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Sport: the Ultimate Experience

Posted on November 26, 2018 By Gareth Balch

We’re experiencing a Golden Decade for sport in the UK – a Golden Decade that we project will extend into a Golden Era.
In 2018, professional sports events played in the UK will attract 11.5m more attendances than in 2012, not including major one-off events.

That represents an average increase of 2.8% a year between 2012 and 2018 in a period where the UK population has grown by 0.71% a year1.

Total Ticketed Attendance for Live Sport in the UK, Excluding Major One-Off Events (2012-18)

London 2012 was one of the catalysts for this growth. It may not have been in Seb Coe’s bid-winning speech in Singapore in 2005, but the legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games isn’t simply about more people participating in sport and redeveloping a city, it’s about getting more people consuming and engaging with sport.

As one of the most beautifully and brilliantly executed sports events of all-time, London 2012 inspired a country to believe in itself, bringing with it a halo effect that accelerated a previously untapped demand for live sport. In the process, it created a number of major new venues that have helped sports such as netball, hockey and athletics drive bigger attendances, and gave the UK huge confidence in its ability to successfully bid for, and host, the world’s biggest sports events.

But this story is bigger than a London 2012 legacy, and the fact people in the UK like watching sport. After all, for centuries people have packed stadia, courses and circuits across the country to get a sporting fix.

When compiling our analysis, the Two Circles team – as passionate promoters of women’s sport – reminded me that until the 2012 Olympic Games, when just over 80,000 packed into Wembley to watch the USA beat Japan 2-1 to win gold, the record attendance for a women’s football game was 53,000 – a record that dated back to 19202.

Live sport has long been in the UK’s DNA. But for so many reasons our society, and economy, has changed since then – and what’s truer now that has ever been before is that more people in the UK are spending time and money on live sport – one in three, according to our analysis.

And that’s the big news story. And here are some of the data points that show why.

1) The UK has less money – but is spending more on sport

Between 2006/07 and 2016/17, the UK population’s average disposable income increased by just 0.2% compared to 3.3% the decade previous3. Due to the financial crisis of 2008, and the recession that followed, for the first time in over 100 years the youngest generation of adults in the UK (the so-called Millennial generation) became worse off than the previous4.

But sport has not been negatively affected by this. Watching live sport is an unrivalled leisure pursuit, and a tightly-squeezed UK population is continuing to turn to it to spend its money – contributing £1.9bn alone in 2018 through ticketing and hospitality.

2) Large sectors of the leisure economy are struggling

In 2017, 5,855 stores on the UK high street closed – more than in any year since 20105. The number of visitors to the 15 UK-government-funded museums was 46.5m in 2017/18 – down from 50.8m in 2014/156 – while the number of UK pubs has dropped below 47,000 this year, down from 75,000 in the early 1970s7.

However, the UK leisure economy has grown by 17% between 2013 and 20188. To relax, socialise and have fun away from their working lives, people in the UK are turning to sport; live sports events are growing at a time when areas of the leisure economy that have traditionally competing for money and attention are in decline.

3) The supply of live sport is matching demand

We’re living in an era that, relative to those that have come before, people across the world place more value on experiences than possessions. Due to our cognitive bias for unscripted human drama, live sport is at the top of the pile when it comes to experiences. And according to our data, in the UK there’s a growing hunger for live sport that’s never been experienced before.

According to our data analysis, the number of professional sports events held annually in the UK has increased by 1.4% annually, on average, between 2012 and 2018.

This demand is being matched by an increased supply of new sports events and experiences. Our client the NFL, who in 2012 played its annual International Series game in the UK at Wembley Stadium for the sixth year in a row. Three International Series games took place at Wembley this year – all sold out – while next year Wembley and Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium will collectively host four. All will sell-out.

The NFL is just one rights-holder that has brought ‘new’ regular events in the UK market, in addition to rights-holders that have brought a regular stream of major one-off events, year-after-year, including the Commonwealth Games (2014), Rugby World Cup (2015) and ICC Champions Trophy (2017).

It’s a great time to be in the business of selling live sports experiences.


  1. International Monetary Fund
  3. Office for National Statistics
  4. Resolution Foundation
  5. Local Data Company
  6. Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  7. CAMRA
  8. Mintel, March 23rd 2018


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