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Measuring the success of major sporting events and festivals


Research on the economic and social impact of major events and festivals by the University has been a catalyst for evaluating events in the UK. Staff at the Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) have provided national level research leadership culminating in the launch of an event evaluation framework and website in 2010 widely viewed as representing the 'gold standard' by which the impacts of events and festivals are evaluated. The site has helped public and private organisations to justify public investment in events as well as improving overall event planning.

Our research

UK Sport is the national body responsible for many major sporting events and is mandated to conduct research into the economic impacts of these events. The University has conducted much of UK Sport’s event-related research since its inception in 1996. In addition to conducting research for public bodies, SIRC has also carried out similar work for high profile major events, such as the London Marathon, the Tour de France, Wimbledon, and the Open Golf Championships.

Recently, UK Sport along with national and regional bodies, including VisitBritain and EventScotland commissioned the website launched in March 2010, which provided guidance on good practice. The guidance within was devised following independent evaluations of six events that took place across Great Britain in the summer of 2008. SIRC was the lead research partner for this work, managing a consortium also comprising the University of Cardiff, the University of Stirling and Substance (a social enterprise consultancy).

The three Measuring Success research reports published by UK Sport revealed that major events and festivals have an economic impact that can be quantified using applied mainstream economic principles. Repeated testing of the model has revealed that the nature of an event significantly influences the kind of economic impact it creates. Different events and different sizes of event also require different types of economic impact assessment.

Events can also deliver other measurable outcomes. In the late 1990s, University Professors Shibli and Gratton designed a way to measure media coverage of major sport events, enabling event marketing and sponsorship benefits to be calculated more accurately for businesses. Public bodies investing in sports events also aim to achieve short- to long-term social impacts. Our research has enabled to provide tools to define how intention (e.g. increased participation in sport) might convert into measurable outcomes directly attributable to an intervention.

Contractors carrying out research on our behalf are asked to use the EventImpacts methodology which in turn gives us consistency of approach and comparability of data across events.
Senior officer, EventScotland

The SIRC research and the Measuring Success series have been instrumental in pursuing a policy of attracting more major events to Northern Ireland as well as helping to support the case for enhanced funding.
Senior officer, Sport Northern Ireland

The impact

As described above, this research informed the setting up of the website in 2010. Since then, it has become common practice for evaluation contracts in the sector to specify that outputs must be compliant. Furthermore, the website now acts as a growing public repository for research that uses the methods advocated, allowing even small scale event organisers to access better evaluation techniques.

The evaluation framework developed for now allows public sector bodies to make better cost benefit estimates ahead of events. This has enabled them to secure better value for money from event investments. For example, Sheffield City Council used the outputs of SIRC's economic impact analyses to determine the level of its investment in retaining the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield until 2017.

The framework has been used by SIRC to evaluate the effectiveness of the use of public funding for major events by national governing bodies of sport, local authorities, national tourism agencies and commercial events. These have included British Cycling, Sheffield City Council and the World Snooker Championship, Failte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Tour de France, the London Marathon and The Open Golf Championship.

Whilst most SIRC’s event impact research has been in sport, includes its research on the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Pipe Band World Championships 2009 held in Glasgow. In 2010 SIRC was commissioned by Arts Council England to validate an economic and social return on investment model for the cultural sector.

Other outcomes from the site underpinned by SIRC research include an increase in the number of events hosted in the UK: from nine major events per year by UK Sport between 2000 and 2007 to an average of 17 between 2008 and 2013. There has also been an increase in public funding for events and continued recognition of their value in a period of public expenditure cuts.

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