Data analysis by sports marketing agency Two Circles has found that sports attendances in the UK between September and November last year reached 20.2 million – two million more than the equivalent period in 2019.

A total of 35.2 million people attended sports events in the UK in 2021. The figure was reached despite the vast majority of events during the first half of the year taking place without fans.

The September-November 2021 period saw cumulative attendance in football’s Premier League reach four million across 101 matches. Milestones were reached elsewhere as Notts County’s home match against Solihull Moors on November 13 attracted 12,843 fans – a record for the National League.

Another record was set at Twickenham on November 27 as 29,581 fans attended the Barbarians’ 60-5 victory over South Africa. The figure marked a world record for a women’s rugby union match.

January to April last year saw no fans attend sporting events in the UK as COVID-19 restrictions remained in place. In the summer, fans were permitted at test events such as UEFA Euro 2020, Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix before all restrictions were lifted ahead of the start of the new football season in August.

Two Circles’ report found that attendance in September, October and November last year was higher compared to 2019, which is the highest year on record for UK sports attendances. Attendances did drop slightly in December as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 emerged and vaccination checks were introduced.

Football was unsurprisingly the most watched sport in the UK in 2021, accounting for 23.6 million of the 35.2 million cumulative attendance figure. Horse racing was the second most watched sport with 2.5 million fans, followed by rugby union (2.1 million), cricket (1.8 million) and motorsport (1.4 million).

The Premier League alone accounted for over a fifth (21%) of all UK sports attendance in 2021. Two Circles noted that the league is on course to break its season-long attendance record, with average attendance as of January 19 standing at 39,597, which exceeds the current record of 38,495, posted in 2017-18.

George Foster, UK managing director at Two Circles, said: “Pre-COVID, UK sports attendances were on a strong growth trajectory, driven by sport being able to offer unique collective and ‘Instagrammable’ moments in a growing live experience economy.

“And following more than a year of restricted movement, the UK public has turned back to its most loved live experiences – even despite Omicron and rising COVID infections this winter.

“The onus is now on sports event-owners to ensure this bounce back is a long-term fan engagement opportunity, rather than a short-term fad. This requires data-driven marketing strategies to keep fans engaged, and the event experience to be adapted to reflect the changing demographic make-up of the live audience.”

Several major events are planned in England in 2022, including the Commonwealth Games, the UEFA Women’s Euro and the Rugby League World Cup. Ticket sales for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham have already surpassed the one million mark, while the Women’s Euro is on course to break the ticket record for the competition with over 268,000 applications made as of November.

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