Only a few host cities are in a situation where they can say that sport participation increased after hosting a major event
Heloise Signe
Heloise Signe is a consultant at TSE Consulting, a Burson-Marsteller company headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. Heloise works with leading sports cities worldwide interested in using sport as a mean to reach a wide range of objectives.
The missing link
25th May 2017, 14:36
Within the wider sport industry, it is assumed that hosting sports events will encourage the city’s citizens to practice more sport – indicating that major sports events have the potential to increase sport participation. Indeed, the relationship between hosting sports events and increased sport participation is often used to justify the expense of bidding for and hosting major events.

There is, however, much debate about the effect of sports events, with little evidence suggesting that a sporting event can influence participation. In fact, only a few host cities are in a situation where they can say that sport participation increased after hosting a major event.

So, why don’t sports events seem to impact sport participation? What are the obstacles cities face when using a sports event as a platform to boost participation? 

A study we conducted at TSE Consulting sheds some light on the various obstacles cities might face. From the results received, four key reasons have been identified as to why sports events do not seem to positively impact sport participation: 

1. Increasing sport participation is not a priority for cities when hosting sports events

Even though it could be assumed that host cities would have made an increase in sport participation one of their top priorities, the reality shows a different picture. 

While 83 per cent of host cities believe that increasing sport participation is a powerful argument to help them win a bid, there is generally a shift in priorities once the cities have secured the right to host the event. 

Indeed, results show that only 8 per cent of cities make increasing sport participation their priority when hosting a sports event. Not surprisingly, then, 59 per cent of host cities do not allocate any funds in their event budget to initiatives that will increase sport participation in their event budget. 

2. Lack of coherent structure to support initiatives aiming to increase sport participation

While the role of host cities is to deliver the promises made during the bid, the achievement of a positive impact on sport participation is challenging without the involvement and support of a set of various stakeholders such as sports federations, local clubs or schools.

Of the cities surveyed, 79 per cent felt that partnering with such stakeholders is one of the most important drivers to maximise the impact of sports events on sport participation. Among the most important stakeholders, cities felt that they could benefit from developing stronger partnerships with sponsors (85 per cent), local schools and clubs (75 per cent) and the national or regional government (71 per cent).

Without such partnerships in place, the opportunities to maximise the impact of hosting sports events on sport participation is somewhat limited.

3. Efforts are not maximised during the years leading up to the event

While a substantial number of academic and industry-specialised reports have stated the importance of getting an early start on legacy planning in order to provide lasting benefits, cities do not seem to implement this recommendation. 

Indeed, only 29 per cent of cities surveyed felt that sport participation had the most chance to increase during the phase leading up to the event, compared to 56 per cent believing that the phase following the event was most likely.

4. Host cities face challenges when measuring the impact of sports events on sport participation 

It is an old saying: ‘what gets measured gets done’. This also means that what is not measured might not get done – the incentive to do something when its impact is unclear is somewhat low. 

However, 76 per cent of cities surveyed said they faced major issues with the collection of data – making it difficult to assess whether hosting a sports event actually has a positive impact on sport participation. 

In addition, the majority of cities surveyed claimed that the lack of proven methodologies (59 per cent) was stopping them from being more active in measuring the success of their events. 

These results show that there are still many things that could be done in order to unblock the potential of sporting events on the participation of individuals in sport. 

The good news is that more than 75 per cent of the surveyed cities do believe that sports events are a good platform to inspire their citizens to practice more sport and 83 per cent of them believe that increasing sport participation should be prioritised higher.

In short, the link is not missing – we are just missing a way to make it work!