With a population of just over 600,000, Glasgow has forged a reputation as an events host that many larger destinations would envy.
Glasgow not only triumphed in the Best Small City category against destinations with populations up to twice its size, but also maintained its fifth place in the overall standings – a remarkable achievement considering the scale of the competition from medium, large and extra-large metropolises.
According to Billy Garrett, director of sport and events at Glasgow Life, which was established in 2007 to deliver cultural and leisure services on behalf of Glasgow City Council, the city is reaping the rewards of a targeted event-hosting strategy dating back some three decades to the Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988 and the European Capital of Culture accolade in 1990.
“You have to go back quite a long way to get to the root of it,” Garrett tells SportBusiness International. “The city has benefited from a consistent strategy that is based on a consensus across the various governmental administrations and partners we have worked with locally and nationally.
“It all came about due to the challenges of de-population and de-industrialisation that faced Glasgow. There was a concerted effort to invest in culture and leisure, making events one of the key planks of the city’s regeneration.”
Taste for sport
The acclaimed 2014 Commonwealth Games gave Glasgow a taste of major sporting events that has shown no sign of fading.
The 2015 FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships were hailed by Bruno Grandi, then president of the sport’s global governing body as “even better than the Olympic Games” after attracting about 80,000 spectators and generating an economic impact of £4.9m (€5.6m/$6.6m) for Glasgow. In the same year, the International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships took place at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre.
After staging the 2017 BWF World Badminton Championships, this year the 2018 European Championships are being co-hosted by Glasgow and Berlin, with the Scottish city set to welcome 3,000 athletes who will compete in aquatics, cycling, golf, gymnastics, rowing and triathlon.
Next year, the European Athletics Indoor Championships and the European Short Course Swimming Championships are on the schedule, while in 2020 the city will host the Men’s World Curling Championship and four matches of the Uefa European Championship, which is being held at several major destinations across Europe.
The city is also home to the Glasgow Indoor Grand Prix – widely seen as the most prestigious annual indoor athletics event on the calendar – and it was announced at the start of May that Davis Cup tennis would be returning to Glasgow’s Emirates Arena in September, with Great Britain’s World Group play-off against Uzbekistan.
Mass-participation events, such as the Great Scottish Run and Women’s 10k will also remain on a busy sporting calendar over the coming years, with the city attempting to make the most of its state-of-the-art facilities that, Garrett says, are “owned by the people, who lend them to these events”.
Since the late 1980s, £300m has been invested into the city’s sporting facilities £190m of which has been pumped in since 2009 as part of a broader £1bn infrastructure improvement programme.
“Each facility is built for the city of Glasgow and is ready for legacy mode,” Garrett says. “The velodrome, for example, is heavily used by Glasgow’s cycling clubs and members of the public.
“Cycling is a really powerful sport for us at the moment. Integrating professional races with City Ride events can feed into a wider cycling strategy across the city. We already work with existing clubs in the city and it is really important for us to develop the grassroots.
“With the recent completion of the BMX track that will be used for this summer’s European Championships, we are now the only city in the world capable of hosting all four Olympic cycling disciplines – track, road, BMX and mountain bike racing. We will be bidding for cycling events as we’ve created the infrastructure. We’ve demonstrated that we can sell out events. Every event we host has a significant legacy programme involving community groups and schools. For example, at the BMX site, one of the anchor tenants
will be a local cycling club.”
The number of people in the city taking part in sport is now at an all-time high and, according to Glasgow Life, the sports sector supports about 10,000 jobs in the city and contributes about £370m to Glasgow’s economy every year.
But using events as a launchpad for providing the facilities and encouragement to drive positive societal change through sporting activities is just one of a “mixed shopping bag” of legacies sought by Glasgow, according to Garrett.
The common denominator of Glasgow’s sporting events is their relevance to the general population, which explains why the city scored so impressively in the awards’ legacy category.
“There is no single legacy priority for us,” says Garrett. “We deliver some events that offer only economic benefits, such as major conferences, for example.
“However, when you look at sporting events, they offer really interesting dynamic equations and we focus on particular sports that we think will resonate in the city, such as swimming, cycling, athletics, gymnastics and badminton. These sports have strong foundations across the city, with strong participation, club structures and demand, and are easier to extend into the community.
“We certainly do not ignore other sports though, including curling, triathlon, judo and many others. We’ll also be giving some thought towards creating our own events. Increasingly that could become important.”
Glaswegians certainly have an appetite for sporting events. More than 50,000 people applied for 15,000 volunteer roles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Glasgow Sport Volunteer Bureau – an online system that matches people with volunteer opportunities across the city – has been “inundated” ever since, according to Garrett.
“In terms of volunteers, the Commonwealth Games was a bit of a step change for us,” he adds. “We have found that people who volunteered for the Commonwealth Games have gone on to be volunteers at other events.
“But it isn’t just about providing a workforce for the event; it is also about having an impact on the wider community and it’s about civic engagement. Volunteering helps to overcome social isolation and creates social cohesion. It also enhances an individual’s employability.”
Glasgow has not been alone in its efforts to tell its story to the sporting world and become a prime destination for international federations. Arguably Glasgow’s most important supporter is EventScotland, the country’s national events agency, which has been a constant presence at major industry gatherings like SportAccord for several years.
“It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the relationship with EventScotland. It’s absolutely crucial,” Garrett says. “We represent Glasgow, but we see ourselves as part of ‘Team Scotland’. Relationships are critical and we wouldn’t be where we are without the support of our partners.
“We have been discussing our event strategy over the next few years with EventScotland and we will continue to invest in that relationship.”
Through its various channels, EventScotland helps to promote Glasgow, often in partnership with other cities, to interested rights-holders across the sporting spectrum.
In terms of marketing activations surrounding the events themselves another area where Glasgow scored highly in the rankings – Glasgow Life provides a comprehensive and tailored approach for domestic and international markets.
Garrett believes this is thanks to a merger that was announced in 2016 between Glasgow Life and the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau.
“Glasgow Life previously worked closely with the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, but now we are a much stronger, seamless organisation,” he says. “When a local organising committee is established for an event, we have everyone we need around the table, including traditional marketers who will focus on domestic ticket sales, as well as those focusing on international markets who will look for channels and routes with the support of agencies.
“So we have all the right skills in place and are able to create a strategy very quickly. Glasgow Life is now a one-stop shop – from selling tickets in Glasgow, to selling to spectators south of the border, to selling packages in mainland China, as we did for the BWF World Badminton Championships.”
Looking to the future, Glasgow is setting itself lofty targets: not only to maintain its standing in the SportBusiness Ultimate Sport Cities rankings after two successive top-five finishes, but also to attract “globallyrecognised events”, Garrett says.
“Glasgow remains incredibly ambitious. We want to stay up there towards the top of the rankings,” he adds. “We have meaningful ambitions between now and 2030 alongside the anchor events in sports like athletics and badminton. For example, just days ago we hosted our first ATP World Tour tennis event.
“There is no complacency and no suggestion in Glasgow that it is mission accomplished. There are major challenges here, as there are in other places, and there are pockets of severe deprivation that are hard to reach. For us, it is about making sure the benefits of creating a culture of physical activity are felt by as many people as possible across the population.”
Garrett says that he and his team have looked at what the competition have been achieving and try to learn from them.
“For example, we have noted with interest what London – which was given the ‘Best Legacy’ award – has been doing to target the least-engaged people and we’re sure there are things that we can learn in a number of areas,” he says. “We have to justify every pound invested in an event. After all, every pound spent there could have been spent elsewhere.”
This article is part of SportBusiness’ Ultimate Sports City report 2018. Browse the other sections of the report or download the PDF version here.