Reports of Sunderland’s 3-0 victory over Everton was met with anguish and despair by supporters of their local rivals, Newcastle United. A season of poor results, managerial chaos and the failures of big-money signings finished with the ultimate disappointment: a club with Premier League players, Premier League infrastructure, and a Premier League fan base was confined to English football’s second tier. For fans of Newcastle’s regional rivals – Sunderland and Middlesbrough – the Magpies’ fall from grace seems like something to savour; karma was working its magic by providing just and long-awaited recompense for the Toon Army’s tendency to look down upon the other clubs of the North-East.
But at some point, deep-ingrained footballing rivalry must give way. Indeed, all fans, no matter their club loyalty, must take notice of the fact that Newcastle United’s relegation will have a detrimental impact on the North East’s economy. In a region hit hard by deindustrialisation and globalisation – loathing of the legacy of Thatcherite economics spans generations – Premier League football provides a welcome and much-needed boost to the area’s economic output. The riches of the Premier League are highly-publicised. A new TV rights deal worth more than £5 billion is set to flood England’s top division with money, so maintaining a top-flight status for the upcoming season is worth in excess of £100 million for each and every Premier League club. And it is self-evident that the wealth of an area’s club finds its way out into the region’s businesses – a study taking into account the income from travel, accommodation and food and drink shows that London’s five teams in the Premier League generate a combined total of £134 million. In Wales too, research by Cardiff University showed that Swansea City’s successful first season in the Premier League generated £58 million for the Welsh economy, contributing around 400 jobs.
The Premier League then has a significant role: it is an economic agent that provides significant boots to an area’s economy in all sorts of sectors, from broadcasting and marketing, to travel, tourism, and hospitality. For the North-East, the figures speak for themselves. Premier League football drew in over 26,000 foreign visitors to Newcastle from countries across the world, who in total contributed over £22 million to local businesses. The footfall in the region’s tourist attractions, from Alnwick Castle to the Baltic Art Gallery and Hadrian’s Wall, and Newcastle’s world-renowned nightclubs, are boosted by many football fans looking to make the most of a weekend’s trip to the northern-most point of England. Indeed, football tourism not only brings in more visitors, but attracts higher-spending visitors; research shows that in Manchester – a city with two Premier League clubs – those tourists who watched a game of football spent on average £200 more than those who did not.
But the attraction to football tourists of a visit from Manchester United and Chelsea to St James’ Park simply cannot be recreated by the visits of Championship sides such as Burton Albion and Rotherham United. Therefore, dwindling ticket sales on match-days could cause detrimentally impact the region’s economy: particularly when it has been estimated that – thanks to many people from outside the area travel to the city to watch the game, drinking in bars, eating in restaurants and staying in hotels – each match day at Newcastle is worth around £1 million in tourism. Figures have also shown that the chance of potentially watching Premier League football drew in inward investment; a visit to St James’ Park when the Geordies are playing well has effectively become part of life for corporate figures in the area. In this respect too, the effect of playing in the Premier League not only gives a city valuable global name recognition but also attracts big-name sponsors that may also choose to invest in economic development projects in the local area alongside the club itself. In Manchester, for example, the sponsors of Manchester City – Etihad Airways – have been involved in the club-sponsored redevelopment of the Eastlands area of the city.
The status of Newcastle United as a Premier League club also generated significant taxation revenues for the local government. Indeed, figures compiled by consulting giant Deloitte LLP show this boost in tax income is felt right across the country, for English professional football earned the local and national governments of the UK around £1.3 billion during the 2011/2012 season. Meanwhile, the Newcastle United Foundation – which harnesses the region’s passion for the club to help provide support to local communities – relies heavily on funding from the Premier League, meaning relegation will impact detrimentally on its ability to help tackle inequality in one of the country’s poorest regions. Furthermore, as the Head of the North-East Chamber of Commerce has explained, there are intangible benefits to Premier League football for the region’s economy too, in the sense that “every single business in the North East will tell you when the side supported by most employees is doing well, productivity and commitment goes up.” Professor Richard Slack of Northumbria University has also alluded to the existence of a similar pattern, describing how “anecdotal evidence shows that performance rises and absenteeism falls when the teams are doing well, and when they’re not, it’s reversed.”
Newcastle United’s relegation, therefore, looks set to hit the region hard in a region that is already struggling. Sunderland was once the shipbuilding capital of the world, producing 27% of the UK’s total output during the 1940s, while the effects of the closing of the region’s coal mines have been well-documented in literature, on stage, and on the big screen (think Billy Elliott). High-profile bankruptcies of some of the region’s companies – such as Northern Rock bank and the closure of Redcar’s steel plant – have contributed to an unemployment rate of 8.6%, the highest in the country. The average income too, at £345 a week, is the UK’s lowest. Between 2010 and 2018, the area’s local authorities will see the biggest decrease in funding per inhabitant nationwide. The impacts of such deprivation – both absolute and relative – is felt right across the region, even by its football clubs: reduced ticket prices to account for the lack of money in the region means than London-based club Arsenal makes more in match-day revenue in three games than Sunderland do in a season. Newcastle’s economy is shaped around three avenues of income: its international reputation as a ‘party city’, its increasingly celebrated cultural landmarks, and the success of its sporting teams. Indeed, successes remain elsewhere across the region: Newcastle Eagles basketball team is the most successful in the UK while Durham Cricket Club have in recent years won the County Championships with laudable regularity.
Yet for the North-East, losing the Premier League status of its most famous, richest and money-generating sporting club holds only concern. For the sake of the wealth and prosperity of its population, football allegiances must be cast aside: Geordies, Mackems and Smoggies alike must unite to will for the return of the Toon Army to the richest league in world football.