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Sanctions put Helsinki’s largest arena at centre of controversy

Closed amid sanctions against its Russian owners, Helsinki Halli could face a forced sale if its debts are unpaid.

Beverage manufacturer Hartwall terminated its marketing collaboration with Helsinki Halli and removed its advertising signs from the building. Image: Emma Hyyppä / Yle

The future of Helsinki Halli, the largest concert venue in the Helsinki area and a major sports setting, is in limbo after the Russian shareholders of the company that owns the arena appeared on the West's sanctions list. As a result, Finnish event organisers have suspended cooperation with the operator of the arena.

Following Russia's attack on Ukraine, the Finnish Hockey Federation announced that the men’s national ice hockey team’s jerseys and championship pennants would be removed from the site.

Until Wednesday of last week, the venue was referred to as the Hartwall Arena, as part of marketing promotion by its main sponsor, the beverage manufacturer Hartwall. That company terminated its partnership with Helsinki Halli last week and removed its signs from the building.

Event organisers who had bookings for the arena are now looking for alternative venues.

Besides hockey games, the 13,000-seat arena was to have hosted two heavy metal concerts in April, following by Cirque de Soleil, Eric Clapton, Björk and Dua Lipa in June.

Helsinki Mayor hopes for ownership transfer

According to Helsinki Mayor Juhana Vartiainen (NCP), the city will have to consider, possibly in cooperation with the state, how the arena could be reopened.

"It is not possible to do business with Russians on the sanctions list. At this stage, we can only make sure that the hall pays its taxes and fulfils its obligations," says Vartiainen.

One option could be to a change in ownership of the hall, but according to Vartiainen, this is not necessarily possible under current legislation either, if the owners are on the sanctions list.

"For example, my understanding is that a forced sale could come up in the event that Helsinki Halli does not pay its debts," he continues.

Vartiainen says that it would be good if the arena were transferred to Finnish or other ownership in time, to allow operations without sanctions. However, he does not see the City of Helsinki as be the most suitable new owner candidate.

"It would be best if the owners were strong private organisers of events, concerts and sports. They know how to manage such resources more efficiently," he points out.

Helsinki may lose events

Shuttering the arena is a major loss for both the public and the business community.

"This can have a negative impact on what kind of event host city Helsinki can be. Unfortunately, some events may move out of town," Vartiainen notes.

Replacement venues for numerous events and concerts are now being sought in smaller arenas, such as the old Helsinki Ice Hall and the Espoo Metro Arena, which can hold up to around 8,000 spectators each.

"Demand has clearly increased. So far, four events have been transferred, but there are a lot more inquiries and advance reservations," says Tom Kivimäki, who heads the foundation which runs the Helsinki Ice Hall.

Some concert organisers are now reported to be looking at shifting events from Helsinki to Tampere's new 15,000-seat Nokia Arena and to Turku.