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New research reveale increasing importance of football in driving inbound tourism to the UK

New research from the national tourism agency VisitBritain demonstrates the increasing importance of football in driving inbound tourism to the UK and in boosting visitor spending. sport tourism

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The results show that 1.5 million inbound visitors went to a live football match in 2019 – around 1 in every 27 visitors. With all the sports Britain has to offer, it is the chance to experience a live football match which attracts the largest volume of inbound visitors.

While the Irish Republic leads the way in terms of the market generating the most football watching visits to the UK, Iceland and Norway take the top spots when considering propensity to go to a live football match with 13% and 12% of all visits respectively featuring live football. The average spend per visit for football spectators in 2019 was £909 which was 31% higher than the average UK visitor (£696) showing their high value to the UK economy.

Around one quarter of those attending a football match said the main reason for visiting the UK was to watch sport equating to 353,000 visits. Amongst the remaining visitors who went to a football match in 2019, 38% were in the UK for holiday purposes and 27% here to visit friends/relatives. 6% were here for business visits which is equal to 94,000 visits inclusive of a football match.

Of the visitors who gave their primary journey purpose to the UK to ‘watch sport,’ 62% attended a football match, confirming of the live sports on offer in Britain, it’s football that is attracting the largest volume of inbound visitors.

Regional spread sport tourism

Not only does football encourage visitors to come to Britain, but it encourages them to explore different parts of Britain.  In 2019, London attracted the largest volume of visitors to watch football, however if we look at football visits as a proportion of the visits to each region, the top region was the North West with 18% followed by the North East (7%). A follow up question in the survey regarding the stadia visited showed that Old Trafford in Manchester and Anfield in Liverpool had the highest attendance at 440,000 visits. The Emirates, Wembley and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium followed with a combined attendance of 425,000 inbound visitors.

VisitBritain reports on football tourism in the UK (PDF, 8.15MB) covers the profile of international visitors who attended football matches during their stay. Published October 2021.

Region % of visits including live football Region % of visits including live football
North West England 18% Scotland 3%
North East England 7% East Midlands 2%
Wales 5% East of England 2%
Yorkshire 5% South West England 2%
London 3% South East England 2%
West Midlands 2%

Football amongst Buzzseekers

In 2018/19 VisitBritain commissioned research on football tourism amongst Buzzseekers in six markets; Brazil, China, India, Norway, Sweden and the USA. The research aimed to better understand the impact and role of football on tourism, the attraction of English football for international tourists and how to connect with this audience.

The survey was asked to international travellers who fit into the Buzzseeker segment (more info here), who have some level of interest in football.

VisitBritain found that in all markets surveyed, more than 80% of those who follow a foreign football league follow the Premier League. Visitors were also more likely to have visited the UK to watch a Premier League match than a Champions league match, stressing the importance of this huge sporting competition.


Market specific insights:

USA: Football is likely to be the main focus of the trip with 6 in 10 Americans who travelled to watch a football match abroad getting football tickets before booking the rest of the trip. Experiencing the atmosphere is a huge draw with 70% of Americans citing the atmosphere as a reason for going to watch football. They are also interested in experiencing ‘traditional Britain’ as seeing iconic sights and trying British food are within the top 3 activities that American Buzzseekers would be interested in doing. sport tourism

Brazil: Brazilian football fans are most likely to follow teams with Brazilian players and with such a rich football history, they are a key audience for football tourism in the UK. Football is not always the initial driver with 34% of football tickets bought after booking the trip and as much interest in going on a stadium tour (86%) compared to seeing a live match (84%).

China: The Chinese market shows great potential with 92% of respondents intending to visit in the next two years and 85% agreeing that it would be a once in a lifetime trip. There is huge interest in other activities with 7 in 10 wanting to go on food and drink tours, and go shopping. Chinese football fans are heavily reliant on travel agent websites as sources of information and inspiration for international travel.

Norway: Only 41% of Norwegian football fans had a strong interest in football, indicating that football is not the main draw for a trip to the UK. They are more likely to follow one team with 47% being dedicated supporters.  As they are more likely to have visited the UK before, efforts to convert interest into intention need to focus on all the things on offer that they may have no experienced before.

Sweden: Similarly to Norwegians, Swedish football fans are less likely to be influenced by the football element of their trip. Swedish Buzzseekers enjoy the social aspect of the trip where football is not the main focus but will enhance the overall enjoyment of the trip – experiencing festivals, pubs and other sporting events is key to this market segment. They are as likely to watch a match in a pub (65%) as they are to want to go to a Premier League match (66%), enjoying football matches in a variety of ways.

India: An ideal holiday for Indian football fans would be to watch big matches or cup competitions as part of a multi-destination tour – 69% are only likely to consider travelling to Britain to watch football as part of an organised tour and amongst those who watched a football match abroad, 68% visited more than one country on a previous trip. Interest in engaging football-based activities such as playing football or fantasy football is high amongst Indian football fans. With the UK being the home of cricket and almost every Indian football fan also following cricket (94%), this could provide an opportunity for a combined offer. sport tourism

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