With the recent World Cup as an example, it seems obvious to say that football moves masses and attracts a lot of attention (Figure 1). Cities’ authorities are well aware it is mainly thanks to football teams that cities like Manchester are much more popular in Asia than many of the other largest UK’s cities.
Figure 1: FIFA World Cup media rights income ($m)
As we write elsewhere tourism is a major growth industry for the UK. According to VisitBritain, 800,000 inbound visitors to the UK went to a football match in 2014 (Figure 2), and they spent on average £227 more than those who didn’t attend a match. Football’s capacity to attract tourists and investment is unmatched by any of the other sports played in the UK, and we anticipate this crown will remain the same by 2040 (we doubt cheese-rolling will have overtaken it, as it’s difficult to imagine this peculiarity British sport taking off in urban areas, even though we do predict elsewhere an increase in extreme sports).
To attract even more tourists, the major European football clubs have been successfully expanding their business to Asia and North America since the late nineties. Premier League clubs are boosting revenues and showing an impressive average of 96% of attendance to their stadiums, most of which have been built or remodelled during the last 25 years.
The increased exposure as a tourist destination has been used by many councils to justify their support to clubs to develop and maintain the infrastructure needed for professional sports, with stadiums often creating and transforming their own local environment.
Figure 2: Percentage of visits to Britain including live football, 2014
Source: visitbritain.com, ONS International Passenger Survey, 2015
Other benefits for these cities include increased participation in sports, employment related to the matches and events, spending by visitors, the feel-good factor, the ability to use the facilities to hold other sport events and, last but not least (as we write elsewhere) brand recognition.
London is a worldwide recognisable brand and does not need a sports team with its name to promote itself. But cities such as Birmingham have not obviously benefited from having their most successful football team - Aston Villa being named after one of its wards. Similarly, many international tourists were able to put Leicester on the map for the first time after the city’s team won the Premier League in 2016.
In terms of economic impact, scholars agree that cities with professional teams receive a boost to their economies, but it is probably the intangible pride and identity resulted from having a successful city team that is the most important output for many. So cities with top professional teams in the most popular sports can be expected to perform better than the ones without them. When it comes to football, the competition within UK cities for a place to play against elite teams could become even tighter if the long standing Pan-European Super League ever becomes a reality.