Sport worth £11bn thanks to couch potatoes

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The Independent Online

British consumers now spend almost twice as much a year on sport as they do going on holiday within this country.

British consumers now spend almost twice as much a year on sport as they do going on holiday within this country.

But the news does not necessarily indicate a healthier society; armchair followers are to thank for the rise in spending, and the biggest area of increased expenditure is pay-television subscriptions.

The figures also show that we still only spend half the amount on sport that we do on motor vehicles or eating out.

The figures illustrate a UK leisure industry spend of just over £13bn for 1998, the latest year for which statistics are available. The figure for tourism is £7.2bn. This follows Government research last year showing that the whole leisure economy is now bigger than that for food.

The analysis was carried out for Sport England, formerly the Sports Council, and details for England alone show an annual spend of over £11bn, an increase of over 17 per cent since 1995. It also reveals an increase in employment in sport of more than 20,000 over the same period.

The study was undertaken by the Leisure Industry Research Centre at Sheffield University, which found increased spending reflected in all areas of sport except football pools, where income has dropped 40 per cent due to competition from the National Lottery.

The biggest rises were seen in television rental, and cable and satellite subscriptions related to sport, which went up almost 100 per cent - reflecting the increasing share of the TV sports market taken by BSkyB.

"Sport is very sexy at the moment. It's sexy in terms of being cool and in terms of the whole growth in health and fitness activity," said Professor Chris Gratton, who heads the Sheffield department. He used the example of football, which in the past 10 years has been transformed from an industry in long-term decline to a business with tremendous image and global impact.

But even in the area of participation sports he sees a "radical change" over this period. "Sport has gone from something driven by government grants and voluntary effort into a major industry," he said.

Spending on equipment and services is double what it was 15 to 20 years ago. While participation in team sports such as football and rugby is static, the growth has been in relatively high-cost areas like gym membership and clothing.

The study shows that spending on sports clothing rose by more than 18 per cent to £1.4m, while subscriptions and fees over the 1995-98 period rose by 21 per cent to nearly £2.1m.

Trevor Brooking CBE, chairman of Sport England, said:"More people are joining clubs which suggests that we're getting more people into sport," he said. "The value of sport to the individual, the community and the country continues to grow."