Access All Areas visited Liverpool for the 67th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest to discuss the extensive work that went into carrying out the event. 

Liverpool fought off stiff competition from several other UK cities to host Eurovision 2023 in place of last year’s winners Ukraine. After a stringent selection process that was finalised in October, ACC Liverpool Group had the mammoth task of preparing the 11,000-capacity M&S Bank Arena to host 37 other countries from 9-13 May.

As ACC Liverpool Group celebrates its 15th anniversary year, managing director Faye Dyer says the arena’s experience in hosting major events made it a strong choice to host Eurovision – from the MTV Music Awards during the 2008 Capital of Culture to last year’s World Gymnastics Championships.

“We’ve got three inter-connected buildings which lend themselves well to Eurovision. It’s not just about what goes on in the arena, it’s also about the appropriate back-of-house space for all the props, hair and makeup, and media.”

“Fundamentally it comes down to the people,” she says. “The vibe of Liverpool very much sits in line with Eurovision. We’re welcoming, inclusive, and a place where everyone can come and be themselves. I think that really shone through to the judges.”

As soon as it won the bid, ACC Liverpool Group began working in collaboration with Culture Liverpool, Merseyside Police, the BBC and the European Broadcasting Union. This year’s Eurovision – the first edition held in the UK since 1998 – was watched by more than 160 million viewers worldwide, with over eight hours of live TV and 50 live feeds. The final, broadcast on BBC One, saw a five-minute peak of 11 million, an average of 9.9 million and share of 63%.

“It’s been about teamwork throughout, says Dyer. “We’ve only had seven months to prepare, so it’s been a busy period. We’ve invested heavily in training and made enhancements to our facilities, including installing LED lighting throughout the campus.”

Despite the arena’s rescheduled event calendar, Dyer says concert promoters have been understanding throughout the process: “From early on in the bid, we made it clear that we were only going to do this if everybody was supportive and understanding.

“Because it’s about finding the right home for Ukraine, the event has had a different angle this year. The support we’ve received from all our clients has been fabulous – they are the most important thing to us. We’ve been working hard to make sure every other event has the same level of professionalism that people expect when they come here.”

On working with Eurovision 2023 MD Martin Green CBE and his team, Dyer says: “It’s been a true partnership that’s worked really well. Pre-pandemic we had BBC Studios Showcase for a number of years, so that relationship was already there. The communication has been seamless.”

Lighting designer Tim Routledge also spoke to Access about his work on the event: “It’s a mission of a project to create, dealing with 37 delegations, and we’ve been creating the show at speed since October. When you’ve got less time, it focuses the mind. It’s been non-stop work, but it’s been a joy to work on.”

The staging for the nine live shows involved more than 600 rigging points, 140 tons of steel ground support structure, and 1KM of additional steel truss work being added to the arena. The event featured eight miles of cabling for lighting, sound, video and SFX, over 2,000 specialist lighting fixtures, 200 custom staging decks, 950sqm of staging for the main stage, and 500sqm of staging for the green room. The event also saw 2,000 metres of secure fencing used.

Routledge was employed by BBC Studios on the event and worked closely with Julio Himede from stage designers Yellow Studio. Part of their brief was to implement the spirit of last year’s Eurovision winners Ukraine into the show. Among Routledge’s three associate designers, including James Scott and Morgan Evens, was Ukraine’s Zhenya Kostyra, who had worked on shows such as The Voice and Dancing With The Stars in Ukraine before the war started.

The lighting team used nine consoles to run 28,000 lighting cues, while 15 follow spots were operated by 10 professionals and five theatre technology students from LIPA & Cheshire College.

“The brief was also to be inclusive – we’ve tried to include as many people from different backgrounds as possible across all our teams,” says Routledge. “We’ve tried to leave our mark on Liverpool by bringing in and training people – some of whom I’m sure will end up working with us much more in the future.”

The event also used 165,000 channels of lighting control across three operators, 23,700 individual light sources and 2,500 automated colour-changing robotic lights. There were 150 microphones and over 1,200 individual streams of audio used. As for power, it featured 1 megawatt of UPS power, 60 miles of cabling around the arena and 150 distribution boards.

On M&S Bank Arena, which was chosen over a handful of other UK venues, Routledge says, “There’s no bad seat in the arena. A lot of people talk about the size, but for us, it’s worked out very well. [The size] means I’m not stretching my budget too far.

“The other good thing is the sheer amount of backstage space and other areas. We’ve taken over the entire convention centre next door, half of which hosts all the props. The other half is the delegation bubble which includes all the dressing rooms.

“We’ve also taken all the halls of the exhibition centre, featuring vast crew catering, a huge press centre and hospitality areas. Liverpool is able to host all of this in one site, which other arenas simply couldn’t do. They’ve also redone all their house lighting inside the venue which we now take control of.”

Despite the time constraints, Routledge says there was a focus on making sure the crew were not overworked: “The lighting crew have been here for six to seven weeks in Liverpool, and at no time have we done insane hours. We’ve tried to keep it to a strict 10-hour day for the load-in. We haven’t been rinsing people with 16–17-hour days which the live events industry can do. The show has been responsible in its approach and as a result, we’ve got a better show and a lighting crew that are refreshed and happy to be here.”

What the TV audience did not see during the 40 seconds between Eurovision songs was the hard work of the 30-strong stage crew. There was a total of 29 props used, the biggest measuring eight metres by 6 metres. 10 of the crew loaded the props on stage, while 10 others took the previous one off. This was rehearsed only a handful of times before the show.

Among the event’s many key contributors was Britannia Row, which installed a huge audio system, while rigging and truss was handled by Unusual Rigging.

Showforce supplied production and site crew and by the time the event’s de-rig was over it had fulfilled 2,345 crew shifts. The crew worked alongside key contractors like ES Global and Stage One; assisting with the set-up of dressing rooms, brand activations and the de-rig. 

Qdos provided cabins and stores for broadcast, while Creative Technology was commissioned by Luke Mills and Gary Beestone of GBA to provide LED solutions, including seven ROE Black Quartz LED towers attached to an automation system supplied by Belgium-based company WICREATIONS. 

Away from the live shows, the Eurovision fan village at Liverpool’s Pier Head hosted performances by the likes of Miles Kane, the English National Opera, the Lightning Seeds, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Sam Ryder.

The opening ceremony was hosted at Liverpool’s historic St George’s Hall, which saw all 37 delegates welcomed to the city with 400 of the world’s media and thousands of fans lining the over 100-metre carpet. The ceremony was marked by the largest single-location drone show in the UK to date, featuring 624 drones flown by Celestial. More than 25,000 people attended the 90-minute concert at St George’s Hall.

Dyer says a lot of thought was put into the legacy perspective of the event: “It’s more than just a week of nine live shows. It’s about using Eurovision as a springboard to showcase the events industry. For example our partnership with TikTok has allowed us to showcase back-of-house roles to a different audience who perhaps hadn’t realised how purposeful work in the events industry can be.”

The team has also launched a legacy toolkit to engage with local communities. Dyer says, “Eurovision has a had big impact on the local community – not just from a civic pride perspective but also the educational programme that Culture Liverpool has run. We do really well with sport, but we want to roll that out across entertainment and business events as well. We’ve used [the toolkit] for investment showcases to make sure we’re cementing brand Liverpool back on the world stage again.”

Reflecting on Eurovision 2023, Dyer says, “My favourite thing to do is to stand at the door at the end of the night and watch the egress – seeing people going out with elation and joy on their faces after they’ve met new people for the first time. That’s fundamentally what live events are all about.”