and still remembers growing up and tuning into the show then. And he isn’t the only follower of Eurovision here in Spain with those childhood memories. If anything, they are turning into the majority. Jakob’s informs me his club nights had an average age in Turin was 38, and in the UK it is 42. Whereas here in Spain the average age is 25, with a higher proportion of females. It is the 25-year-old Spanish Eurovision fan who will have had their first exposure to Eurovision through Operatión Triunfo and will deep down have those fond memories of hype and success and a belief that Spain could win.

These people never lost hope that one day Spain again would be at the top,” explains Daniel, “With Chanel people understand that Spain can win Eurovision again. We need to do a good job and it might take 5 or 10 years but Spain can win.”

And of course the hype and buzz that is being given to Benidorm Fest today, by far the biggest selection format that Spain has had since those Operation Triunfo days. The problem with this intense passion for the Song Contest is that, when things turn out the wrong way, that passion fires back.

The Double Edged Sword

It is easy to remember the inaugural Benidorm Fest with rose-tinted glasses. If anything the immediate aftermath of the show was one of the most controversial in all of Eurovision history. Chanel won the national selection having been unfancied in the build up between the juggernauts from Rigoberta Bandini and Tanxugueiras. The Spanish public placed Chanel a distant third in the public vote last year, with just 3.97% of the vote, whereas the top two with the public commanded a whopping 88.83% of the vote. However Benidorm Fest’s voting system is weighed only 25% to the public vote, and instead it was the five person jury which gave Chanel the victory, that Tanxugueiras couldn’t overcome despite landsliding the televote and demoscopic jury of the public at home.

The fury afterwards was flung in whatever direction it could be. At last year’s Winner’s Press Conference  Chanel was left alone, without anybody from the broadcaster present, to face the pack of journalists.  Soon after did she became one of the outlets used by the Spanish Eurovision fans to cast their frustrations upon. So hurtful was this backlash against Chanel deleted her Twitter platform to disengage from the hate being thrown at her.

But the Chanel situation is just one of many controversies that have occurred in recent Spanish Eurovision history. Fans in 2008 tried to vote up the seemingly joke entry by El Gato in the MySpace hosted vote to get into the National Final, in response to the humongous lead that Rodolfo Chikilicuatre possessed (controversial in itself by being a character on private channel La Sexta) had in this pre vote. Yet the Spanish broadcaster claimed many of the votes were fraudulent, and Rodolfo eased to a landslide victory in the National Final.

I can also name how two years later the artist John Cobra qualified to the final in similar mean as Rodolfo, and his performance was concluded by jeering from the vocal studio audience and obscene gestures from John Cobra in return. The 2017 National Final saw televote and fan favourite Mirela losing out on a tie-break head-to-head with three jury members to eventual winner Manel Navarro. Such was the fan backlash against their favourite getting the chance to go to Kyiv that the booing and protesting from fans reached such intensity that one of the jurors claimed to have been assualted after the show by a fan.

“We demand,” continues Jakob, “we feel it is our right to demand quality and a good show. In Spain apparently we don’t feel heard, even though the televotes. We think that if we are upset, we are allowed to say this.”

But while the Spanish fan community today will be one of the fastest and loudest to say how they feel, and demand fairness, something about last year’s event means it might be a community we associate with loyalty and support in the future. Jakob believes that the targeting of Chanel after her victory “is never ever going to happen again” and that the community “learnt a lesson to never again fire against the person who won.” It’s been notable here in Benidorm that while yes, the crowd may sound their displeasure at results going against their wishes, the overwhelming feeling is of love and support, and biggest cheers during the results are chants of support for acts who ranked lowly.

One little tweak this year that may also help to temper the mood with the community is the voting system. While still a low 25% of the vote is given as a public televote, the jury has been expanded to eight people. While the jury names include a who’s who of modern Eurovision with former Delegation Heads from Sweden, Italy and Israel, Katrina (yes, of the waves) and William Lee Adams of Wiwibloggs fame, one seat has also been given for the President of OGAE Spain. One would hope this helps provide an increased sense of ownership and involvement in the selection process, rather than a them vs. us process that has dominated Spanish selection drama over the past fifteen years.

The Ultras of Eurovision

There is nowhere else in the Eurovision world with a fanbase that gives as much passion as the Spanish fans. They are the ones who will queue for hours to get to the front, and despite weary legs they will be  jump along the most, cheer the most and give the most love to every act on stage. They are the ones that light up any EuroClub and will be the last to leave. They are the ones that travel in biggest numbers across the continent to cheer their nation – as evidenced by the throngs that travelled all the way to Yerevan for Junior Eurovision.

They are the ones who, dare I say, love the Contest more than any other community in our network. At least they show their love the most. Yes that love has caused controversy in the past, and this community will be vocal when they feel their voice isn’t heard, but now they are conscious of doing so to support the artists who give them such entertainment. Here in Benidorm all I have witnessed is love.

What the English fans are to the football world the Spanish fans are to the Eurovision world,” explained Jakob for the last time.

And I agree. Those legendary stories of thousands of football fans travelling to support their nation, being loud in the stadium, not afraid to criticise yet most importantly being the 12th man to support the team in times of need.

There’s no Eurovision culture quite like the one I’ve seen in Spain. The Spanish Eurovision fans are clearly the Ultras of Eurovision, and I think we the rest of us need to step back and absorb just a slice of their passion.

Disclaimer: ESC Insight’s coverage of Benidorm Fest 2023 is supported by Visit Benidorm; and this article is considered (indirectly) part of that coverage.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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