Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

The Hidden Benefits of Non-Elite Mass Participation Sports Events: An Economic Perspective

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

The Hidden Benefits of Non-Elite Mass Participation Sports Events: An Economic Perspective

Article excerpt

Executive summary

While the benefits of major elite sports events are widely recognised, these are less appreciated in the case of non-elite events where the sporting outcome is of less significance to the majority of participants. One such benefit, economic impact, has rapidly become one of the key parameters upon which elite events are able to sell themselves to potential host cities. Due to the increase in competition between cities for staging elite sports events, there has been a massive escalation in the property rights attached to them. By contrast, the costs associated with staging non-elite events in general, and non-elite mass participation events in particular, are not as high.

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the hidden financial benefits that non-elite mass participation events are capable of delivering for host cities. It draws on evidence gathered from around the USA, UK and Europe. This paper provides examples of how non-elite mass participation events--and, by inference, other non-elite events--can generate substantial economic impacts for host cities comparable to, and in some cases greater than, those associated with elite events. This suggests that an event does not need to be 'major', in world sporting terms, to be significant in economic terms.

Moreover, it is argued that non-elite mass participation events, such as marathons, can be self financing, given that runners are prepared to pay to take part. In addition, such events are potentially excellent sponsorship vehicles. By contrast, many elite events, other than mega sports events of global significance that attract considerable corporate interest, tend to rely predominantly on financial support from the public sector. This is particularly the case for events that require some form of infrastructure development. The competitive advantage held by non elite mass participation events (such as marathons and other road races) over many elite sports events, in terms of economics, is that they do not place excessive burden on public funds.

Marathons, half marathons and other road races can be used as valuable place marketing vehicles to showcase what an area has to offer along the route. Favourable place marketing via the media can encourage people from around the world to visit event locations as their interest is caught by the tourist attractions on offer. In this regard, the value of medium- to long-term benefits may well outweigh the initial economic impact of an event.

Increasingly, cities are growing aware of the hidden value of non-elite mass participation sports events. Sheffield (UK) is a good example of a city that has developed a portfolio of non-elite events as part of its events strategy. As the rights fees for major elite events continue to escalate, it may well be that other cities follow the Sheffield example and seek to exploit the potential of non-elite mass participation, and other non-elite events, as a more cost-effective option.


To date, academic literature relating to the benefits of sports events has focused almost exclusively on what might be termed elite or professional sport. This is demonstrated by the over-abundance of studies on mega events such as the Olympic Games and Football World Cup, and major international championships in most sports. In comparison to elite events, research evaluating the potential impact of non-elite sports events is less developed. For the purposes of this paper, the definition of a non-elite sports event is any event where the primary focus is on promoting participation and engagement rather than the significance of the sporting outcome.

This paper focuses predominantly on marathons and other non-elite mass participation events. It could be argued that a marathon is not exclusively a non-elite event. Big city marathons, such as London or New York, might be considered to be elite, or world-class events, due to top distance runners from around the world competing for the prize money and status on offer. …

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