Professional sport in the UK gained a record cumulative attendance for the year, with 76.2 million people attending sport in 2022, according to a study from Two Circles.
The record number of attendance by sports fans is estimated to have contributed UK£1.7 billion (US$2.07 billion) to the UK economy. The previous record was achieved in 2019, with 75.1 million people counted to have watched live sport, before the pandemic caused many crowd restrictions and the cancellation of major events in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
According to Two Circles’ data, the boon in crowds returning to sports was spearheaded by both women’s sport and the hosting of major events by the UK.
In 2022, women’s sport events is projected to post a total attendance figure of 2.4 million, which is an increase of more than 166 per cent on the sum accumulated in 2019 of 900,000. In particular, this season’s Women’s Super League (WSL) has already exceeded the final total attendance for the 2021/22 season at 250,489, with over two thirds of the 2022/23 campaign remaining.
“People have talked about women’s sport having potential to grow for years, and it feels like it’s finally actually coming true,” George Foster, UK managing director at Two Circles, tells SportsPro.
“I think one underlying reason why women’s sport, especially this year, has grown, is the Women’s Euros. But secondly, sports properties in the UK, even across the world, are realising that there’s actually a commercial opportunity.
“Therefore by properly promoting and getting the right experience in stadiums, and understanding that they can go after new audiences with women’s sport, it’s just realising that from a commercial sponsorship and media rights perspective, it’s worth investing money in.”
The Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 was one of several major sporting events, including the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the Rugby League World Cup 2021 to be held in the UK. The study found that overall they were watched by about 2.6 million people in cumulative attendances, which was the highest recorded figure since 2012.
“What we’ve seen in 2022 is the importance of sport to UK culture, and going to live events is part of that,” continued Foster.
In terms of individual sports, soccer provided 66.4 per cent of UK sports attendances for the year, with the Premier League accounting for 20 per cent of all UK sports audiences. English soccer’s top-flight competition is currently set to accumulate its highest attendance on record, with the average attendance for the 146 matches played before the World Cup calculated at 39,910, higher than last season’s average of 39,572.
Meanwhile, rugby union amassed an audience of 5.4 million, making it the second most attended sport for 2022. Close behind was horse racing (4.9 million), with cricket placed in fourth (2.9 million).
With the data in hand, Foster notes that sport remains a resilient sector in the face of economic recession, revealing that the industry has seen 40 years of consecutive annual growth across the world, thanks to the passion people have for live sport.
“Even though this cost of living crisis will hit hard, I think sport will be resilient enough to keep going through it,” he adds. “However, sports properties will need to be a bit more flexible, whether it’s making sure the pricing and the product is right.
“People are more discerning on what they want to spend their money on, and the experience that they have, they want it to be really good. So being able to offer different choices for people is really important. Cricket is a good example of this, for many years it has brought in different tiers of pricing in the same stadium for different experiences.”
Looking ahead to 2023, Foster says: “I would imagine that the sports industry globally will probably grow again into next year, because of media rights, sponsorships and all of the other major factors.
“From an attendance perspective, the lack of one-off major events in the UK might mean it wouldn’t necessarily grow in the same way that we’ve seen this year. But the strength of the Premier League is a really good indicator of where we’re going, and the strong numbers should carry through into next year.”
Enjoying SportsPro content? Create your account and get enhanced access to all the latest stories.
Have an account? Log in
A link has been emailed to you – check your inbox.
Don’t have an account?