Inbound football tourism research

In 2018/19 we commissioned research on football tourism amongst Buzzseekers in six markets; Brazil, China, India, Norway, Sweden and the USA. The research aimed to better understand the impact and role of football on tourism, the attraction of English football for international tourists and how to connect with this audience.

The survey was asked to international travellers who fit into the Buzzseeker segment (more info here), who have some level of interest in football. Please see full report for more information on the sample.

We found that in all markets surveyed, more than 80% of those who follow a foreign football league follow the Premier League. Visitors were also more likely to have visited the UK to watch a Premier League match than a Champions league match, stressing the importance of this huge sporting competition.

Bar graph with navy blue colouring showing foreign leagues followed by all respondents. The Premier League ranks top with 83% of all respondents following the league. Then La Liga (69%), Bundesliga (58%), Serie (57%), Ligue 1 (France), Brasileirao (29%), Major League Soccer (26%), Chinese Super League (16%) and Other (2%)         Bar graph showing those who follow the Premier League in different markets surveyed. From left to right - USA (87%), Brazil (80%), China (80%), Norway (89%), Sweden (86%) and India (83%).

Market specific insights:

USA: Football is likely to be the main focus of the trip with 6 in 10 Americans who travelled to watch a football match abroad getting football tickets before booking the rest of the trip. Experiencing the atmosphere is a huge draw with 70% of Americans citing the atmosphere as a reason for going to watch football. They are also interested in experiencing ‘traditional Britain’ as seeing iconic sights and trying British food are within the top 3 activities that American Buzzseekers would be interested in doing.

Brazil: Brazilian football fans are most likely to follow teams with Brazilian players and with such a rich football history, they are a key audience for football tourism in the UK. Football is not always the initial driver with 34% of football tickets bought after booking the trip and as much interest in going on a stadium tour (86%) compared to seeing a live match (84%).

China: The Chinese market shows great potential with 92% of respondents intending to visit in the next two years and 85% agreeing that it would be a once in a lifetime trip. There is huge interest in other activities with 7 in 10 wanting to go on food and drink tours, and go shopping. Chinese football fans are heavily reliant on travel agent websites as sources of information and inspiration for international travel.

Norway: Only 41% of Norwegian football fans had a strong interest in football, indicating that football is not the main draw for a trip to the UK. They are more likely to follow one team with 47% being dedicated supporters.  As they are more likely to have visited the UK before, efforts to convert interest into intention need to focus on all the things on offer that they may have no experienced before.

Sweden: Similarly to Norwegians, Swedish football fans are less likely to be influenced by the football element of their trip. Swedish Buzzseekers enjoy the social aspect of the trip where football is not the main focus but will enhance the overall enjoyment of the trip – experiencing festivals, pubs and other sporting events is key to this market segment. They are as likely to watch a match in a pub (65%) as they are to want to go to a Premier League match (66%), enjoying football matches in a variety of ways.

India: An ideal holiday for Indian football fans would be to watch big matches or cup competitions as part of a multi-destination tour – 69% are only likely to consider travelling to Britain to watch football as part of an organised tour and amongst those who watched a football match abroad, 68% visited more than one country on a previous trip. Interest in engaging football-based activities such as playing football or fantasy football is high amongst Indian football fans. With the UK being the home of cricket and almost every Indian football fan also following cricket (94%), this could provide an opportunity for a combined offer.

Read our full report on football tourism amongst Buzzseekers (PDF, 1.4MB, Published June 2019).

Football in the UK

Please note that data in this section has not been updated with the 2009-2018 revised IPS data. For more information, please visit about the international passenger survey.

In addition to the above, we sponsored a question in the Office for National Statistics’ International Passenger Survey in 2014.

The results showed that slightly more than 800,000 inbound visitors went to a football match – almost one in every 43 visitors and over 40,000 international business visitors also managed to find time to go to a football match during their stay. With all the sports Britain has to offer, it is the chance to experience a live football match which attracts the largest volume of inbound visitors.

Red and blue infographic displaying the top five markets who watch live football in Britain top 5 include Irish Republic, Norway, Sweden, USA, Netherlands

While the Irish Republic leads the way in terms of the market generating the most football watching visits to the UK, Norway takes the top spot when considering propensity to go to a live football match at 11% of all visits featuring football watching.  The average spend per visit for football spectators in 2014 was £855 whereas those who didn't attend a match had an average spend of £628.

Of the visitors who gave their primary journey purpose to the UK to ‘watch sport,’ almost three quarters attended a football match, confirming of the live sports on offer in Britain, it’s football that is attracting the largest volume of inbound visitors. 

Regional spread

Not only does football encourage visitors to come to Britain, but it encourages them to explore different parts of Britian.  In 2017 the top region was the North West with 11%, followed by the North East (6%) and Wales (3%).  A follow up question in the survey regarding the stadia visited showed that Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium had the highest attendance of 109,000 inbound visitors. 

Red and blue infographic displaying top three regions for football visits North West England, North East England and Wales


% of visits including live football

Region % of visits including live football
North West England 10.8% Scotland 2.0%
North East England 5.6% East Midlands 1.9%
Wales 2.5% East of England 1.5%
Yorkshire 2.4% South West England 1.4%
London 2.2% South East England 1.3%
West Midlands 2.1%    

Our report on football tourism in Britain (PDF, 1.52MB) covers the profile of international visitors who attended football matches during their stay. Published Septmeber 2015.