The economic benefits of hosting major sporting events
When BBC News interviewed an Australian tourist in the heart of Birmingham city centre during the 2022 Commonwealth Games and received the response…
“It is totally different to how I expected it. I expected it to be industrial and horrible buildings. And it is amazing. I didn’t expect it to be so multi-cultural. I’ve loved it.”
…in one soundbite, it perfectly hammered home the importance of hosting major sporting events. They change perceptions, they get people talking about an area, and they encourage visitors to explore and enjoy a destination, and return.
Just as importantly, though, is the fact that big domestic and international major sporting events and championships equal big business for a city and region. You only have to look at a 2021 report ‘The impact of major events on London’s economy’ by London & Partners and Hatch to appreciate the huge benefits that sporting spectacles can bring.
Between 2017-20, England’s capital city hosted 757 events, including 305 sporting events, which brought an injection of £2.51billion into its economy, including £2.27 billion in visitor expenditure on items such as accommodation and food and drink.
Sport overall is a significant player in the UK economy. It contributed £48.9billlion gross value added (GVA) pre-pandemic, accounting for 2.6% of the UK total (source: The Power of Events).
The role of the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the Business and Tourism Programme
The wonderful celebration of sport and culture served up by the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games played a huge role in stimulating the West Midlands’ visitor economy as well as the sports economy and supply chains.
It is not just about sports events and tourism, of course. The success of Birmingham 2022 and the results of the Business and Tourism Programme (BATP) – the first of its kind to be aligned to a Commonwealth Games – demonstrate that there is a much broader impact of hosting major sporting events on business growth, inward investment, jobs and skills.
In the 2022/23 financial year, the West Midlands attracted more foreign direct investment projects than Scotland and Wales combined, and bucked the national trend of a decline in FDI-related jobs.
As the post-pandemic race to attract more major sporting events hots up, we are increasingly seeing evidence of ‘soft power’ playing a major part. The notion of a region’s ability to win sporting bids not through coercion or payment, but through the attraction of its culture, initiatives, values and policies, has the potential to boost the UK’s economy by at least £4billion by 2030.
That’s according to EY’s ‘The impact of major sport events: Study of soft power, trade and investment impacts’ report, which used Birmingham 2022 as a case study to highlight the event’s wider benefits for the West Midlands and UK.
The Games showcased “the UK as a leading economy and player within the Commonwealth that is open for business post-Brexit” and promoted “important agendas such as equality and sustainability”. The event also helped to build, leverage and reinforce vital relationships on a regional, national and international scale to “showcase industry and commitment to air quality”, “capitalise on Commonwealth connections”, “generate the feel-good factor seen at London 2012 and Glasgow 2014” and “work with embassies, DIT (now DBT) and VisitBritain (to deliver international tourism)”.
The French novelist Marcel Proust once wrote “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” and hosting the Commonwealth Games has given the West Midlands and its people a new-found confidence and can-do attitude.
We told a story of welcome, inclusion and rebirth, which helped to change our self-perception of what we can achieve. We were – and continue to be – driven by purpose and impact, and are guided by our values to be innovative, youthful, inclusive, diverse and collaborative.
We have always said that last summer’s sporting spectacular must represent a starting point and not the finish line, and we are starting to build from that strong foundation in 2022 to create an exciting decade of opportunity. That means capitalising on the West Midlands’ venues and infrastructure – which, when combined, rival any city region in the world.
These range from shining new venues like Sandwell Aquatics Centre to Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium. The region also boasts iconic sporting settings like The Belfry and Edgbaston Stadium, and world-class arenas such as the NEC, Resorts World Arena and Utilita Arena. Its Premier League and EFL stadiums Molineux, Villa Park, St Andrew’s, The Hawthorns, Coventry Arena and the Bescot Stadium regularly host domestic and international football fixtures.
Across the West Midlands region, not only do we have the infrastructure, we have the passion, knowledge, experience and expertise to welcome and host events of any size or duration, and our efforts are starting to gain recognition.
Having appeared for the first time in the prestigious BCW Ranking of Sports Cities in 2022, Birmingham has improved its ranking to 33rd this year. In a new report by Quantum Consultancy and Durham University Business School, Birmingham is the top English sporting destination for event hosting – highlighting the attention that the city has gained from athletes, fans and sports organisations on a global scale.
The SportAccord summit
Winning the right to host the prestigious SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit at the ICC next April – bringing together senior policy and decision makers from the top tier of world sport – has the potential to increase the West Midlands’ ranking among global major sporting event destinations even higher.
You only have to look at the numbers. We anticipate more than 1,500 international sports leaders and key decision makers to come together for six days in Birmingham and across the West Midlands, and it’s crucial that we put on a show for organisers and delegates.
In the lead up to, during and after hosting the summit, we will have direct access to the unique network of global sporting organisations that SportAccord represents – from the highest levels of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through to 15,000 individual sporting federations and an estimated 50,000 event properties.
The most successful previous hosts of SportAccord – including the Gold Coast in 2019, which is now set to play a key role in the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games – have leveraged this network and developed new relationships to build a strong pipeline of future hosting opportunities.
By showcasing the visitor experience for athletes, coaches, teams, spectators and fans – and promoting our great West Midlands venues, connectivity and expertise – we plan to make the maximum impact to provide a springboard for our future. It is an event, which will generate valuable opportunities for towns and cities across our region.
Walsall will seek to build on the town’s status as the home of British Judo by attracting other martial arts governing bodies, while Wolverhampton will aim to add to its rollcall of sporting fixtures, which currently includes boxing, darts and snooker. Solihull’s esports credentials and Sandwell’s state-of-the-art Aquatics Centre will also be on show as our destinations work towards bringing more high-profile sporting events to the region.
The West Midlands’ sporting calendar
To coin a sporting phrase, we have already put points on the board in our efforts to maintain momentum following the 2022 Games and keep the West Midlands in the global sporting spotlight.
We have an enviable platform, on which to build. Our sporting calendar includes the British Basketball League Trophy Finals, the Netball Super League, the All England Open Badminton Championships, Esports and gaming, Horse of the Year Show, World Indoor Athletics, snooker’s Players Championship, European judo and the International Blind Sport Federation (IBSA) World Games. This summer, more than 100,000 fans packed into Edgbaston Stadium for the thrilling first Test of the Ashes.
Looking ahead, the World Trampoline Championships in November, the first Kabaddi World Cup outside Asia in 2025 and the 2026 European Athletics Championships will entice even more sports tourists to enjoy the region’s offer.
If you also include the International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport 2026, and the launch of our £6million major events fund to attract more major events for the West Midlands, then we are already reaping tangible rewards.
The West Midlands is starting to wake up to its massive potential as a major sporting events host. Its distinctive history has already set the pace – from inventing lawn tennis and rugby to the creation of the Football League and forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.
Now, more than a century on, with world-class ‘ready to go’ facilities, multi-billion-pound advances to its infrastructure and a young, diverse population ready to embrace the region’s next big championships, the West Midlands is set to make the cut, step up to the plate and mix it with the established global sporting destination heavyweights.