More investment to accelerate growth of women’s professional sport is required
A significant rise in Government funding to boost women’s elite sport and support green initiatives amongst clubs is vital for ensuring the UK’s £10.4bnsport sector continues to thrive, says a new report published today.
The joint ‘Competing for Growth’ report by law firm Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) highlights the vital role of the sports economy in UK and how further growth can be unlocked.
According to the study, total sport related GVA in the top 50 largest local economies stood at £7.8bn in 2019 and accounted for 223,975 jobs. However, in 2020 total GVA reduced to £5.9bn with headcount falling to 218,965, reflecting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
London had the largest sport economy in 2020 but the total £1.3bn GVA figure in 2020 represented a 27.6% contraction compared to 2019. Employment levels were not as badly impacted with a 2.2% fall from 53,315 in 2019 to 53,165 in 2020.
The top eight growing sports economies in 2020 were in Yorkshire and the Humber. Collectively, they added £60.1m to UK sports GVA. These locations, which includes York, Wakefield, and Doncaster, were the only places to increase the size of their sports economies during lockdown – highlighting the resilience of the sector in this region.
Another key finding is the positive relationship between the number of football and rugby teams in high-tier sports leagues and a city’s level of sport GVA and employment. The report, for example, revealed that amongst the top five cities with the largest relative sports economy in 2020, four were home to clubs competing in either the 2019-2020 or 2020-21 Premier League seasons.
To unlock the potential of the UK’s sports economy the report makes three recommendations to Government in the following three areas
- Women’s Sport - Unlock funding to support the further growth of women’s professional sport including Women’s Super League
- Climate change - Provide funding and guidelines for green objectives for sports clubs
- Financial sustainability – Legislate for a new independent regulator for English Football
The report says women’s sports can be a key pillar in the development of the future of the sports economy and highlights the positive economic benefit of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 football tournament. It adds that more investment, together with potential benefits of the RFU’s plans to see 100,000 players by 2027, would provide a major boost to local economies.
It concludes that although both women’s rugby and football have taken huge steps in development in recent years, support from the Government would accelerate and unlock the full economic potential of women’s professional sports.
Expert Opinion“This report highlights the strength and huge opportunities that exist within the sports sector but at the same time it reveals how vulnerable local economies can be to periods of economic turbulence.
“There are some interesting themes emerging in the report’s recommendations. Support and funding from the Government could accelerate and unlock the full economic potential of the WSL, as highlighted by the success of EURO 2022, and help RFU meet its ambitious objectives. Any scheme that promotes greater participation and viewership will boost economic activity both through higher match-day activity and longer-term productivity, culminating in a strong net benefit for regional economies across the UK.
“The report also calls for greater focus on financial issues and adapting to the climate crisis. Whether it is environmental or financial sustainability, both are key issues in sport and must be considered to future-proof the sports economy.”
Thomas Barnard, partner and National Head of Irwin Mitchell’s Sports sector team.
Josie Dent, Managing Economist at Cebr said: "Sports make a substantial contribution to the economies of cities in the UK. The sports sector promotes expenditure and employment, with total GVA for the sector in 2020 estimated at £1.3 billion in London, while sports activities are also linked to higher productivity and wellbeing, further boosting the UK economy."
Other key findings from the report:
- In absolute terms, London had the largest sports economy in 2020, with total sports GVA of £1.3 billion.
- Following London, Greater Manchester and Sheffield saw the largest sports economies, with the latter overtaking Edinburgh, Leeds, and Liverpool as it saw 9.3% annual growth.
- York saw the most rapid growth in sports GVA between 2019 and 2020. The city saw its sports economy expand by a third (33.3%) year-on-year.
- Southampton’s sport GVA fell by over 50% between 2019 and 2020 and headcount in the sector fell by over 1,000 during the same period.
Irwin Mitchell’s sport sector team advises individual athletes; sports clubs; leisure groups; national and international governing bodies and sports agencies. Its team of experts advise on a diverse range of issues including tax and image rights structures; dispute resolution and disciplinary action; commercial transactions; property; IP and employment law. Irwin Mitchell is the official legal partner of England Rugby; UK Athletics; and British Rowing.
Cebr used Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) data (source: NOMIS) to assess the level of sports-related employment in each city (in 2020) and calculate the annual growth rate of sports employment.
Additionally, Cebr used Annual Business Survey (ABS) data (source: ONS) to estimate the economic activity (measured by GVA) directly generated by sports activities for each city. This was achieved by multiplying the number of people in sports employment in each city by the GVA per job given in the ABS data for each sports subsector in the respective year. Subsequently, regional GVA data from the ONS were used to assess the size of the sports related economy relative to total city GVA.
Cebr defined the sports sector by the following - Operation of sports facilities; Activities of sports clubs; Fitness facilities; Manufacture of sports goods; Retail sale of sporting equipment.