Do sports impact on city economic competitiveness today? Yes, in profound ways. Sports are one of the most powerful tools that exist in order to entertain people, but we rarely see sports as an organised economic sector in the way that the film industry, tourism, live entertainment, or digital entertainment are. There is much still to do in order to promote a vision that provides sports with recognition as an important economic sector in the XXIst century city economies.
Barcelona, known as one of the great sport capitals in Europe, is now building a powerful sports industry group with a priority to build economic value, jobs and incomes, and business opportunities. The challenge is to move from a successful track record in organizing major sport events (Olympic Games in 1992, several World Championships, Champions League Finals, Final Four, Le Tour de France, Davis Cope, F1, Around the World Race, and many others that Barcelona has hosted.) Barcelona currently hosts the world’s best football team, and a very wide range of popular sports facilities and finals, and the city provides concrete proof that sports are an economic sector that directly impacts on city economy in terms of jobs and GDP.
When Barcelona hosted the 1992 Olympic Games, the city succeeded in using the event to completely transform the city, providing it with the needed infrastructures to be competitive, physically opening new areas for high tech business (22@ district), developing a deep sense of pride in Barcelona citizens, introducing the city as a major destination in urban tourism, and beginning to build a powerful city brand.
Today, almost 20 years after the Barcelona Olympic Stadium, the swimming pools were used as a global stage to show to the world a new city aiming to be in the top league of European competitive cities. Sports are seen and used, more than ever, as a powerful tool on place branding and on economic competitiveness.
The major advice we can give to cities having the opportunity to organise a major sports event such as Olympics or Championships are to use the event as a powerful excuse to transform the city and not solely as a short-term objective of hosting the competition itself. The Awarding Bodies and The Rules that govern major sports event try to place the event as the objective by itself, and the key ability of city managers is to both deliver a great event, and to use it in terms of building the future for the city.
The 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games were holistic in terms of transformation due to the fact that at that moment Barcelona needed major investment in almost all the infrastructures and districts: new airport, new telecom tower and system, new ring bells, new neighbourhoods, hotel infrastructure, language skills, massive public transportation infrastructures, cultural facilities, city branding, and destination management. The Games were the spur to address all of these issues.
Since 1992 Barcelona has tried to host some of world’s major sport events and has succeeded many times. It is a city where sport facilities are available for all from professionals to citizens, and that more and more people from around the world select Barcelona as a place to visit in order to have a sports experience (from watching a FC Barcelona game to running a marathon, or sailing a boat).
Now, Barcelona is again on the Olympic trail, but looking at the Winter Games. In 2022 Barcelona intends to be the first city to have hosted both The Winter and Summer Olympic Games. Again, it is not an objective by itself, it is a transformative exercise to connect Barcelona with its region, Catalonia, and position the Pyrenees as a major winter sports destination.
It is also a powerful catalyst to help build around Barcelona a powerful sports economy were different economic sectors raise business opportunities around the compelling attraction of sports. Becoming European Sport Capital and one of the Worlds Sports Hubs, means that Barcelona will have to align different economic sectors all around sports. Food industry & sports, audiovisual industries & sports, law & sports, textile & sports, advertising & sports, event organizers & sports, creativity & sports, leisure & sports. Barcelona has many examples of companies and professionals in all those sectors, but most of them are not aligned and do not have the right critical mass to really compete globally. Building a stronger audiovisual sector, textile, food, or creativity around sports can be the engine Barcelona needs to keep improving its global brand, using our great tradition of sport, as a driver for the whole city.
Find out more about the relationship between sports and urban development in this month’s Urban Intelligence newsletter, with new exclusive content from cities expert and blogger, Greg Clark.
Image: Sean MacEntee