Many thousands of jobs in the economy of sport at risk from Covid-19

Before the Covid-19 crisis, the Labour Force Survey reported employment in sports activities and amusement and recreation activities of 31,300
Many thousands of jobs in the economy of sport at risk from Covid-19

The bunker in the middle of the green at the12th Hole at Doonbeg Golf Club; sport not only generates direct employment but sports bodies purchase ground maintenance equipment, printing, catering supplies, insurance, professional services and travel services, all of which generates jobs in other sectors. Picture: Eamon Ward

There is a wide appreciation of the social and health benefits of sport but limited public discussion of its contribution to the economy and of the substantial economic loss associated with the Covid-19 crisis. 

The size of the sector is apparent through its 12,000 clubs, more than 100 national governing bodies and local area sports partnerships, as well as the 1.7m people who participate in sports.

Measuring the sport economy is difficult enough because of inadequate data and its contribution is spread across several economic classifications. 

Consumers spent €10.65 per week per household on sports admissions and club subscriptions, according to the 2015 Household Budget Survey. 

With almost 1.9m households in 2019, that amounts to €1.05bn annually. 

But consumers also buy sports publications, subscriptions to sports channels, sports equipment, sports clothing and sports footwear. 

Investec in a report last year estimated a total weekly spend of just over €30 per household, which is an annual total of €2.94bn.

Sport organisations generate additional revenue which funds higher output and employment, such as sponsorship, fundraising, TV revenues and government grants.

Sport also generates direct employment and sports bodies purchase ground maintenance equipment, printing, catering supplies, insurance, professional services and travel services, all of which generates jobs in other sectors.

Other sectors depend on sport for much of their activity, including sponsorship, media, betting and horse and greyhound breeding.

Since 2010, there have been three major assessments of sport’s economic role. 

Indecon concluded that sport accounted for 2% of all employments, or 38,255 full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs in 2008 and 1.4% of GDP, but sport-related gambling and betting were not included. 

An EU study published in 2018 based on 2012 statistics reported that in the EU sport employment was 2.7% of total employment and accounted for 2.2% of GDP. The Ireland figures from that EU study were that sport accounted for 30,008 jobs, and 1% of GDP.

Meanwhile, Eurostat reported a 2019 Irish sport employment share of 1% and 24,000 jobs, and an EU employment share of 0.7%. Investec concluded that sport provided 39,451 jobs or 1.7% of total employment.  

There are surprising variations in the official sport employment estimates. 

Before the Covid-19 crisis, the Labour Force Survey reported employment in sports activities and amusement and recreation activities of 31,300. 

By the second quarter this year, employment had dropped to 26,000, and many of those jobs were likely to be supported by the wage-subsidy scheme. 

Gambling and betting activities, which employed 8,400 people at the end of 2019, had 6,500 jobs by the second quarter this year. 

The 2018 Annual Services Inquiry provides information on the economic role of sports activities. 

It reports 19,200 jobs in sports activities and another 3,000 in amusement and recreation, giving a total of 22,200 jobs. But the Labour Force Survey figure was 29,100 in the second quarter of 2018. 

The Indecon employment total included both direct and indirect jobs. 

When part-timers and full-timers are considered the number of jobs greatly exceeds the 38,225 full-time equivalents and there could be an equivalent to 46,000 jobs.

The total of jobs could be even higher depending on the number of part-timers. 

Indecon reported 15,084 jobs arising from purchases by sport bodies and 16,960 jobs in commercial and voluntary sport but the extent to which local sports partnerships are included is unclear. 

Meanwhile, Investec estimated that there were about 2,614 sport-related jobs in retail, exporting and media.

While there are different official estimates for sport economy employment, it is clearly large. 

The employment and economic impact of sport is probably higher than recent estimates if one takes account of Labour Force Survey figures, part-time jobs and the higher number of households. 

There are many thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of euro of output at risk because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Conor Foley is a sports business analyst and Anthony Foley is head of the economics finance and entrepreneurship group in DCU's Business School 

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