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Sport grows leisure share with 2018 attendance and spending records

Posted on November 26, 2018 By Matt Cutler

UK sport’s ‘Golden Decade’ has reached another landmark year, with total attendances for live UK sports events hitting 74.6m in 2018, according to Two Circles data analysis.
In 2012, when the UK entered the current period of major-event hosting with the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, the total attendance for regular annual live sports events (not including the Games) was 63m. This means UK sports attendances have grown 2.8% year-on-year on average between 2012 and 2018 not including one-off annual events – representing 11.5m more attendances in 2018 than in 2012.

Total Ticketed Attendance for Live Sport in the UK (2012-18)

And not only are sports attendances growing, but buoyed by differentiated propositions and products, more young people are coming to watch sport: the proportion of ticket-buyers aged 16-24 has increased from 15% in 2012 to 23% in 2018. The number of Millennials attending sport has also increased across the period – growing from 16% of the total number of UK sports ticket-buyers in 2012 to 21% in 2018.

“Sport has always been a popular leisure choice due to our cognitive bias for unscripted human drama. However, across this Golden Decade, the quality of experience has improved with sports rights-holders increasingly investing in the stadia, the stars, and the service,” said Two Circles CEO Gareth Balch.

“And so despite a huge increase in the amount of available media, sport continues to cut through like nothing else. In a world of smartphones, on-demand TV and short attention spans, it remains one of the few sources of ‘Instagrammable’ entertainment that we can experience with friends, family, or on our own.

“The sports rights-holders prospering most are those who have understood what their audiences – and increasingly younger audiences – want from a live experience, adapting their product where required to ensure fans return, or creating new events to grow their fanbase.”

Two Circles analysis also found:

  • American Football, Basketball, Ice Hockey, MMA and Netball have experienced the biggest average year-on-year attendance growth between 2012 and 2018
  • With a cumulative total attendance of 49.8m in 2018, football is the biggest contributor (66.7%) to UK sporting attendances
  • One-in-three UK citizens attended at least one live professional sports event in 2018.
Total Ticketed Attendance for Live Sport in the UK by Sport (2018)


  • Only paid ticketed events for professional sports events held in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are considered. Attendance figures used are those declared by the hosting rights-holder, which include the number of tickets sold and other relevant attendees granted access to the venue
  • Contribution to the UK economy covers revenue generated by event day ticket sales and hospitality only
  • UK leisure economy has grown by 17% between 2013 and 2018 (Mintel, March 23rd 2018)
  • As per the Pew Research Center definition, Millennials are classed as those born between 1981 and 1996.

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