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The Commonwealth Games giant mechanical bull on display in Birmingham's Centenary Square

With the 2022 Commonwealth Games taking over the city of Birmingham this summer, it’s a perfect moment to consider the Games’ potential economic and cultural benefits to the region, whilst exploring some of the misconceptions and challenges presented in creating a lasting positive legacy from such an event. The Games were expected to attract over 1 million visitors to Birmingham and the surrounding area over the course of its duration, as well as a global audience in excess of 1.5 billion.

Such events have become defined as ‘mega-events’ due to their size and scale. Short and long-term benefits have been identified through analyses of FIFA World Cups, Olympic and Commonwealth Games, as well as Formula One Grand Prix. However, these events do not tend to translate into long-term growth – turning a short-term boost to spending and jobs into sustained economic growth needs a different set of policy interventions. As a result of this, there is a marked difference between academic analyses of the additional impacts on long-term economic growth and the marketing literature used to promote the hosting of these events.

Short term benefits are often visible opportunities directly related to the event: contracts with local businesses, live music events, local businesses benefiting from sponsorship or public grants, as well as increased visibility and international exposure.

Dr. James Davies - Research Fellow, City-REDI, Birmingham Business School

Short term benefits are often visible opportunities directly related to the event: contracts with local businesses, live music events, local businesses benefiting from sponsorship or public grants, as well as increased visibility and international exposure. There is a temporary boost to sales and employment - there have been some £350 million of goods and services to procure, as well as 40,000 jobs and volunteering opportunities to recruit for. Some 75% of the supply chain spend has been to West Midlands suppliers, enabling a wider set of local firms to benefit from the boost.

Over the longer term, there is the expectation of increased tourism with the huge increase in footfall for those attending the games anticipated to translate to a tourism boost for the host area. This is something the government is keen to capitalise on, pledging £24 million over three years to support a Business and Tourism Programme, which aims to increase local capacity to market the region to inward investors - generating more footfall and spending over the longer term. The University played a strong role in showcasing the region to potential investors during the Games in partnership with the WM Growth company and Department for International Trade (DIT) who transformed The Exchange into ‘UK House’ to host VIPs.

New infrastructure will serve local communities and help attract more events to the region in the future, with the stadium becoming home to UK Athletics, locking in longer-term employment and multiplier effects.

Professor Simon Collinson - Director, WM-REDI and City-REDI, Birmingham Business School

Also amongst the potential longer-term economic benefits, mega-events are associated with the development of regional creative industry profiles and local talent. Birmingham has a thriving creative sector, just last week the BBC has announced that BBC Midlands will be moving to a new home in the heart of the city in Digbeth. The creative industries have been growing at twice the rate of the general UK economy, with huge potential to make a contribution to economic growth, regionally and nationally.

New infrastructure investments include the £73 million Sandwell Aquatic Centre; £700 million of public sector investment in transport, homes and facilities in Perry Barr, and a £72 million transformation of Alexander Stadium for the Games and communities. This new infrastructure will serve local communities and help attract more events to the region in the future, with the stadium becoming home to UK Athletics, locking in longer-term employment and multiplier effects.

Beyond the pure economics of investment, employment and regional growth, the government department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) takes an integrated approach to culture, creativity and sport. It is hoped that the impact of events like the Commonwealth Games will be seen on a more cultural and societal level. More health and well-being resulting from an uptake of sports, music and community events. The benefits of these creative and physical activities have been linked to an increase in self-confidence, improved physical and mental health, combating feelings of loneliness, and healthy ageing. Cultural events also contribute to an increased level of local and regional pride.

Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 has a well-articulated legacy programme spanning 11 different areas and defining itself as ‘helping Birmingham and the West Midlands to maximise the benefits of hosting the Games’. The aim is to realise £200 million in ‘social value’ - boosting the skills, confidence and optimism of local people who experienced a positively impact from the Games in their daily lives - but much of this will be difficult to precisely measure.

However, it’s not all good news. Analysis of previous mega events, including the 2012 London Olympics and the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, call into question the extent to which such events can fulfil their promise and deliver the legacy upon which they are often marketed.

Much of the economic impact is short-lived and long-term effects depend on the degree to which the brand, reputation and identity of a city-region gains a sustained boost from a global event. This can improve its attractiveness to inward investors, and people with skills and spending power to lift local productivity and consumption. This is possibly the biggest win for Birmingham, which has sat in the shadow of other UK cities - even acquiring a negative reputation as a place to work and live.

An event such as the Commonwealth Games has huge potential to deliver a raft of economic, societal and cultural benefits to Birmingham and the Midlands. But to achieve this requires targeted and sustained support from local and regional government to ensure the attention, investment and interest generated by the games can provide a lasting positive legacy to Birmingham’s cultural and creative landscape.

Dr. James Davies, Research Fellow, City-REDI & Professor Simon Collinson, Director, WM-REDI and City-REDI