In a downturn, why has sport got away scot free?

Sport enthusiasts are still splashing out on season tickets.

The Premier League is the world’s most lucrative football league. In its response to last year’s somewhat critical Culture Media and Sport Select Committee report on the game’s administration, the league sought to stress that its booming revenues are “reflected in the contribution made by Premier League clubs to their local economies, particularly in smaller urban communities such as Blackpool, Sunderland and Stoke”.

One such smaller urban club is Swansea City, who have thrived in the Premier League since promotion in 2011, and whose economic impact was the subject of a recent study by the Welsh Economy Research Unit at Cardiff University, which estimated that the club’s economic activity supported 295 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the area, on top of the 125 employed directly.

Swansea are regarded as one of the best-run clubs in the country, making a profit of £14m on £65m turnover in their first season in the top division. They have swiftly become a middle-ranking Premier League club, usually filling their 20,000-capacity stadium and seeing their income and profile soar again in February with their Capital One Cup triumph.

The WERU report surveyed spectators’ spending habits over three games towards the end of last season, against Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Extrapolating from this, it estimated that gross spending by visitors to Swansea matches was around £8.13m per season, leading, after deductions, to an initial injection to the Welsh economy of £4.72m and £3.15m Welsh Value Added.

Additional spending generated by spectatorship is considerable, it says: “For home fans that were non-season ticket holders the average reported spend per person was £46.34. Around 63 per cent of this represented purchase of match day tickets, with the next, largest category being food and drink at an average of £9.15 per person.” But it is the Premier League’s sizeable away supports that bring the most additional spending. Visiting fans who worked full-time reported an average spend per person of £79.88. The largest item of expenditure for those working full-time was food and drink, representing nearly 40 per cent of this. Of course, Swansea’s relatively isolated geographical location makes them an untypical case – 44 per cent of away fans were staying overnight.

“It’s the add-in impact of visitors that makes the difference,” said Dr Annette Roberts of the Welsh Economy Research Unit and one of the report’s authors. “And the fact that they spend on areas that are labour-intensive [such as food and drink and retail]. The multiplier effects are higher than they would be for a normal enterprise because of this visitor impact.” And it is retail and food and drink sectors that tend to prosper most from proximity to stadiums. In east London, Glyn Roberts, operations manager of the Tap East pub in the neighbouring Westfield shopping centre is anticipating an increase in trade of about 20 per cent when West Ham move to the Olympic Stadium.

What marks Premier League football clubs out from normal medium-sized businesses is, of course, the phenomenal sums paid to players. Swansea spent £29m on wages last season, of which it is estimated that playing and non-playing staff spent around £4.5m in Welsh goods and services, which have additional multiplier effect impacts of £1.63m supporting 60 FTE jobs. With 12 of Swansea’s 31-strong first-team squad coming from outside the UK, they are more likely to own property and splash their cash elsewhere, as the report acknowledges: “The usual assumption… that additional disposable income is spent in a similar fashion to the average Welsh household cannot hold; players may invest a higher proportion of their income in anticipation of a short career; players may invest in high-value real estate acquisition (either locally or in other places); players are likely to buy high-end consumer goods unavailable in Wales.”

“We assume that much more of this wage will be saved or spent non-locally than average wages in our modelling,” adds Calvin Jones of the WERU. “Of course, this will be true of most professional sports these days so the Premier League is not unique. This has, of course to be counterbalanced with the large numbers attending matches that DO have a regional economic impact, but aren’t captured in Swansea City FC turnover.” Less tangible but still significant, however, are the other effects of Swansea’s success on the city. The city’s university, for example, has seen applications rise 25 per cent in the past year, which vice chancellor Professor Richard B Davies attributed to Premier League football “putting Swansea on the map”.

Rugby union’s socio-economic profile has always been more affluent than that of football, and the flagship Six Nations tournament continues to sell out, this year’s tournament drawing a total of 1,042,965 supporters (69,531 per match). The Six Nations’ allure resides in both its regular and its “event-like” nature. It happens every year, unlike the Olympics, but the matches are rare and important enough to be showpieces. A report carried out for Mastercard by the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University in 2011, looking at the previous year’s Six Nations, found that the cumulative positive economic impact of the tournament across the competing nations was £420.94m, from total attendance of 1,054,654 (£88.38m in England, £72.5m in Wales, £62.9m in Scotland).

This increased economic activity came from expenditure in bars, shops, restaurants, hotels, transport and spending inside stadiums. The distance travelled by many spectators also generates overnight stays. Such appeal also draws in those without tickets. “To add to those travelling to the match venues, a large number of people watch the games in pubs, clubs, bars or cafes, as well as at home. The projected economic impacts also incorporate a potentially longer-term economic legacy for the hosts, through increased tourism, civic sponsorship and a greater likelihood of repeat visits,” the report says.

Rugby is also followed strongly by men between 20 and 44 with relatively high amounts of disposable income. “While 24 per cent of the adult population are from group AB, 54 per cent of those that play rugby or watch and attend rugby are from the top social grouping,” the report adds. The prolonged economic stasis appears to have had only a limited effect on hospitality income too. Twickenham saw a 35 per cent drop in revenue from corporate packages in 2009, but it jumped again by 60 per cent the following year.

The CIBS report also cites a key driver of sport consumption in recessionary times – its capacity to act as an escape from gloom. The report identifies “people and organisations who deliberately seek to engage with the Six Nations in some way in order to displace the pessimism associated with harsh economic conditions. Amongst some organisations such as advertisers etc, there will be a feeling that the tournament constitutes a safe haven and good value for money given the exposure and profile it provides... Indeed, further evidence suggests fans, broadcasters and commercial partners seek safe havens during times of economic hardship.”

Cricket internationals have similar characteristics in both their regular and big-event nature, as is illustrated by the increasingly intense competition among venues to win the right to host Test matches and One Day Internationals. Australia’s visit in particular has long been big business. An economic impact assessment of the Ashes Test at Headingley, Leeds, during their last tour here in 2009 claimed that the city’s economy benefited to the tune of more than £1.2m per day.

The report, commissioned by Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Yorkshire Forward, the former regional development agency for Yorkshire and the Humber, found that during the three days of the Test more than 32,000 additional people visited the city, accounting for around £3.7m additional spend in the local economy. Another county, Nottinghamshire, commissioned a similar study into the benefits of hosting matches at the World Twenty20 the following year, which claimed that £12.1m of value added was generated in the East Midlands.

The Marylebone Cricket Club, owner of Lord’s, also points to a report it carried out six years ago (PDF) on the impact of one Test, against the West Indies in 2007, which argued that the match had a positive economic impact of between £9.5m and £10.8m, supporting the equivalent of between 133 and 151 FTE jobs. That all these venues are jockeying for hosting rights to matches should be acknowledged, but the sums generated are noteworthy nonetheless

Wimbledon tennis has no such anxieties. The 2012 tournament brought in record profits of £37.7m for the Lawn Tennis Association, and though criticisms of the patchy development of the grass roots of the sport remain, Wimbledon is a prime example of major sporting events’ tendency to be recession-proof.

The success of Andy Murray and the rising profile of up-and-coming British players such as Heather Watson and Laura Robson has helped keep interest high – the event drew 484,000 spectators in total last year, many thousands of whom travelled to the area from outside and queued overnight or in the early hours of the morning.

What cannot be assessed for certain is where or whether this money would be spent without these regular major events. Yet it is clear that Britain’s sport enthusiasts, where they can, are still splashing out on season tickets and days and nights out. It is no easy cure for tough financial times but sport’s capacity to raise not just revenue, but profile and a certain feel-good – or sometime feel-bad – escapism means it will continue to make an economic impact where other sectors may toil.

This article first appeared on economia

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a news story from economia.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.