Why Newcastle can and should host Eurovision

This morning the NewcastleGateshead Initiative confirmed it is delivering a bid on behalf of Newcastle City Council to host the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. In what might be considered by many to be an outsider bid, Newcastle is a city that quietly but confidently ticks the necessary boxes needed to host the world’s biggest music competition. 

Owing to the EBU’s decision to strip Ukraine of the right to host Eurovision next year, runner-up the United Kingdom was handed the opportunity instead. After some initial reluctance on the surface, the BBC agreed and opened up a bidding process last month. Loud noises were made by cities including Glasgow, Manchester and London, but Newcastle also whispered its way into contention. 

The city doesn’t have a lot of Eurovision parallels. Born in Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, internationally renowned songwriter and producer Steve Robson wrote Germany’s 2012 entry Standing Still. The city’s football team Newcastle United featured in Croatia’s postcard during the 1998 contest – scoring a goal, might I add – when Eurovision was last hosted in the UK. Other than these insubstantial links, Newcastle has – until now – been a world away from the uniqueness, glamour and extravagance of Eurovision. 

Newcastle United appearing during Eurovision 1998

The necessary requirements

The ultimate prerequisite for any city bidding to host Eurovision is having an arena capable of accommodating at least 10,000 spectators. Newcastle’s Utilita Arena (or Metro Radio Arena to those of a certain age) has a capacity of 11,000 for concerts so there wouldn’t be a problem squeezing Eurovision in. The arena is a go-to destination for internationally adored performers singing in the UK with Dua Lipa, Little Mix and Bryan Adams having already sold out the venue in 2022. George Ezra and Kendrick Lamar are also due to appear there before the year is out too. 

The backstage area of the arena, however, is relatively small, but a temporary structure could be erected in the large on-site car park to act as a press centre, à la Copenhagen 2014. 

Newcastle’s Utilita Arena | Image: Callum Rowe

No events are currently scheduled to take place at the Utilita Arena between April 28 and June 2, 2023. The Magic Mike Arena Tour on April 27 may need to be rescheduled to make way for staff to begin rigging the arena weeks ahead of Eurovision fortnight, but this is the only show that would need to be disrupted. Proposed arenas in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield would face much more upheaval of their current schedule. 

Second only to a suitably large arena to host the event is the need to be within easy reach of an international airport. Newcastle International Airport ensures the city’s bid meets this criterion. What will certainly be looked at in the bid’s favour is that the airport counts 21 Eurovision participating countries among its destination list. 

Getting to and from the airport is as simple as it gets with as many as five trains an hour running on the Tyne and Wear Metro system to each station. The journey time to the city centre is just 20 minutes with the city of Sunderland 25 minutes south of Newcastle on the same Metro line. This additional link to another world class events city is another box ticked, especially for meeting the need of high hotel room occupancy. 

Tyne and Wear Metro beacon decorated in solidarity with Ukraine at Newcastle Central Station | Image: Callum Rowe

In addition to the air links to and from Europe, and the inter-city Metro links from the airport, Newcastle can boast other national and international travel links. The A1 road that connects Edinburgh to London runs through Newcastle itself. The East Coast Main Line links the aforementioned capitals of Scotland and England by rail and runs through the city centre. Travelling from each of the other cities that have also presented a bid to host Eurovision next year, it takes just one direct train to reach Newcastle. The city’s Central Station houses a stop on the Metro line too which makes onward travel to other areas of the region for potential accommodation simple. 

Finally, there is a daily ferry route between Amsterdam and Newcastle. A Metro station at the port in North Shields connects it to the city centre too. This sea route offers a greener travel option to the region for fans from mainland Europe. It’s really difficult to argue against the travel situation to the city, in the city and around the city. 

Newcastle is an events city

It might be easy to snub Newcastle as a potential Eurovision host city, and it seems some people already have. Looking at betting markets, YouGov polls and Twitter conversations, many people see it firmly in the shadow of Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham et al. But Newcastle is a renowned events city with a track record of delivering stages for large national and international sporting competitions and cultural affairs to take place. 

Every September the city plays host to the world’s second largest half marathon, the Great North Run. 60,000 professional and amateur runners descend on the city to take part in the charity run which takes in sights in and around the city. The number of participants can’t even be matched by the London Marathon which takes place just a number of weeks after the Great North Run. 

Since 2015 the 52,000 seater football ground St James’ Park has played host to the rugby league Magic Weekend. This event sees 12 different teams from England and France play an entire round of the sport’s Super League over two days in front of a weekend attendance of 60,000+. 

In 2019 not only did St James’ Park host the European Rugby Champions Cup Final between Saracens and Leinster that generated £24million for the local economy, the city and Tyne River-sharing town of Gateshead played host to the 22nd edition of the World Transplant Games. The region welcomed visitors from more than 50 countries for the games which increased hotel room occupancy by 13% year-on-year. 

In 2021 the Gateshead International Stadium staged two meetings of the World Athletics Diamond League, the only city to host twice in the same year. These meetings put the region on the same roster as capital cities including Doha, Stockholm and Paris that also staged events. 

Later this year Newcastle will welcome rugby league fans once again but this time it will be for the sport’s blue riband event, the World Cup. St James’ Park will stage the opening ceremony as well as the tournament’s opening match between England and Samoa. 

Culture, food, sport and nightlife

Other than the three live televised shows, two weeks of rehearsals, interviews and press events taking place in the arena and on its complex, the host city must be able to provide entertainment for music-hungry fans for a full fortnight. Thankfully, Newcastle is the place to be for nightlife, partying and entertainment. Every Google search result agrees that the nightlife in Newcastle is unrivalled by every other city in the UK, so Eurovision fans can be guaranteed a euphoric atmosphere whether they hit the EuroClub or not. And no, we’re not all like the characters from Geordie Shore. 

Partying every night isn’t on everybody’s agenda. Newcastle and the surrounding region has more to offer those looking for different activities away from the arena. Newcastle is football crazy so a trip to St James’ Park for a Newcastle United game might be the escapism some people might crave for a day (if you can get tickets, that is).

The city is a hotbed for live music and has a number of independent venues fit to host musicians and their fans: Zerox, The Cluny, NX, Riverside, Bobiks, Think Tank? and Little Buildings are all ideal places to sample local music. Also, imagine your favourite Eurovision participant doing a surprise gig at one of these venues during Eurovision fortnight. 

Just over the River Tyne is Gateshead which boasts the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts and the live music venue Sage. 

Sage Gateshead | Image: Callum Rowe

Nearby seaside towns of Whitley Bay and Tynemouth offer up escapism on a different level. The towns’ beaches are marvelled by many while their streets are a hub thriving with independent food and drink establishments. 

And look, Newcastle is the friendliest city in the UK. So, if you don’t like football, partying, live music, modern art, museums, beaches or the coast, you can be guaranteed to be greeted with a smile. 

There’s so much more to add but why not let Sky Sports stalwart Jeff Stelling do the hard yards here? 

Jeff Stelling sells Newcastle in passionate rant

Government intervention

The BBC has said that the final decision on which city hosts Eurovision will be taken by the corporation in association with the EBU. However, it also admitted that it may consult the government in advance of the final decision itself. How much of a say the government might want in deciding which city is the chosen one is unknown, but a new administration is set to take office early next month and its agenda may include helping place Eurovision in a strategically political city. 

The initial concerns for a new Prime Minister certainly won’t be the contest – the crippling cost of living crisis rightfully takes precedence – but Conservative Party leadership hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak may want to appease North East voters by giving their blessing to Newcastle to host Eurovision. In turn, this would inevitably bring a multi-million pound cash injection into the region that has been financially stifled since Brexit. After all, it would be a welcome vote of confidence in the north, it would look great for the record of the incoming Prime Minister to have faith in Newcastle and it would give some much needed rejuvenation to the government’s own levelling up programme. 

As the final decision is taken by the BBC and the EBU, those hopeful of a Newcastle Eurovision may feel more confident given the BBC is going through a phase of decentralisation from the country’s capital. Theoretically this gives Newcastle an instant edge over one other contender. 

True, other cities away from London that have thrown their hats into the ring to welcome Eurovision next year can boast similar attributes that might make them excellent hosts, but Newcastle and Gateshead’s pedigree for hosting national and international events with large single day and multi day crowds cannot be overlooked. As it is a contender for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, does Newcastle deserve to have the same level of attention and seriousness given to its bid as the other cities in contention? Why aye, man!

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