Thousands attend Eurovision Song Contest 2021
Organisers have hailed as a success the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest, which, with 3,500 Covid-negative live music fans in attendance, was the biggest indoor pilot event held in the Netherlands to date.
The 2021 contest, the first since 2019, concluded at the 16,500-capacity Ahoy arena in Rotterdam on Saturday (22 May), with Italian band Måneskin crowned the winner for their song ‘Zitti e buoni’. In total, 26 countries made it to the final, with all but one (Iceland’s Daði og Gagnamagnið, one of whom tested positive for Covid-19) performing live from the arena on the night.
This year’s competition took the form of a pilot show, welcoming an in-person audience as part of the government-approved Back to Live series, coordinated by pan-industry body Fieldlab Events. To gain entry to the arena, everyone involved – including performers, fans, country delegations, press, staff and crew – had to register a negative Covid-19 test in the previous 48 hours, and then get tested again once on site at the dedicated Eurovision test pavilion (pictured).
In addition, social distancing was enforced throughout the venue, while masks had to be worn whenever people moved around the arena (even performers on their way to the stage).
As a Fieldlab event, no persons deemed to be at risk, such as the elderly, were eligible to apply for tickets – which caused some controversy in the run-up to the show, with former Eurovision winner Getty Kaspers (of Teach-In) among those to criticise the ‘no over-70s’ rule.
“The Eurovision Song Contest is a turning point for me”
Among the fans who were successful in getting tickets, the atmosphere at the Ahoy was celebratory. “Everyone is decked out in flags and costumes with a lot of glitter,” one attendee, Deuss, tells public broadcaster NOS. “The atmosphere is cheerful and exuberant. People here feel that they are the lucky ones.”
Jolanda Jansen, director of Rotterdam Ahoy and a spokesperson for Fieldlab member Alliance of Event Builders, says seeing the arena full of staff and fans was her highlight of Eurovision week.
“The moment that moved me the most was seeing all our colleagues happy at work again,” she tells Tubantia. “We’ve come a long way; 2020 was a terrible year. We had to let 40% of the workforce go.
“The Eurovision Song Contest is a turning point for me. From now on it will only get better.”
According to Dutch economic minister, the provisional results from the second phase of Fieldlab/Back to Live events are positive. The full results, which follow the similarly positive findings from the first test events in February, will be announced in the near future.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
Eurovision Song Contest becomes Back to Live pilot
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest in the Netherlands will take place as a government-backed pilot event with a small in-person audience, a Dutch minister has announced.
Arie Slob, a minister for media under culture secretary Ingrid van Engelshoven, tells De Telegraaf that it will be possible to admit thousands of fans to Eurovision, which returns this spring after cancelling in 2020, by bringing the contest under Fieldlab Evenementen’s Back to Live, a series of pilot concerts, festivals and other live events which has been running since February. The most recent Back to Live events, two test festivals held at the Lowlands site in Biddinghuizen, took place on 20 and 21 March.
Currently, it is hoped a maximum of 3,500 people a day will be admitted to the 16,426-capacity Rotterdam Ahoy arena from 18 to 22 May, though plans are subject to change should the coronavirus situation deteriorate.
As with previous Back to Live trial events, fans will only be permitted to enter the Ahoy after testing negative for Covid-19.
“We welcome this decision by the Dutch government and the possibility that we can invite fans to join us”
In total, there will be nine shows, including rehearsals, for Eurovision 2021, the 65th edition of the pan-European song contest.
“We welcome this decision by the Dutch government and the possibility that we can invite fans to join us as we bring the Eurovision Song Contest back in May,” says Martin Österdahl, Eurovision’s executive supervisor.
“We will consider the options now available and announce more details in the coming weeks on how we can safely admit audiences to the Ahoy venue in Rotterdam should the situation allow. The health and safety of all those attending the event remains our top priority.”
“The fact that we now have the opportunity to plan for a Eurovision Song Contest with an audience again is something we could only dream of [previously],” the contest’s executive producer Sietse Bakker tells public broadcaster NOS. “We are grateful to the cabinet and to Fieldlab Evenementen for this perspective and the confidence they have placed in us.”
Vrienden van Amstel becomes Netherlands’ biggest live stream
De Vrienden van Amstel (The Friends of Amstel), the long-running Dutch concert series, reached an estimated 1.7 million viewers from 120 countries for its first online-only edition, held on 16 January 2021.
Nicknamed ‘the largest pub in the Netherlands’, De Vrienden van Amstel is one of the country’s biggest concert events, usually attracting around 150,000 people to the Ahoy Rotterdam arena every year. The 2021 event – the first all-digital show in the series’ its 23-year history – became the biggest livestreamed show in Dutch history, with 750,000 people simultaneously streaming Armin van Buuren’s headline set, according to organisers.
The average simultaneous viewers throughout the entire show was 650,000, with fans watching over 1.3m hours of footage, reveals livestreaming partner Red Bee Media, who delivered the stream via www.vriendenstream.nl on behalf on Amstel, event agency Tribe Company and media production firm FabriQ Media Group.
“We are looking forward to delivering many events like this throughout 2021”
“When the largest pub in the Netherlands opens digitally for the first time, offering live entertainment from the biggest artists in country, you know that you can expect a lot of traffic on your platform”, says Tim Verhulsdonck, founder and managing partner of FabriQ Media Group. “With 650,000 tickets sold upfront, there is absolutely no room for mistakes, and after collaborating with Red Bee on SemiFest Live, we knew they were the right partner to deliver a flawless live stream to homes across the Netherlands and the world.
“Throughout the whole event they maintained a steady hand, delivering high-quality streams with no hiccups or interruptions.”
“I’m very happy that we were given the opportunity to showcase the full capacity of our OTT services through such a large-scale event as Vrienden van Amstel,” adds Steve Nylund, CEO of Red Bee Media. “The result truly shows the strength of our platform and our people, and we are looking forward to delivering many events like this throughout 2021 and beyond.”
Rotterdam Ahoy’s RTM Stage completed
Rotterdam Ahoy has completed construction of its new 7,800-capacity music and entertainment venue, RTM Stage.
At maximum capacity, RTM Stage, which broke ground in late 2018, can be used a mid-sized arena, while in a theatre/auditorium format – 2,500 seats, or 4,000 in its ‘XL’ variant – the venue is the largest theatre-sized venue in the Netherlands.
The existing Ahoy Arena (formerly the Sportpaleis), which dates from 1971, has a seated capacity of 16,426.
RTM Stage forms part of a new development at the Ahoy (pictured) that also includes the Rotterdam Ahoy Convention Centre (RACC), which provides an additional 35 spaces to host conferences and gatherings, ranging from 50 to 100 capacity.
“We look forward to welcoming the visitors of the many conventions, events and concerts that will be held here”
The grand opening of the new building will be celebrated in 2021, commemorating 50 years since the Ahoy’s opening.
Jolanda Jansen, general director of Rotterdam Ahoy, says: “For us, as for everyone, this year turned out completely differently from what we had envisioned. Nevertheless, we are incredibly proud of the absolutely stunning new building that will welcome our visitors from now on. It is finally complete after years of preparation and construction and we are thrilled.
“We look forward to welcoming the visitors of the many conventions, events and concerts that will be held here. After all, that is what this building is for.”
“The expansion of Ahoy helps the city grow as a destination for business conventions and events,” comments Rotterdam city alderman (councillor) Bas Kurvers. “When the demand for such events starts to increase once more, Rotterdam will be ready.”
Netherlands scraps capacity limit for seated shows
The Netherlands is relaxing its coronavirus regulations from 1 July, removing the capacity limit for seated indoor and outdoor events, provided fans have undergone health checks before entry.
The Dutch government announced the new measures yesterday (24 June), which include the retention of the one-and-a-half metre distancing rule at all events.
Reservations must also be made for events to enable contact tracing in the case of a new outbreak of the virus.
Festivals in the Netherlands will have to obtain licences from local authorities before being able to resume, which is unlikely to happen before mid-August.
The capacity limit for events that do not undertake health checks will increase to 100 for indoor venues and 250 for outdoor shows from 1 July.
“For us, the 1.5 metre society is not the new normal; the wider regulations are still hardly or not at all viable and not cost-effective for our industry”
Nightclubs and discos remain closed until 1 September – which was the original deadline for the ban on large-scale events. The rules for clubs and similar venues will be reassessed at the end of August.
The Dutch association of event makers (Vereniging van evenementenmakers – VVEM) welcomes the relaxations, but states it is “not yet satisfied”, stressing the need for a roadmap detailing when business as usual can resume.
“This is a good start, but we are not there yet,” says Rotterdam Ahoy’s Jolanda Jansen on behalf of the VVEM. “For us, the 1.5 metre society is not the new normal; the wider regulations are still hardly or not at all viable and not cost-effective for our industry. This is still going to cost companies, jobs and events.”
In particular, the organisation is lobbying for a removal of the distancing rule, which it says should be replaced with more testing and tracing.
A new reality: Arenas talk reopening challenges
Strict hygiene protocols, contactless technology and fewer queues are likely to form the future of Europe’s arenas, as venue operators shun social distancing but nonetheless prepare to open to a changed reality.
Venue owners and event organisers across the continent have been grappling with new restrictions as many major markets around Europe begin to reopen, striving to strike the balance between providing a safe environment, maintaining financial viability and keeping their business alive.
Strict capacity limits and social distancing regulations have meant many venues have kept their doors closed, even if they are technically allowed to reopen.
With a current upper limit of 30 people at indoor events in the Netherlands, there is really “no model” for shows, Jurgen Hoekstra, manager of entertainment and sports at Rotterdam Ahoy tells IQ.
Hoekstra calculates that the Rotterdam Ahoy team could make an “attractive venue” operating at 30% capacity, maintaining 1.5 metres between guests, with a seating plan on the floor. But, really, “in our field of business, the aim is to let people enjoy experiences with a lot of others – the more people there are, the more special it is.
“We’re really dying to go back to the old normal.”
AEG Europe COO and Europe Arenas Association (EAA) president John Langford agrees that socially distanced shows are “financially and practically challenging – and in many cases impossible – for both venues and promoters”, although the early phase of recovery offers little other possibility than hosting events with lower capacities.
“We’re really dying to go back to the old normal”
“This scenario is however not viable or sustainable beyond just a handful of events.”
In the UK, Lucy Noble, artistic and commercial director of the Royal Albert Hall and chair of the National Arenas Association (NAA), says none of the venues she works with “can viably reopen while social distancing measures remain in place.”
Two-metre distancing would require using only 15% of the Hall’s full 8,000-person capacity, with a capacity of around 85% needed to make events financially viable.
So, what is the answer for venues? And how can they reopen while both keeping staff, artists and audience safe, and generating enough money to keep going?
A focus on a contactless customer journey, the use of protective gear, air filtering and upgraded hygiene protocols are among options listed by AEG Germany COO and VP Uwe Frommhold.
The allocation of time slots will also be important for “avoiding unnecessary mingling”, says Frommhold, whereas “tools to track down infection chains” are vital in case infection does spread at an event.
“It will be a combination of a lot of measures that will bring us back in business. There won’t be the sole game changer – not even a vaccine will do it alone.”
“It will be a combination of a lot of measures that will bring us back in business. There won’t be the sole game changer”
The AEG Europe team has also been working closely with ASM Global in the development of the VenueShield programme, a toolkit comprising best practice solutions that can be employed in response to public health guidance.
For Noble, a permanent move towards contactless payments and ticket scanning, as well as pre-booked food and drinks, will characterise the gig of the future.
The NAA has put together a proposal for the UK government which would allow venues to reopen at full capacity, including procedures such as heightened entrance and exit controls, increased sanitisation, the use of protective equipment and contactless service processes.
Noble gives the example of a production of the Phantom of the Opera, which has been running in Seoul, South Korea, throughout the Covid-19 crisis. The theatre used disinfectant mists, temperature checks and questionnaires to ensure safety standards were met.
“If we are to find a solution, it is going to be a combination of numerous measures, from increased access points to hand sanitisers, Perspex screens and PPE for staff,” says Noble.
Rotterdam Ahoy’s Hoekstra speaks of the possibility of repurposing space to allow for a wider variety of events in the short term.
With a variety of spaces at their disposal, including a 16,500-cap. arena, conference centre and exhibition halls, there is the possibility to host trade fairs and exhibitions at the venue, event formats which have seen some success in reopening so far.
“One thing we have to work really hard to preserve is the electric atmosphere when thousands of people experience live music together”
Even though restrictions in the Netherlands remain stringent – capacity limits are set at 30 until July, when they may be increased to 100 – Hoekstra hopes that signs of success in other markets, such as Switzerland, Denmark and Finland, may lead to a further lifting of measures.
“I am convinced that in the end that people will enjoy a show in a full arena again, as long as we can guarantee a safe place, and I really think this will be the case.”
For Noble, reassuring staff, artists, crew and audiences that it is safe to attend events will be “the biggest challenge” for venues wishing to reopen fully.
“People will understandably be nervous, and it’s our job to not only find a way for events to take place safely, but also to instil confidence that we’ve done so. That’s going to be a question of transparency and communication.”
Safety is, of course, at the forefront of everybody’s minds at the moment, and will continue to be for a long time in the future. However, it is important to remember that the very essence of the live show is also at risk, and this is something that has to be factored in while considering the best ways to reopen.
“One thing we have to work really hard to preserve is the electric atmosphere when thousands of people experience live music together,” says Noble.
“We are all missing that.”
ILMC speaker spotlight: John Langford, EAA/AEG
The International Live Music Conference (ILMC) is now just over a week away and, as more and more chairs and panellists are announced, IQ catches up with some key speakers to hear what they hope to get out of this year’s conference.
Following on from the previous Speaker Spotlight, IQ talks to John Langford, president of the European Arenas Association (EAA) and AEG Europe COO.
Langford is chairing the Venue’s Venue: New builds, new brands panel to discuss what further competition and consolidation we can expect to see in the fast-evolving venue market.
He will be joined by panellists Jolanda Jansen (Rotterdam Ahoy), Brian Kabatznick (Oak View Group), Tom Lynch (ASM Global), Thomas Ovesen (Diriyah Gate Development Authority) and Harry Samuel (LiveStyled).
IQ: What do you expect to be the main talking points at your panel?
JL: I expect there will be lots of talk of new buildings and new markets. New arenas are not cheap, and returns can be limited in competitive markets or marginal locations, so what’s driving expansion and development plans? And what’s the reality of a ‘new arena model’?
Outside of Europe there are some exciting developments and new opportunities. We will look at what’s hot in Asia, the Middle East and Africa and ask whether building venues in those markets will create more demand for touring.
New arenas are not cheap, and returns can be limited, so what’s driving expansion and development plans?
With competition and consolidation in the venue market at an all-time high, has that had an affect on your day-to-day jobs?
Yes, absolutely. I am sure that each of the panel members can talk more to their experiences over the last eighteen months. From mergers to new players in the market, there’s a lot to talk about.
Would it be fair to say the large venue sector is among the most interesting parts of the music business right now?
Personally I believe that the entire live industry is in huge transformation. Specifically on the venue side, what we’re seeing in the large venue sector is mild compared to the storms facing grassroots venues. Business rates, gentrification, Brexit, skills shortages – it’s a minefield out there!
Is there anything else you’re particularly looking forward to at ILMC?
A cold Fightback lager at the end of a long day. All proceeds go to the Music Venues Trust! Beer with a conscience.
The Venue’s Venue panel is taking place at 10 a.m. on Thursday 5 March at ILMC.
Peter van der Veer steps down at EAA and Ahoy Rotterdam
Peter van der Veer has stepped down as CEO of both the European Arenas Association (EAA) and the Ahoy Rotterdam venue.
Van der Veer, who joined the association in 2006 and has been an active board member since 2012, was elected EAA CEO last April, replacing AEG Europe’s Brian Kabatznick. He had been joint CEO of the Ahoy – whose Ahoy Arena has a capacity of 15,000 – since 2011, alongside Jolanda Jansen, the pair taking over from Jos van der Vegt.
According to Jansen, van der Veer’s resignation – which “came as a surprise” to the venue’s 250 staff – came due to “some differences of opinion” with the Ahoy’s management. Jansen has confirmed to IQ she stays on as solo CEO.
“The group will elect a new president at their next meeting in Kaunas, Lithuania, in April”
In a statement provided to IQ on behalf of the EAA board, the association says it will elect a new CEO later this year.
“Peter van der Veer has resigned his position as president of the EAA,” it reads. “The group will elect a new president at their next meeting in Kaunas, Lithuania, in April. Until then the EAA board members are maintaining direction of the association.”
The EAA, founded in 1991, represents 36 arenas across 22 European countries.
Rotterdam Ahoy begins construction of new music venue
The Rotterdam Ahoy arena and convention centre has begun construction on a brand new building which will house a conference centre and music venue by 2020.
Extending the current space’s 15,000 capacity, the new building will house the 7,000-capacity (2,750-seated cap.) RTM Stage, providing a space for live music, theatre and events. Additionally, 35 rooms will be created across four floors, to function as a conference centre catering for what Rotterdam city councillor Adriaan Visser calls Rotterdam’s “[growth] as a business hotspot.”
Speaking at the ceremony that launched the work, Peter van der Veer, CEO of the Ahoy and newly elected president of the European Arenas Association (EAA), says: “I am extremely proud that today, after years’ of preparation, we were finally able to allow construction to commence.
“In January 2021 we will celebrate our 50th anniversary here at this wonderful new venue. I’m really looking forward to it!”
“In January 2021 we will celebrate our 50th anniversary here at this wonderful new venue. I’m really looking forward to it!”
The new stage area will also allow for the expansion of events held at the venue, like the North Sea Jazz Festival, which will take place at the Ahoy in 2019 despite the redevelopment works.
The Ahoy’s new building is part of a wider redevelopment project which seeks to transform the Hart va Zuid area, in the south of Rotterdam, and improve the quality of life of its residents. Under the plans, new areas for housing, shopping and leisure will be created.
A video giving the details of the new-look Rotterdam Ahoy can be found on YouTube.
EAA appoints new president Peter van der Veer
Peter van der Veer, CEO and co-owner of Dutch arena Rotterdam Ahoy (15,000-cap.), has been named president of the 35-strong European Arenas Association (EAA).
Van der Veer was elected at the association’s most recent AGM, held in Lisbon earlier this month, and succeeds outgoing president Brian Kabatznick of AEG Europe, whose three-year term has come to an end.
Van der Veer has been a member of the EAA since 2006 and an active board member since 2012.
He comments: “Our world changes at rapid speed. It requires a new view from us as venues. I am convinced that a platform such as EAA is essential in sharing ideas, in pulling the strings, in being pro-active on all important and relevant issues in the field of live events.
“I am honoured to have been chosen as president of this valuable platform”
“I am honoured to have been chosen as president of this valuable platform.”
Other EAA board members are Girts Krastins of Arena Riga (14,500-cap.), John Langford of the O2 (21,000-cap.), Jorge Silva of Altice (formerly MEO) Arena (20,000-cap.) in Lisbon and Lotta Nibbell of Scandinavium (14,000-cap.) in Gothenburg.
In 2017, European Arenas Association venues hosted more than 18.7m customers attending 2,899 events, according to the organisation’s most recent research report. According to IQ’s European Arena Yearbook 2017, produced in partnership with the EAA and UK National Arena Association (NAA), the European arenas business generated more than €1.4bn in 2016.