Bilbao 2018, a City of Major Events

by Maite Redondo

The MTV Awards in November bring the crowning touch to a monumental year of important international events.

The Basque province of Bizkaia and its capital, Bilbao, are in fashion. The countdown begins to one of the most sought-after events by the media and with huge international projection. Bizkaia will become an impressive musical stage with the MTV Europe Music Awards Gala celebration on November 4th at the Bilbao Exhibition Center. The Gala concert will be held a day earlier, on November 3rd, although the exact identity of the star to perform in Bilbao will not be announced until weeks prior to the event. These are the rules of this strictly run festival whose race to become the hosting city is disputed across the globe, with the awards gala broadcast reaching 135 countries and bringing a guarantee of television audiences of over 500 million people.

In addition, the designation of Bilbao has an increased significance since this year commemorates the 25th anniversary of these awards, recognizing the best of European music, which seems to increase in prestige and influence with each year. The strength of the city’s urban avant-garde, as stated by the television network, was one of the main reasons for its election as a venue. The promotion of the city as a symbol of culture, with the Guggenheim museum as an icon, and as a city with a tradition of live music (with important festivals such as the Bilbao BBK Live and the BIME each year) helped the MTV organizers make this historic choice of the capital of the province of Bizkaia.

Bilbao announced the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards. Manu Cecilio / EL CORREO

In November of 2017, authorities of Bizkaia and Bilbao announced the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards. Manu Cecilio / EL CORREO

“We’re going to make these MTV awards the best in history,” promises Asier Alea, Director of Promotion and Tourism of the Provincial Government of Bizkaia. “We figured that we couldn’t host an Olympics here, but we asked ourselves, what might be next in line and extremely important on an international level? After an Olympiad, the MTV European awards is the most important event for a territory to aspire to host in terms of magnitude and global impact of audience. So, we went for it. We are not New York or London, but as Shimon Peres said: ‘Small towns cannot afford mediocrity.’ We are a small territory, with a very powerful brand, which is Bilbao. We knew that we could not settle for doing small things. Our dream, our madness with the method, was to elaborate a list of major events that would position us as a city, territory and as a country in the world,” explains this graduate in Economics and International Relations from Boston University and Master in Economics from the University of Oxford.

Asier Alea wants to make it clear that Bilbao’s landing the MTV Awards is not just an every-day achievement: “There has been a great deal work on the part of the government and people who believed in this and gave it their all to host the awards here. The same people who have worked to make Bilbao the venue for this year’s high-impact international events like the two major continental rugby competitions, the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup finals, or the gala of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

The Director of Exterior Promotion and Tourism recognizes that “2018 is unprecedented, the media coverage has been exceptional, not only in the field of tourism and gastronomy. The Basque Country is what it’s always been, a small corner of the world with a lot of aspiration. We want to learn from those who went out on a limb to dream and build a Guggenheim museum in the midst of an economic crisis, which brought on the resurgence of a city and a country. We can assure the organizers of major events that when they come here, the country will go all out.”

In May, Bilbao was the world capital of rugby.

In May, Bilbao was the world capital of rugby. Manu Cecilio / EL CORREO

The Mayor of Bilbao, Juan Mari Aburto, also describes this year as “dizzying” for the city that has been named Best European City in 2018 and designated by the Financial Times Group as one of the ten most attractive for foreign investment in Europe. “Twenty-five years ago, very few people knew where in the world Bilbao was, except, obviously, Bilbao’s own Bilbainos and Bilbainas (men and women from Bilbao) who have always been so proud of our roots. Back then, the city hosted around 15,000 to 20,000 people annually, with their visits mostly related to the business world. In just a quarter of a century, we have multiplied those figures by fifty, with a million visitors per year,” recalls Aburto. And he adds, “All this has been possible thanks to the enormous collective effort that has allowed us to move from a declining industrial city model to lead a process of urban transformation, studied and imitated in many other metropolitan regions of the world.”

This avant-garde city managed to convince the decision makers of the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), to become the choice location this past May 11th and 12th for the first finals outside of the traditional circuit of the Six Nations. The result did not disappoint any of the two parties: Bilbao knocked itself out for the organization and, “More than 100,000 fans from around the world marched through its streets checking out what exactly makes Bilbao something so special,” admitted Vincent Gaillard, CEO of the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). The image of the Bizkaian capital took a spin around the planet as the capital of rugby.

On June 19, also held in the Euskalduna Performing Arts Center was the awards gala of the ‘50 Best’, considered to be the Oscars of the cuisine world. Since its inception, and for 13 years, London had been commissioned to host the ceremony, which had only left the city on two occasions to travel to New York and Melbourne. Food critics, influencers and chefs from around the world traveled to Bizkaia to attend the different celebrations, from June 16-20, during which Bizkaia and the Basque Country were under spotlight in the current culinary world.

The "50 Best", another major international event held in Bilbao in 2018

The “50 Best”, another major international event held in Bilbao in 2018. Manu Cecilio / EL CORREO

The list of the ‘50 Best’ was topped by the Osteria Francescana, by the Italian Massimo Bottura, but several Basque chefs also managed to be named among the best in the world. The Mugaritz restaurant, by Andoni Luis Aduriz, took 9th place, and Asador Etxebarri, by Víctor Arginzoniz, held 10th position, Arzak, of the veteran Juan Mari Arzak, who began the movement of new Basque cuisine, was 31st, and taking the 43rd slot, was Azurmendi, by Eneko Atxa, whose restaurant also took the prize for sustainability.

And as the culmination of this stellar year for Bilbao, the MTV Europe Music Awards will travel to the capital of Bizkaia in November, recognizing this year’s successes between performances by the world’s most popular artists.

Although this model of capturing major events also has some opponents, Bilbao’s position on this is clear. The mayor describes new milestones for the future. In the next few years the commitment is clear for the development of a high-speed train that will enhance Bilbao’s connections to the rest of the world, although there are some sectors of Basque society who oppose this infrastructure. In addition, after an important urban renewal project, the development of an island of knowledge will be carried out in Zorrotzaurre (the name of the re-developing island), for which contact has already been made with American universities in order to collaborate on exchange projects.

About the Author

Maite Redondo
Maite Redondo is a reporter for the daily newspaper DEIA

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