London has reclaimed its crown as the world’s Ultimate Sports City. The award was once again handed out at the SportAccord convention, which this year took place in Bangkok, Thailand. The ceremony saw London take home not only the overall award, but also pick up the titles for Best Legacy and Best Marketing and Branding.
Held every two years since 2006, the internationally-recognised SportBusiness Ultimate Sports City Rankings and Awards are the longest-established rankings of the world’s top sports host cities.
To decide the Ultimate Sports City of 2018, we refreshed the process slightly from previous editions. In earlier years, a longlist of 150 cities from around the world was drawn up, based on sporting events staged over an eight-year period, and then whittled down to a final shortlist of 30 contenders.
This year, we increased our scope dramatically. The range of events included for eligibility was expanded, meaning 2018’s longlist contained over 500 cities.
All sporting events held in a city were given a weighting, based on their scale and prominence, with over 1,200 data points considered and analysed to leave us with our final contenders.
In January 2018, based on the analysis as well as input from our panel of high-profile industry judges, the 500 were reduced to a final shortlist of 30 cities which would compete for the title of Ultimate Sports City 2018. This was also broken down into shortlists of five in contention for the subcategory awards.
Browse the report
- London regains title
- Best of the rest
- Ones to watch
- Glasgow’s legacy in action
- The Future of Mega Events? Judge’s roundtable
London’s victory is its third in the 12-year history of the awards, having previously taken home the overall trophy in 2012 and 2014. Its triumph in 2018 is all the more impressive given that the Olympic Games of 2012 no longer contribute to its score, as they fall outside the event window of 2014-2022. The afterglow of that hugely successful event, however, did help secure the Best Legacy award for London.
Five continents were represented by the 30 finalists. European cities represented one-third of the final 30, with numerous economic powerhouses in the region all hosting a variety of sporting events on a regular basis. Paris returned to the top ten after missing out in the previous two editions. Though its Olympic Games in 2024 did not count toward the city’s score this year, there is no question that the bid buoyed the French capital and has led to a significant increase in event hosting activity.
One of the stories of the 2018 edition has been the continued rise of Asia in the rankings – the world’s largest continent put up nine cities this year, as city authorities in countries from Qatar to Japan, from the UAE to China, continue to sink funds into sports, whether as a show of soft power or an attempt to announce their teams on the global stage, as with Japan’s hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Tokyo, which squeezed into the top ten, will host the final next year.
For the first time, no African city made the top 30. Previous years had seen strong showings from South Africa in particular, with Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg all appearing on earlier lists. Durban’s decision to pull out of hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 did it no favours, but that decision is also indicative of a wider economic malaise in Africa’s richest nation. The country is also still dealing with the disastrous legacy of the Fifa World Cup in 2010 and is inevitably reluctant to involve itself anew in major sporting events. Morocco’s bid for the 2026 Fifa World Cup has at least demonstrated an appetite to show the world that Africa can compete on this scale, and may foreshadow a stronger showing next time around.
Canada tied the UK for the most representatives in the top 30, with three. Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal all made the shortlist, while Toronto and Edmonton also performed very well and finished just outside the final shortlist. The results reflect the country’s status as a strong all-rounder, with regular high-profile winter sports events augmenting occasional major global showpieces such as the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
Alongside previous winners London, New York and Melbourne were three first-time entrants in Abu Dhabi, Mexico City and Prague. The UAE capital narrowly beat the other two in the race for the Best Newcomer award, and all three cities surely have exciting futures in event hosting.
The size and frequency of events hosted over the eight-year period from 2014 to 2022 is the primary measurement for choosing the Ultimate Sports City, but several other criteria are involved. Cities were also measured on:
- Number of federations and administrative bodies based in the city, and their importance
- Current venues and facilities, and capabilities for major sports events
- Transport and infrastructure
- Government support and major sports event strategy
- Legacy planning and impact
- Public interest in and attendance of event
- Marketing and branding
For all categories, scores were allocated, with 25 points available across each criterion. The top-scoring city in each category receives 25 points, the second-highest 24, down to one point for the 25th-placed city. Those between 26 and 30 in a category received zero points.
Following this, three categories marketing and branding, legacy planning and event strategy – were ranked by our panel of judges, all of whom work within the event hosting space and have extensive knowledge and experience of sporting events and the destinations that hold them. This enables a much clearer and deeper look into the non-measurable criteria than a data-driven approach alone would allow.
Once again, we also handed out awards based on city population, to better reflect the aspirations of smaller cities that lack the budget to host the large-scale sporting events of giants like London or New York. In 2016, a fifth size category – extra-small city – was introduced, but this has been dropped for 2018 due to a lack of qualifying cities. This year, awards were handed out to the best small city (population under 1.3m), medium (between 1.3m and 3m), large (between 3m and 8m) and extra-large (over 8m).
The judging panel
- Leanne Arnold, director of strategy and communications, M-IS
- Kelly Fairweather, chief operating officer, International Tennis Federation
- Tanya Heimlich-Ng Yuen, director, Burson-Marsteller Sport
- Sean Parry, senior consultant, The Sports Consultancy
- Jon Tibbs, chairman, JTA