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UK sports attendances highest on record at 75m

Ben Stokes of England bats during the Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between New Zealand and England (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

75.1 million people will have visited a live UK sports event in 2019, breaking the record for the country and making it the only place in the world where sporting attendances exceed the population.

Research by data agency Two Circles indicates the 75 million figure surpassed the 74.6 million who attended live sport in 2018 and contributed £11.8bn (€14bn/$15.5bn) to the UK economy.

The study claims the UK tops a table ranking countries by attendance per capita (1.15 in 2019), followed by Australia (0.96), the United States (0.92) and Ireland (0.78).

Two Circles ascribes the strength of UK sporting attendances to a large supply of premium sport within a relatively small geographical footprint; citizens in the UK having a greater appetite for live sports experiences than any other country; a well-developed infrastructure of venues with a total sports-event capacity of 5.6 million; and the accessibility of the UK as a travel destination from Europe, North America and Asia.

Football was the biggest contributor, accounting for 50.5 million of UK attendances, or 67.2 per cent of the 75 million annual figure. Horse racing came second, accounting for 5.9 million live spectators (7.9 per cent) while Rugby Union came third, hosting 4.3 million live spectators (5.7 per cent). The Rugby Union attendance figure represents a fall by a million over 2018 due to domestic calendar changes to accommodate the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

When excluding major one-off events, which this year included the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, Netball World Cup and Solheim Cup, Two Circles estimates overall UK attendances stood at 74 million for the year. The agency says this means UK attendances for established annual sporting events have grown an average of 3.4 per cent year on year between 2013 and 2019, representing 11 million more spectators in 2019 versus 2013.

“Sport has long been in the UK’s DNA, and in addition to the UK’s domestic competitions growing their live fanbases, new events such as regular-season NFL and MLB games in London are being added to the calendar,” said Gareth Balch, chief executive, Two Circles. “The UK has also shown to be a dependable destination for international federations looking to deliver both amazing atmospheres and commercially successful competitions.”

Two Circles was the official data and insight partner of the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup, using information about the global cricketing fan base to drive ticket sales for the event. It provided similar services for the 2018 Women’s Cricket World Cup and was recently appointed by the ATP Tour to drive attendances for the season-ending ATP Finals.