Expo Tel Aviv gears up to host Eurovision

With six months to go until the competition, Tel Aviv prepares sprawling compound for a once-in-a-lifetime show.

PAVILION 2, where the main Eurovision contest will take place. (photo credit: EUROPEAN BROADCASTING UNION)
PAVILION 2, where the main Eurovision contest will take place.
On any given week, the Expo Tel Aviv convention center could be hosting close to a dozen events. From conferences to concerts, exhibitions and trade fairs, the 45,000-sq.m. complex of indoor and outdoor spaces is almost always bustling with activity.
But for almost a month next spring, the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds’ convention center will be closed off as it prepares for an event the likes of which the country has never seen before: Eurovision 2019.
In less than six months, the Eurovision Song Contest will kick off in Tel Aviv, with a week of events, rehearsals, shows and activities. Participants from 42 countries, hundreds of journalists, thousands of tourists and enough sequins to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool are expected to converge on the city.
“On March 24 we’re handing over Pavilion 2 to the production,” said Iris Mazel, the vice president of sales and marketing at Expo Tel Aviv, during a tour of the site this week. “They have to set up the stage and the seats and everything. Then from the end of April we are giving them pavilions 1 and then 11, 12, 13 and 14.”
The Eurovision production team has yet to finalize the plans for all of the spaces and pavilions. Expo Tel Aviv is working closely with the KAN public broadcaster, representatives of the Tel Aviv Municipality and officials from the European Broadcasting Union as the show draws closer.
The 5,000-sq.m. Pavilion 1 is likely to hold the green room for the Eurovision contestants. Mazel said they will be building a tunnel between pavilions 1 and 2 – where the main show will take place – so participants can cross between the two without going outside. The other indoor spaces at the center will host the press, production teams and other necessities.
“It’ll be a very long period – it’s never been done before – where most of the convention center will be totally shut down for the event,” said Barak Kfir, a PR consultant for Expo Tel Aviv.
Mazel said they had to “move events that were supposed to be in the months of April and May – we moved them toward June or brought them earlier to March. Listen, we host the Eurovision once in 20 years, so we asked companies to cooperate with us.” Kfir added that hosting the Eurovision is “really a national effort,” and most companies understood the need to reschedule.
Of course, this isn’t Israel’s first time hosting the Eurovision; it was home to the 1979 and 1999 contests, which were both held in Jerusalem. But 2019 can’t begin to compare to those shows, which both had fewer than 25 countries participating and no semifinal rounds at all. Even officials at Expo Tel Aviv didn’t initially realize the scale of the production, which will spill out into six of the compound’s eight pavilions. They also plan to stage welcome cocktails on an open-air deck that can host more than a thousand people, and set up activities in outdoor spaces for excited fans who might not have tickets to all the shows.
WHILE THE entire Expo Tel Aviv will be dedicated to the Eurovision for close to a month, the big event, of course, will be taking place in Pavilion 2, which covers close to 6,500 sq.m. And the question of just how many seats will be available for the big shows is one that Expo Tel Aviv officials cannot yet answer.
“There will be a huge stage, and floor lighting, and cameras,” said Mazel. So while the convention center told KAN and the EBU that the space is able to hold close to 9,000 people, the final figure is likely to be closer to 7,000 seats.
Around 15,000 tickets were sold to the 2018 Eurovision in Lisbon, and the 2017 show in Kiev was hosted in an 11,000-seat arena.
But while the three live shows – two semi-finals and the grand finale – are the big attractions, there are actually nine shows held throughout the week. Before each live show there is both a dress rehearsal and a show for the jury, for which tickets are also generally sold.
While the show is still six months away, EBU officials have already visited Expo Tel Aviv several times: “They are very professional, very organized and they know exactly what they want,” said Mazel. And last week, she – together with a Tel Aviv Municipality delegation – paid a visit to Stockholm to get a better feel for the Eurovision.
“Sweden won six times... they have a lot of experience on how to manage it, what to do with it, what to expect, how to prepare for the journalists and how to prepare for the crowd,” said Mazel. 
And while KAN and EBU will be organizing most of the production, Expo Tel Aviv will be working hand in hand in terms of maintenance, communication and coordination – to ensure a smooth and successful 2019 Eurovision.
“All the exposure you can bring to Israel,” said Mazel, “as far as I’m concerned, is incredible.”