Insight into the state of the sports events sector in Scotland

Interview with Paul Bush OBE, Director of EventsVisitScotland 

We asked our long-standing partner VisitScotland to give us an update on the state of the sports events sector and to provide some information on Scotland’s post-COVID 19 recovery plan. 

About VisitScotland’s missions and objectives for sport 

The mission of VisitScotland, through its EventScotland team, is to support the delivery of the country’s national events strategy, Scotland the Perfect Stage. Its vision is to develop, through a one Scotland approach, a strong and dynamic events industry producing a portfolio of sporting and cultural events and festivals that deliver sustainable impacts and an international profile for Scotland.   

These objectives will be achieved  through a strong and varied portfolio of large and small, sporting, cultural and business events. These events can be either  one-off mega events that we bid for and bring to Scotland, such as the UEFA European Championships, fixed events, such as Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup or recurring events like The Open. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the sports event sector in Scotland 

COVID-19 has had a highly negative impact on the sports event sector in ScotlandTravel restrictions have made it difficult for sporting events to take place, leading to many being cancelled 

Nevertheless, Scotland was able to hold three golf events – The Scottish Open, Ladies Scottish Open and the Women’s Open – behind closed doors last year (2020). Strict bubbles were created for each event in order for them to take place. This required detailed planning, extensive testing, and commitment from everyone from contractors  to officials and players.   

However, while this has provided an opportunity for athletes and players and broadcasters, it does leave out a key element of the sporting spectacle - the fans. It is impossible to deny that the buzz of a crowd is an exciting part of the match day experience. With the test events in England and the easing of restrictions here in Scotland, there is hope  of seeing fans returning to matches soon in limited numbers.   

Strong financial support from the Scottish Government combined with a coordinated industry voice were key factors in the success of the Scottish management of COVID-19 in sports events

Thanks to support from the Scottish Government, EventScotland has been running a number of funding programmes to help support Scotland’s events sector 

  • The Pivotal Events Businesses Fund provided grants between £25,000 and £150,000 to event businesses whose primary role as organisers, suppliers, contractors and venues is critical to the survival of the events sector in Scotland, and upon whom the wider events industry and supply chain are most reliant for their own businesses and operations.  
  • The Events Industry Support Fund and Events Industry Support Fund, were set up to provide financial support to events businesses, particularly those in the industry’s supply chain, as they dealt with the ongoing impact of COVID-19. EventScotland administered £13 million of funding on behalf of the Scottish Government.  
  • Scotland’s £2.75M Events Recovery Fund was establishedby EventScotlandin conjunction with the Scottish Government to help Scotland’s events sector plan, to deliver events through the end of 2021, and to provide support as the industry responds and adapts to the effects of COVID-19.  

Also, early on in the pandemic, EventScotland recognised the need for a co-ordinated voice for the industry within the national response and planned recovery from COVID-19, establishing the Event Industry Advisory Group.  

Made up of 17 representatives from across the industry – from sport governing bodies, the supply chain, major events and festivals and small event organisers – this group has been invaluable in ensuring that the voice of Scotland’s events and festivals sector is heard at the highest level and given due prominence in the decisions taken to steer Scotland’s recovery.  

VisitScotland’s plan for its return to business for events will face two main challenges: the financial viability of events and public confidence

Restrictions are starting to ease in Scotland, and the return of events will start from 17 MayObviously, numbers will be limited (indoors – 100, outdoors seated – 500, outdoors free-standing – 250) and physical distancing and other COVID-19 mitigations will be required but it is step in the right direction given that the industry was one of the first to close and will be one of the last to restart.   

There are opportunities for events to proceed with higher capacities than those set up in Scotland’s protection levels if agreed through Local Authorities and/or the Scottish Government, which may make a big difference as to whether an event is financially able to go ahead or not.  

And this is probably the biggest challenge – the financial viability for events. The need for 2m of physical distancing significantly impacts the numbers for events and with event preparation and planning needing to be made early, organisers are having to weigh significant financial risk versus their desire to go ahead with an event. 

Public confidence, both in attending and in the hosting of an event, will also be another challenge. After such a long lockdown, there is a need to ensure that everyone is comfortable and confident with the events taking place. A recent survey published by UK Sport (Return to Major Sports Events 2021 Report) showed positive sentiment towards the return of events.   

A closer look at the UK Sport surveys on the return to major sports events 

The survey was shared with the membership databases and social networks of over 30 sports organisations and  across the two phases received in total over 50,000 responses from event-goers and sports fans from across the UK. Respondents were asked for their thoughts regarding attending major sports events in the UK, defined as events which feature elite level athletes at the pinnacle of their sport. The report speaks to the responses of these individuals and acknowledges that the results are not representative of the British population.  

Survey highlights:  

  • 97% of respondents feel comfortable returning to major sports events in the future. 75% of these would be comfortable returning within the next four months, with the belief it will be safe to do so at this point being the principal reason for this. 
  • Over 70% of respondents think they will feel excited when they are able to attend a major sports event again. Only 22% state they might feel anxious when attending.  
  • A clear refund policy is the main driver for spectators feeling confident in purchasing a ticket. This is closely followed by being able to avoid long queues and the availability of hand sanitiser. 
  • 58% of respondents hold the event organiser primarily responsible for maintaining a Covid-safe environment at a major event, highlighting the significant responsibility event organisers have when delivering events in the current environment. 
  • 97% of respondents agree that major sports events are good for the nation’s spirits. Fans miss the buzz of live sporting action, supporting their favourite athlete or team, and being at events with family/friends. 
  • Over 84% of respondents agree that government should continue to provide financial support to the major sports events industry. Without this, only 27% agree that major sports events can survive/continue post Covid-19. 
COVID-19 leveraged as an opportunity to realign sports events with policy outcomes that have real societal impact.   

The sports events sector needto look at the current events delivery model as the traditional impacts are outdated and events need to be more aligned to policy outcomes if they are to have real societal impact.  

In the commercial world bespoke policydriven events linked to either corporate objectives or to the CSR agenda present some emerging and exciting opportunities. 

In Scotland, they are already doing this. In 2023, Scotland will host the UCI Cycling World Championships. This is a brand-new event that will bring together 13 individual cycling world championships into one mega event for the first time. Scotland is taking a policyled approach to the delivery of the event. The Championships will be developed around four key policy drivers – cycling as transport, cycling participation, cycling tourism and cycling industry – that will help them achieve the vision of showing the positive impact riding a bike can bring to people’s lives.  

For more information: https://www.visitscotland.com/