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Tampere, The Wannabe Eurovision Host City Written by on February 13, 2024

The team from Visit Tampere organised a press day of activities to go alongside the city’s hosting of Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu this weekend. Ben Robertson has boots on the frozen ground in Finland to learn more about why the city has jumped on the Eurovision bandwagon and brands itself as the “Wannabe Eurovision Host City.”

Visit Tampere decided to put on a show for a minibus full of foreign journalists attending Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu, Finland’s selection show for Eurovision 2024. With a packed itinerary of museum visits, kick-sledding in minus twenty degrees and scrumptious vegan lunch and dinner offerings, this multinational gaggle was treated to the very best that Tampere could offer.

Lunch was at the Villit ja Viinit which specialises in foraged foods and wines (Image: Ravintola Kajo, Visit Tampere)

The local tourist board using their country’s National Final as a quest to brand their city or region is rare. We wrote last year about Benidorm’s strategy, where ESC Insight was invited to spend a week in the city alongside Benidorm Fest, but also to learn about the tourist offerings on the Costa Blanca.

Benidorm and Tampere are not just at the complete opposite ends of the thermometer this time of year, they are also vastly different in terms of the position they have in the tourist industry. Benidorm is a city fully dependent on tourism to provide the majority of the city’s income, and with 44,000 hotel rooms within the city, Benidorm Fest was one of many events the city is aiming to run during the winter months when hotels are not at full capacity.

Tampere has around 4,000 hotel rooms. What has possessed Finland’s third largest city to brand itself as the Wannabe Eurovision Host City?

4,000 Rooms Yet 13,000 Seats

It raised a few eyebrows when in late July 2023 it was announced that Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu was moving to the Nokia Arena in Tampere.

The year before the event was held in Turku, in the Logomo complex with just 1,500 attendees in the hall to watch Käärijä’s coronation as the Finnish representative for Eurovision.

Now it wasn’t a surprise that Finnish broadcaster Yle saw the opportunity after huge interest in Eurovision to grow the scale of their national final. What was surprising was the scale of how big they wanted to go. The Nokia Arena in Tampere isn’t just a bigger venue, it’s the venue in Finland. Officially opening in 2021, the 15,000 capacity arena has held the finals of the World Ice Hockey Championships on two occasions as well as a plethora of big name international acts like Sting and Robbie Williams. And of course it attracts these names, the Nokia Arena is the biggest arena in the entire country.

The Nokia Arena in Central Tampere (Photo: Marko Kallio, Visit Tampere)

It’s a bold move for a modern arena of this scale to have been built in Tampere, with a population of just over 250,000 almost three times less than capital Helsinki. However one can argue there was a gap in the market for a big venue in Finland’s third city with all the conference facilities you can dream of. Firstly there is Finland’s national sport of ice hockey, and the hometown team in Tampere has won the Finnish league 19 times making them the most successful team in Finnish ice hockey history. Furthermore there is the fact that Helsinki’s main venue, which hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2007, is now approaching thirty years old.

The new arena transformed the region’s tourism strategy. Known as ‘Sustainable Steps’, the vision of the city is that by the year 2025 it will be the most interesting city of events and experiences in Northern Europe. The arena, as well as the Congress and Events District that surrounds it, is named as the biggest strength that the city has, as well as a new tram system that began operating in the city in 2021.

Saara Saarteinen, Head of Event from the City of Tampere, spoke about the political desire to make events a part of the city’s new marketing strategy.

“In our strategy, events are really important. All the politicians and civil services are of the same opinion, we want to be an event city, and we are all the time developing.

“We are really paying attention to the facilities, to the venues, and it’s not only about sport. We are not just a cultural city or a sporting city, we are both.”

And what happens when you combine culture and sport in the biggest event of all.

Tampere, Finland’s Eurovision City

For the story of Tampere’s adventure to become the host of UMK 2024 we need to go back to last year. Arguably no country got Eurovision fever more than Finland, where hysteria over the possible success of ‘Cha Cha Cha’ took over the nation. Saara recalls how last May, despite the city hosting said Ice Hockey World Championships, the Central Square was packed with thousands of fans, all dressed in green, to cheer the eventual televote winner home.

“It was a night I will never forget,” added Saara.

There’s another reason that explains the importance of that night for people like Saara. With Käärijä tipped for victory, broadcaster Yle had been talking to prospective cities in Finland about hosting. Not only was Käärijä publicly recommending Tampere as a suitable Eurovision host city but Marko Hurme, CEO at the Nokia Arena, had commented that they would welcome the opportunity should it happen to the city, with broadcaster Yle had started preliminary conversations with prospective host cities in the country.

Rival fans from Sweden and Finland embracing on their way into the Nokia Arena (Photo: Marko Kallio, Visit Tampere)

How far had plans been made? “Not too far,” exclaimed Saara, explaining how it was typical Finnish mentality not to plan too much or expect that the best case scenario will happen.

However, while those plans may have been very small last May, there’s also something about the Finnish mentality that means, as soon as you start even making the smallest of possible plans, you want to make them a reality.

Arriving in Tampere for UMK this year doesn’t feel like I’m attending another National Final. It’s like arriving for the Song Contest.

The Wannabe Eurovision Host City

Around the city, there are so many features that don’t happen when your standard National Final comes to town. The UMK pink and purple colours decorate the cityscape, be it projected onto the tallest buildings or lighting up the main shopping street, showing every resident that the party is in town. The city had organised a special UMK party tram on the day of the show to take passengers on a ride along the tram network while partying to fans’ favourite Eurovision hits, and on even the normal trams pink bow ties on the drivers are a sign that UMK is coming to Tampere. What’s particularly unique is the collaboration and Eurovision branding of numerous restaurants, bars, museums and even the city library to celebrate this special week.

Yes, all these fringe events outside of a National Final are rare, but Visit Tampere’s PR and Media Manager Tuomas Paloneimi notes that it has been easy to “encourage businesses to join this UMK fever”, which is made a lot easier when over two million Finns saw Käärijä’s victory last February in one of the most watched shows on Finnish television.

Tuomas explains that part of the Wannabe Eurovision Host City campaign is to get the city noticed on an international scale. While accommodation figures in Tampere have risen continuously since the pandemic, he notes that “domestic travel is big” yet on an international scale the city is “still getting recognised”, firmly behind the capital Helsinki and Lapland as international tourist destinations in Finland.

The theory is that thanks to the Nokia Arena the city will be able to play host to events that will attract people to the region from further afield. This, in particular, is tied into a more modern approach at tourism to cater for the next generation coming into adulthood. Younger tourists are more likely to be interested in experience tourism; they travel for shorter amounts of time, and desire having a sustainable package whilst on the ground.

UMK could be the event that brings Eurovision fans together, but people who would come to Tampere may also visit the Moomin Museum, skate on the ice, relax in one of the over 60 public saunas in the city or get close to nature on a weekend away. The show might get people interested in coming to the city, and the unique offerings of the city might get them to stay for an extra night or two while coming to the show itself.

Could Tampere Be A Eurovision Host City?

In all likelihood, if Finland had won in Liverpool, we would have been planning trips to Tampere for this coming May. This is especially likely as the arena in Helsinki is currently not being used due to disagreements with the venue’s Russian owners and EU restrictions.

In terms of arena, we would be in safe hands. The Nokia Arena is a striking modern venue that would be perfect for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest. It is also perfectly located, roughly just a wee uphill saunter from the train station. Instead, the other parts of the city would be a challenge to co-ordinate.

The most obvious challenge would be accommodation. Now, Tampere’s 4,000 hotel rooms are roughly the same number as Malmö has available for this year’s competition, but the proximity of the Malmö Arena to Copenhagen reduces the accommodation burden on the host city. The nearest major city to Tampere would be the capital, Helsinki, which is a ninety-minute train ride away.

Furthermore, bringing delegations into the city would be a challenge. Proximity to a major international airport is an expected part of the host city offering. While Tampere does have an international airport, there are only a handful of flights a day to a very limited group of destinations. The combination of flight access and hotel accommodation does mean that should Tampere want to accommodate anywhere even close to the 306,000 visitors that Liverpool received at Eurovision 2024, it is likely to need to collaborate with other regions in the country to make it a reality.

But Tampere does have something that all great host cities have. Desire and passion for the Song Contest and a tourism strategy based around hosting events and attaching unique experiences to the side of it. UMK has given us a taste of the creativity the team has here to put on a good show for the Eurovision community.

And, if Finland doesn’t get to host anytime soon, I half suspect they may still have UMK here again, seeing as though both the dress rehearsal and live show were sell-out events this year in this futuristic arena. Should that happen, I suspect the city will once again embrace UMK with the same vigour as they have done this year, and the combination of city and event should be high up on the calendar of any adventure-seeking Eurovision fan.

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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