Sport and Culture

Sport and culture have intrinsic value to people and places, promoting health and well-being. However, their economic impacts are limited.


This page offers an overview of why we are interested in sport and cultural events as a means of encouraging local economic growth and offers insight on what does and doesn’t work in this policy area.

It summarises some of the evidence we already have on what works when delivering these types of programmes and offers some thoughts on improving evaluation as well as some case study examples. Throughout the page you’ll find links to further resources including a more detailed discussion of why we look at sport and cultural events, our full evidence review, as well as evaluation resources.

What do we mean by sports and culture and how can they affect local economic growth?

Sports and cultural events can include anything from small-scale local events, to major events such as hosting the Olympics. Reflecting the available evidence, our work to-date has concentrated on major events and facilities, such as large international sporting events, arts events or permanent facilities such as arenas.

Major events and facilities may play a significant role in promoting health and wellbeing or in cultural enrichment. However our work specifically looks only at the economic impacts.

From an economic point of view, local areas may wish to invest in hosting major sport and cultural events or facilities to:

  • Create jobs
  • Support regeneration through, for example, improvements to the built environment, new housing and improved transport links

Read more about how we define sport and culture events and why we look at them.

What does the evidence on sport and culture show?

Sport and cultural events have little or no lasting effect on the local economy. Effects on wages and income tend to be small and limited to the very immediate locality, or to particular types of worker.

When events have been associated with increased trade or tourism, the effects appear to be short-lived.

Facilities, such as arenas or stadia, generally have a positive impact on nearby property prices

Read the full evidence review

What policymakers need to know when developing sports or cultural projects

In terms of economic growth, policymakers should have realistic expectations of the impact of major events or new facilities. There are may be many good reasons to support these, but the evidence suggests that lasting economic impacts are minimal.

Permanent facilities may be more likely to produce economic benefits, particularly in terms of increased house prices, but the benefits are usually highly localised. From a regeneration perspective, policymakers should consider how these facilities fit into a broader strategy, and they should not be relied on alone for job-creation.

It is important to note that much of our understanding of the effects of major events and facilities come from sporting events, there is very little evidence on cultural events and facilities.

What policymakers and academics need to know when evaluating sport and cultural projects

Major events and facilities are costly, and no doubt offer a number of non-economic benefits not covered by the What Works Centre. However, the evaluations we consider help better understand the economic impacts of these projects.

To help practitioners evaluate sport and cultural events we have pulled out some examples of good practice:

Wembley and Emirates StadiaThis study examines the effect on property prices of two new football stadia in London: The New Wembley Stadium and the Emirates Stadium. Read more.

The Effect of Cultural DistrictsThis study looks at the effect of cultural districts on employment, income and property prices in US neighbourhoods. Cultural districts are formally designated zones within a city. Read more.

European Capital of CultureThis study looks at the effect of a major cultural event, the European Capital of Culture, on urban & regional GDP and on residents’ life satisfaction. Read more.

1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta GAThis study evaluates the employment impacts of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more.

You can learn more about how we rank evaluations using the Scientific Maryland Scale.

Evidence Review Downloads

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