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

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What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.