Case Study: The Impact of Sports Infrastructure Investment on Visitor Numbers to Cardiff

by Gavin Brookman
Mar 2009
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New sports venues that can attract major sporting events or host entire tournaments attract both UK and international visitors in large numbers. This article explores the effects of sport infrastructure investment on visitor numbers through the example of the sports venues available in Cardiff. It considers both existing venues and the sporting events they have hosted and future events or venues still in planning and their anticipated impact on the number of visits to the city.

In recent years, large towns and cities such as Manchester [1] and Belfast [2] in the UK have experienced significant growth in investment in sporting infrastructure. Either led by private finance, government development grants or both, funding has flowed into large infrastructure projects including stadiums, multipurpose sports venues, and supporting facilities.

The implications for visitor figures in locations that have received significant funding are clear. New sports venues that can attract major sporting events or host entire tournaments attract both UK and international visitors in large numbers. In addition, the cumulative effect of media coverage of major sporting events can help sustain a long-term visitor interest in a town or city.

The long-term tourist impact of this type of investment is very significant. The funding and development moulds a legacy that stretches well into the future, and completely changes public perceptions of the locations that are subject to the investment.

There can be few better examples of the boost to visitor numbers that this investment generates, than the city of Cardiff.

Tourism is an important component of the Welsh economy. In recent years, annual spending from overnight and day visits has been in excess of £2.6bn, which is equivalent to approximately 7% of Welsh GDP [3].

Investment in sporting facilities boosts national and international visitor numbers to a city, and generates a legacy that helps to sustain increased visitor numbers.

This has been recognised by many local development authorities, including Cardiff County Council who have outlined as a key part of their tourism growth strategy the importance of establishing Cardiff, “as a leading short-break destination, in particular for sports and culture” [4].

Over the years, the traditional perception of Cardiff was not that of a top-tier multi-sports venue, and was associated with little beyond its role as the traditional home of Welsh rugby.

This perception was not without basis. The most notable and largest capacity sports venue was the Cardiff Arms Park. Opened in 1962, by the mid-1990s it was an old and outdated stadium, lacking modern hospitality, parking or media facilities.

Up until the turn of the last century, the cities’ other principal venues included the antiquated Ninian Park (opened 1910), Sophia Gardens Cricket Ground (opened late 19th Century), the Empire Pool (opened in 1958) and the Wales National Ice Rink (opened in the 1980s). Other additional sports facilities only included a small number of standard venues that themselves were often in need of significant investment and were incapable of hosting any kind of significant sporting events.

Although the city over the past century played host to numerous notable sporting moments, Cardiff lacked the capacity to host multi-sport higher-tier events that attract national or international attention.

Infrastructure investment is key to the delivery of venues and venues are key to delivering events. Apart from the relatively small number of individuals who travel to specifically admire sporting venues, the vast majority of tourists generated by infrastructure come because they have tickets for major sporting events.

The organisers of events such as the Ryder Cup, the Ashes, FA Cup, etc have to protect the reputation of those events. As such, they require a very high standard from the venues wishing to host those sporting occasions. Stadiums, pitches, hospitality, media and corporate facilities, parking, transport links, crowd control, etc are all factored into the considerations, and the venues that are awarded the opportunity to host these events must be of a very high standard.

Sports infrastructure investment is essential to deliver these high-quality facilities and allow teams to bid for the big ticket sports events. Cardiff has been spectacularly successful in showing the link between investment, building, competition, awarding of events and the resulting tourist and economic benefits. Cardiff’s sporting diary over the past 10 years has been impressive, and future bookings include global sports events such as the Ashes (2009) and the Ryder Cup (2012).

Around the mid-1990s a committee was set up to look at redeveloping the Wales National Stadium (old Arms Park) and linking the redevelopment to the regeneration of West Cardiff.

A review of the National Stadium [5] at Cardiff Arms Park showed that it had long since been overtaken in terms of capacity; with Twickenham and Scotland having developed stadia with capacities of 75,000 and 67,000 respectively, and France about to build the Stade de France with a capacity of over 80,000.

As replacement for the Cardiff Arms Park, the Wales Millennium Stadium was opened in June 1999. At the time of its construction it was the largest stadium in the UK with a capacity of 74,500. The Stadium sits on the west bank of the river Taff, and a unique feature of the stadium is its proximity to the city centre. Fans leaving the stadium can literally stroll into the pub, bars and restaurants following the end of sports and entertainment events held in the stadium.

With the first retractable roof in the UK, the stadium is a multi-purpose venue. It has been awarded a UEFA 5-Star rating and has now hosted two Rugby World Cups, a Wales Grand Slam and six FA Cup Finals.

It had delivered a £725m financial boost for the economy of Wales, according to the findings of an independent survey carried out for the Welsh Rugby Union [6].

The economic impact survey reveals that more than nine million people have entered the stadium since it opened, helping it become the most visited attraction in Wales and one of the top ten in the UK.

The Cardiff International Sports Village is a sports regeneration project in Cardiff Bay that will open in 2009.

2008 was an important year for this development which is intended to become a world class sporting facility and a £1bn destination resort [7]. The programme is a major part of the continuing regeneration strategy that will transform a former brownfield industrial site into an international destination.

The development has already provided new motorways and an infrastructure network to the city centre and will continue to bring investment into local skills at all levels, as well as improvements to the local environment and facilities.

The village development is expected to attract 3.5 million visitors with an anticipated spend of £270m. The programme is estimated to provide up to 5,000 jobs and create an additional 2,500 jobs within the region [4].

Cardiff, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government, is building a canoe slalom course at the Sports Village, anticipated to open in 2009. Costing an estimated £13.3m, it will provide Wales with the UK's first Olympic-standard pumped water canoe slalom course.

The facility will enable Cardiff to offer advance training facilities for UK athletes and competitors from visiting countries as part of the 2012 Olympic Games.

This new facility is expected to attract 50,000 elite canoeists and leisure users per year [8].

Glamorgan Cricket Club is now based at the new SWALEC Stadium which opened in May 2008.

Completed in less than eighteen months and costing £9.5m, the new stadium has a 16,000 capacity sporting arena, and conferencing and banqueting facilities. It is also an approved Test venue, and will host the opening Test Match between England and Australia in this summer’s Ashes series [9].

An estimated 45,000 people [10] will visit the city for the Ashes Test, spending in the region of £15 million. The Test match will be broadcast to a live television audience of approximately 40 million, with recorded highlights reaching 100 million viewers.

A new 2,000 seater ice rink has been erected near the Cardiff International Sports Village site. This is already hosting professional ice hockey matches as well as offering recreational skating for the public.

The venue is home to the Cardiff ice hockey team, the Cardiff Devils, before they move to the new Snow Box development. The Snow Box and leisure ice complex will be equipped with a dedicated ice pad for recreational skating and other ice-related sports.

The new Cardiff International Pool, opened in January 2008, forms the focal point of the new International Sports Village.

It is a popular venue for swimming, health and fitness with a growing membership of over 2000. It provides an extensive range of facilities, which include a 50 metre pool, built to international championship standards with 10 lanes and seating for 1,000 spectators. Three training pools can be created with moveable booms.

In its first six months the complex saw over 300,000 visitors [11].

The Arena, due to open in summer 2009, will form a major component of the Sports Village and will be a multi-functional facility providing a venue capable of holding various sporting events, concerts and exhibitions, seated capacity of 6,500 for sports / 9,000 for concerts, and bars and restaurants to support events [12].

The Arena will also provide facilities suitable for training many Olympic sports including gymnastics, weight lifting, boxing, wrestling, judo, fencing and basketball.

The Celtic Manor Resort, a five star resort set in a large expanse of woodland 20 minutes drive from Cardiff, was completed and opened in 1999. The resort is home to three championship golf courses, two luxury spas and two five star hotels.

When Celtic Manor hosts the 2012 Ryder cup, it is expected that some 45,000 to 50,000 spectators per day over five days will visit the Celtic Manor Resort [13].

With work well underway at the International Sports Village, the latest part of the city to see some building activity is Leckwith, where work has begun on a regeneration project due to open in spring 2009. It is anticipated to bring around £110m worth of investment to the area, including about £32m of community benefit, such as an education centre for adults with learning disabilities, new facilities for local schools, and the creation of an estimated 1200 jobs [14].

The development includes a long-awaited new 30,000-seat stadium for Cardiff City FC, a new athletics stadium and multi-purpose House of Sport and football academy. Big name stores have already signed up for a retail complex next to the football stadium.

The economic impact of the 1999 Rugby World Cup was studied closely by Cardiff County Council and the then Wales Tourist Board (now Visit Wales): it is estimated [13] that the Rugby World Cup attracted over 330,000 visitors to the area, over 80% of which had never been to Wales and may well not have considered a visit had it not been for the event. This produced around £83m of expenditure in the region in the short term alone.

STEAM results [15] demonstrated that there were large visitor increases during the Rugby World Cup months. According to the report, numbers in October and November 1999 were up by 122% and 78% respectively and therefore overall annual expenditure was also up. Visitor revenue, visitor numbers and employment supported by tourism increased by 15%, 13% and 17% respectively on 1998.

Over the longer term, the changed perception of the capital generated through the marketing and television coverage of the event in the UK and overseas was expected to generate further visits, representing a long-term boost to the local economy [16].

A report on the economic impact of the FA Cup Final [11] and six other major matches in the Millennium Stadium during 2001 (Worthington Cup, Charity Shield, League Play-offs and LDV Trophy) found that these events provided significant benefits to Cardiff and Wales in financial and, particularly, image terms.

The report [17] estimated that the matches themselves generated £16.3m of net additional expenditure: a £11.7m increase in the local economy’s GDP. The FA Cup Final alone had a TV audience of some 600 million viewers in 70 countries, providing a major increase in profile for the nation and its capital. The trend was repeated in subsequent years - in 2005 for example, the FA cup semi finals brought in £7m, and the final itself brought in £15m to the city [18].

The research [17] indicates that the region has certainly benefited directly from these two big sporting events, not just in terms of the immediate increase in visitor numbers, but in terms of the long-term impact of the raised profile of Cardiff.

Peter Cole, Regional Strategy Director at Capital Region Tourism (the lead organisation for tourism in South East Wales) believes that

'events can be used to put across a specific message about a region, about its culture for example, and help reinforce a region’s brand message by bringing it to life. Large-scale as well as smaller events also give tremendous confidence and pride to local communities and can develop fame by association through media exposure.'

Cricket fans around the globe will have their eyes on the newly developed SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff where the First Ashes Test between England and Australia will take place in July 2009.

As a result of the Ashes, an estimated 45,000 people [10] will visit the city, spending in the region of £15m. The Test match will be broadcast to a live television audience of approximately 40 million, with recorded highlights reaching 100 million viewers.

The Ryder Cup is one of the top ten world sporting events [10] that attracted an estimated 1 billion television viewers in 2006. It is estimated that the 2012 tournament will attract some 45,000 to 50,000 [13] spectators per day over five days to The Celtic Manor Resort.

In addition, the £2m Ryder Cup Wales Legacy Fund, an integral part of the original successful bid to host The Ryder Cup, was created by the Welsh Assembly Government to spread the benefit of the event beyond the immediate area of The Celtic Manor Resort. It aims to help local authorities and clubs to provide public golf facilities throughout Wales.

STEAM stands for the Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor ( See 3C: Determining the Local Economic Impact of Tourism in the Destination Manager's Toolkit and the Insights article Measuring the Local Impact of Tourism – The Big Issue for the Next Five Years for more information on STEAM).

It is a model used for estimating volume, value, expenditure and basic tourism characteristics. It measures all aspects of tourism, including day visitors, visitors who stay in serviced and non-serviced accommodation and those who stay with friends or relatives (SFR).

STEAM figures [15] highlight the direct impact of sporting events on increasing visitor numbers into a city. The STEAM analysis for Cardiff covers a period of almost 10 years from 1998 (the year the Millennium stadium opened) to 2007.

The year-by-year analysis below illustrates the importance of key events in the success of attracting visitors to Cardiff.

STEAM research indicated that between 1998 and 2001, day visitors made up between 88% and 90% of all visitors to Cardiff, although staying visitors provide a larger percentage, per person, of the revenue. Cardiff developed a higher standard of accommodation stock and a greater capacity to host the increased numbers of staying visitors, particularly outside the times when major sporting events are taking place.

Visitor numbers to Cardiff were up again in 2001 despite the foot and mouth outbreak and the terrorist attacks of September 11th, which caused a global slowdown in tourism.

2004 -2005 saw the highest figures across all sectors (tourist days, spend, numbers and employment) since the STEAM survey began in 1998. As day visitors make up the majority of visitors to the city, changes in these figures can determine overall performance – an important point for assessing impact of infrastructure investment.

2006 saw a 2% increase in visitor numbers and a 1% increase in days, spend and employment. The 2007 STEAM figures show increases across all sectors, which indicates that Cardiff is continuing to develop as a top visitor destination.

The upward trend recorded in January, April, August and October is welcomed, however the overall increase on 2006 does not reflect the fact that May, July, November and December performed poorly compared to the previous year. The large drop in May can be attributed to the return to Wembley of the major football matches – the FA Cup Final and Championship Play-offs – that had taken place in Cardiff for the previous six years. September and October saw increases in visitor numbers of over 10%, due largely to Rugby World Cup matches taking place in the city.

There is a global market for sports tourism that continues to grow.

Cardiff has taken its relatively dated sporting infrastructure, and invested in a huge programme of development over a 15 year period. The centrepiece of this investment has been the hugely successful Millennium Stadium, which has hosted a string of major sporting events since its opening in 1999.

Cardiff is now perceived as a premier sporting location, capable of hosting many of the biggest sporting events in existence. This would not have been possible without the development of the city’s sports stadiums and multipurpose sports venues.

Visitor numbers increased dramatically over the period in which past events were held, and future projections of visitor numbers relating to sporting events suggest that the events that Cardiff will host in the future will bring in continued streams of sports tourists.

Cardiff is cementing the growing legacy of its sporting investment by competing for, and winning, titles such as the European City of Sport 2009 award.

The Welsh capital was awarded this title [19] in the summer of 2008, following a two day visit by judges from the European Capitals of Sport Association. The judges were shown around the city by members of Sport Cardiff, inspecting sporting facilities across the city and the wide range of programmes on offer.

The title means the city now ranks as a major centre for sporting excellence and good practice, with Cardiff representing the UK in a European-wide network of premier sporting cities.

The five main objectives of European Capitals of Sport Association (ACES) are enjoyment in exercise, willingness to achieve, sense of community, learning fair play and improvement of health. All the judges felt these objectives were all met by the city and the Sport.Cardiff team.

The award highlights the raised profile that stems from sports investment. As part of its duties as European Capital of Sport, Cardiff will host the £3m Schools Games in September 2009, which is hoped to attract thousands of additional visitors.

According to a Cardiff Council spokesman, other European Cities of Sport in the UK used their title to attract additional high profile sporting events. The award is a significant boost to the efforts to cement Cardiff’s sporting development progress and help build the legacy needed to sustain Cardiff’s long-term upward trend in visitor numbers.

  1. Manchester City Council announces unique funding success. Manchester City Council. 26 September 2005
  2. New Cultural Tourism Guide Launched. Belfast City Council. 7 June 2007
  3. Memorandum submitted by the Wales Tourist Board. Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence. House of Commons. 9 January 2003
  4. Cardiff Strategic Tourism Growth Area - Action Plan - Final Report (pfd file). L&R Management Consultants Ltd. May 2002
  5. About Millennium Stadium. Millennium Stadium website. Accessed 30 March 2009
  6. Millennium Stadium delivers boost to Welsh economy. Welsh Rugby Union. 6 November 2007
  7. Cardiff International Sports Village. Cardiff Council. 10 October 2008
  8. Canoe Slalom. Cardiff Council. 12 February 2009
  9. About. SWALEC Stadium website. Accessed 30 March 2009
  10. Ashes and Ryder Cup to Boost Economy. Cardiff & Co. Accessed 30 March 2009
  11. International Pool. Cardiff Council. 19 February 2009
  12. Multi Use Arena. Cardiff Council. 11 February 2009
  13. Outstanding sports events. Capital Region Tourism. 8 July 2008
  14. Exciting Developments at Leckwith. Cardiff Council. 9 July 2008
  15. STEAM - an overview of findings since 1999. Cardiff Council. 19 February 2009
  16. Potential Economic Impact of the Rugby World Cup on a Host Nation (pdf file). Deloitte. September 2008
  17. Economic Impact Review of the FA Cup and Other Major Football Matches Hosted in 2001 a the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff (pdf file). Cardiff Council. 13 February 2002
  18. Cardiff's FA Cup run nets £100m. BBC News. 21 May 2005
  19. Cardiff to be European City of Sport. News Wales. 25 July 2008