Are sport and music Newcastle’s secret weapon to boost its visitor economy?

Ian Thomas, Visitor Economy Director discusses the impact of live music and sport on Newcastle and Gateshead’s economy.

Ian Thomas, Visitor Economy Director at Destination North East England discusses the impact of live music and sport.

Newcastle is a city synonymous with sport. It’s a city that lives and breathes it, from Britain’s most successful basketball team to International Athletics at Gateshead Stadium. Whatever the sport its always guaranteed to be supported by passionate fans. And there is probably no more passionate place in the city than St. James’ Park.

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Now that it has been confirmed that Newcastle United Football Club will be competing in the Champions League next season (a competition which will see the team compete with clubs from across Europe), there’s even greater cause for celebration. The atmosphere in the city is at an all-time high with a distinct buzz of anticipation for what is to come; Newcastle in the global spotlight.

Looking at the three guaranteed home games that will be played at St. James’ Park during the competition, an almost 8,000 new international visitors will come to the city, generating an additional £4 million to the local economy. Should they make it through to the knockout stages of the competition, then the direct economic benefits to the city in terms of hotel occupancy, leisure and travel spend will be even greater and we’re already talking to our partners about how we can maximise this.

Although football is undoubtedly the city’s bread and butter, we have also increasingly seen sports like Rugby League and Union, perform extremely well in Newcastle. Magic Weekend has quickly become a staple in our calendar and this year it attracted over 63,000 supporters to Newcastle. Newcastle Eagles Basketball are the most successful British basketball team in the BBL and with their own stadium in Newcastle city centre, play host to international games regularly. Further afield in Chester-le-Street international cricket competitions are hosted every summer at the Seat Unique Riverside Stadium.

Over the past 10 years we have hosted various international events as part of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, 2019 European Professional Rugby Club finals and the 2019 World Transplant Games all attracting tens of thousands of fans, bringing in millions of pounds to the local economy and showing our ability to play on a global stage.

All of this is before we even mention the worlds largest half marathon attracting 50,000 runners and 200,000 spectators a year.

For generations sport and music have been inextricably linked, both drawing massive crowds of visitors to destinations, but also having the same power that evokes the spirit of place. Think about the first few lines of Geordie Ridley’s Blaydon Races, an 1800s folk song that epitomises the storytelling tradition of North East music – telling the stories of ordinary people with pathos and humour, a story of community and of coming together. We’re seeing it right up to the present day with the likes of Sam Fender.

Following what was undeniably a roaring success on the weekend of 9th June with the region playing host to Sam Fender’s homecoming concerts at St. James’ Park and Pink putting on two stellar shows at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, can we also showcase our distinctiveness as a region through music? My answer is absolutely. The weekend saw 200,000 music fans enjoy four massive shows in our region bringing a conservative estimate of £15 million to the economy and we have the venues that can host any scale of event, from our vibrant independent scene in Ouseburn through to the new 12,500 seat arena due to open on Gateshead Quayside in 2025.

More than ever, we have an opportunity to find the right balance between bringing in these major events, with building up our own homegrown talent and music scene in the city. Working with and supporting the likes of Generator, who have a pipeline of local talent, as well as the great deal of grassroots live music events popping up across the region, will be extremely important moving forward to maintain our authenticity as a region. And we know our authenticity ultimately makes us a unique destination for visitors and locals alike.

Music and sport in Newcastle
Generator has, for over 30 years, supported the region’s music industry and never has it felt more exciting and never has there been as much momentum than there is right now. Sam Fender played our festival right at the very beginning of his career and we’re unbelievably proud of all the success he’s achieved – selling out St James’ park, topping the charts and flying the flag for the region’s music talent. This was a hugely special moment for the region as a whole, music fans and the wider industry, as tens of thousands descended on the area to see Sam in Newcastle and Pink in Sunderland. The area is being firmly placed on the map as the place to experience live music and forge a sustainable career in the industry. “We’re delighted to say that through a number of national partnerships and initiatives, we can continue to support up and coming artists like Sam and the wider music supply chain, to ensure talent from the region continues to thrive, as we work towards our vision of creating a sustainable music industry that ensures access for all.
Mick Ross, CEO at Generator

With the global exposure of the football club and Sam Fender the impact is not just being felt locally, the profile of the city has been raised so much so that we’re seeing interest nationally and internationally from investors and developers actively looking to bring hotels, restaurants, and bars to Newcastle. They are seeing the potential of our city and want to be a part of our story, bringing jobs for local people and further animating our exciting city.

The opportunity to develop not just our reputation as a city, but our visitor offer is significant and is something we must do collaboratively as a region. As the pilot region for the government-funded Destination Development Partnership (DDP), NewcastleGateshead Initiative is working with all seven local authorities, Visit Northumberland and Visit County Durham as well as DCMS and VisitEngland to double the size of our visitor economy in the next 10 years through a host of new interventions and new ways of working. These new interventions will allow us to be coordinated in capturing future opportunities to host large scale events, as well as ensure the North East is a welcoming and animated place all year-round and for years to come.

In the short term we will look at how we can support and maximise the events that are staples in our calendar including, Northern Pride, Loosefest, Generator Live and the Great North Run.

We’re primed to become the UK’s next premier destination for sport and music fans with each of the factors explored above coming together in near perfect tandem. They allow us to compete with other UK cities like never before and our work on the DDP and with our partners will be hugely important to ensure the whole supply chain of businesses can benefit and have a stake in the ongoing success of the region.


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