Bats and balls the key to economic bounce

July 8, 2009

simon_chadwick-Simon Chadwick is the Director of the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University, and runs the blog ‘Daily Sport Thought’ in which he addresses many of the important challenges currently facing sport. The opinions expressed are his own.-

I love sport, I have always loved sport, and I make my living researching, writing and talking about sport. As such, I do not need to be convinced about the social, cultural, psychological and health benefits associated with our engagement in sport. I also do not need any convincing about the economic benefits of sport, although some people will always and inevitably exclaim, “he would say that wouldn’t he!”

Well, it is not me it is actually the United Nations which states that sport may account for as much as 3 percent of global economic activity. It is the European Union that estimates sport to be worth 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). And it is the British government that has recently acknowledged just how significant sport as an industry has become by commissioning research which will result in the development of robust measures for the contribution that sport makes to the British economy. Previous estimates already indicate that sport may generate as much as 2.5 percent of GDP, in which case this means it is an industry bigger than agriculture and not so far behind manufacturing.

Sport is, indeed, much more important than we realise or acknowledge. It is deeply ingrained in many of our psyches: for some people this dates back to our childhoods and is bound up in our social and geographic identities; for other people, sport allows us to indulge in vicarious achievement (related to the psychological phenomenon of BiRG-ing – Basking in Reflected Glory) and euphoric collective experiences.

The consumption of sport is thus not a rational economic activity, an observation that is particularly pertinent amidst these recessionary times. Whereas other industries continue to suffer the effects of the downturn, sport remains one of the more recession-resistant sectors, buoyed by the inherently unique features that differentiate sport, making it a safe-haven during difficult times.

Sport can be relied upon not to let people down, it provides value for money, not least because of its central proposition: the uncertainty of outcome – you never know what the result is going to be, something absent from virtually all other forms of consumption in our otherwise increasingly homogenised and standardised world. As such, people actively seek out sport and remain loyal to it, even during economically troubled times.

There is clear evidence already that sport has bucked recent recessionary trends; for instance, over the last year, Arsenal reported a profit of almost 37 million pounds; both the Rugby Football Union and the Premier League have announced new, high value, long-term televisions rights deals; Badminton England signed its most lucrative ever sponsorship deal; advertising revenues derived from slots during American Football’s Superbowl broke all records; and television viewing figures for the Champions League Final in Rome were up by 27 percent.

If one then factors in the specific economic impacts that sporting success can have, there are strong grounds for optimism that our love affair with sport may actually help lift us out of our current economic malaise. In the months immediately after last year’s Beijing Olympic Games, sales of bicycles reportedly increased by upwards of 20 percent; sales of sports bras were up by 27 percent; sales of swimming equipment may have increased by upwards of 36 percent; and sales of energy bars and sports drinks apparently increased by as much as 155 percent.

Moreover, a YouGov poll conducted prior to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany indicated that almost half of all men and women felt that sporting success lifts their mood, helps them be more optimistic and increases their productivity.

So what are the prospects for this summer, and beyond into the autumn? It is a pity that there is no major football tournament due to take place, as previous research indicates a tangible link between football success and economic uplift. A Manchester United victory in the Champions League Final would have been helpful, as would an Andy Murray win at Wimbledon. We still have the Ashes ahead, the World Athletics Championship in Berlin, and Jenson Button leading the Formula 1 World Championship.

It may nevertheless be towards the end of the year before witnessing the real economic excitement. If the England football team can keep their nerve and qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa, then businesses from pubs and pizza-makers to television manufacturers and internet service providers will be gleefully rubbing their hands.

Perhaps that Anglicised Scot, Gordon Brown, may be the one who will rub his hands more than most? Sporting success over the next year could not only help to save the economy, it might also help him to save his job. Roll on that Croatia game in September, eh Gordy?

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