People in the United Kingdom love to watch sports for many different reasons. Some people watch out of a sense of shared local identity, rooting for the team and jersey that represents the city they’re from as they band together with other people of a shared local origin.
Others watch because they like the fanfare, taking in the atmosphere and the crowd of big games as much as the action on the field itself, just like some watch because of a technical interest, breaking down the minutiae of why players do what they do on the field as they explore the strategy of the game. Others still like to watch because of a sense of competition, wanting to see their team win as if it were themselves out there on the field.
As anyone who pays even the smallest bit of attention to sports knows, it’s a billion pound industry here in the UK, with eight-figure deals handed out to superstars left and right, massive numbers that are still only a fraction of what the owners and bosses who run the clubs bring in.
While professional athletes may just be looked at by some as dumb jocks, relying on physical talent more than anything else, no one can deny the positive impact that sports have on our culture and economy.
A look at the numbers
I’ll start with one of the most popular topics around: money. The top flight of football in the UK, the English Premier League, brought in some 5.5 billion pounds during the 2021-22 season, the most recent year we have data for… and that’s without taking into account other levels of the sport, or other competitions like the Europa League.
Keep in mind that that season took place amidst the aftershocks of the COVID-19 Pandemic, which was still in full force at the time. Restrictions began to peel back throughout that season, but any impact matters when individual games are bringing in millions upon millions of pounds.
As someone who grew up in the United States, I can attest to the power that the Premier League holds around the world: people would wear shirts and jerseys repping clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool during my time in middle school and high school, showing how the league has successfully exported its brand around the world.
While American sports leagues will sometimes head across the pond to play a game or too, looking to grow their sports on an intercontinental level, I’ve never seen sports merchandise from the United States represented in the UK on the same level.
That might seem like nothing more than a fun personal anecdote, but it speaks to the buying power of these brands. People travel from all over the world to see their favorite clubs play in person, stimulating local economies through airfare, lodging, food and other expenses that go well beyond the ticket to the game or a t-shirt purchased.
All about betting
Another massive financial effect of sports in the UK is that of sports betting. The industry has taken off in recent years, with various Betting Sites in the UK bringing in more than $6.5 billion USD during 2020, a year that was once again impacted by the pandemic.
The fact that betting sites are bringing in revenue that rivals that of the leagues they take wagers on shows just how much of an institution sports betting is in the UK, and that money once again goes back into the local economy through taxes.
Sports fandom is ingrained in many of us from a young age, following the example of our elders and people out in the community, a sort of fandom peer pressure as we see people representing the local teams they love.
While the conflicting identities between competing clubs can cause ugly moments during the heat of a match—we’ve all seen footage of people drunk at a game throwing punches—they also bring us together because of shared identity. Seeing someone represent the colors of a team you like is an easy conversation starter, and it engenders a sense of local pride when your favorite club does well.
For history buffs like myself, sporting culture goes even deeper than that. I love reading anecdotes about the early days of English football or the origins of cricket and rugby, seeing how the sports have changed through the years alongside our culture. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting lost on Wikipedia for an hour or two, clicking from link to link as I learn what was going on in Liverpool in 1890 through the eyes of football performances at the time.
The shared love of games dating back through the centuries, no matter how much we or the sports themselves have changed through that time, provide a fascinating look into how culture evolves through the lens of sporting fandom.
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