UK consumers hesitant to return to sport and leisure activities

07 July 2021 4 min. read
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After being away from stadiums for the best part of a year, football fans have returned to the terraces in their thousands during Euro 2020. While crowds look set to be allowed back into sport and leisure venues in increasing numbers, though, many consumers remain hesitant to the idea of returning this year.

Huge vaccine roll-outs granted much of Europe a lull in new coronavirus-cases in the spring. Judging the advent of the vaccine alone to be a definitive ‘end’ to the crisis has proven to be wishful thinking at best, however, and wilful ignorance at worst. Amid spikes in infections across the continent, the response of the UK Government arguably stands out as the most brazen – having rapidly moved from cautious optimism to talking up so-called ‘Freedom Day’ come what may, and pushing the population to “learn to live with the virus” since a quick conclusion to the pandemic no-longer seems in sight.

At time of writing, the UK is recording more than 20,000 new Covid-19 infections each day, and the number is rising. Regardless, July 19th will now see the UK Government end its previous restrictions, including its advice to work from home or the requirement of wearing masks in public gatherings. While the Government remains keen to rush people back to ‘normal life,’ consumers remain cautious on their own outlook – especially when it comes to what they consider ‘non-essential’ activities.

Please rate this statement: This year, I plan to return to my usual sport and entertainment activities as soon as they are made available

According to new research from procurement consultancy 4C Associates, over 60% of UK consumers said they plan to attend more social gatherings to reunite with friends and family this summer. However, the conscious easing into post-lockdown means that the majority are planning to socialise at home, instead of going to pubs and restaurants and host more gatherings at home to mitigate health risks.

In contrast, only one-third of UK consumers are willing to say definitively that they will return to their usual sport and entertainment activities as soon as they are made available. A survey of more than 200 respondents found that a similar number said they “somewhat agree” with that sentiment, while one-quarter remained undecided, and around one-fifth said they disagreed with a return to some extent. Many cited lingering concerns around health and safety as factors in their possible staying away.

The key concern cited by 57% of respondents was crowd management – with venues possibly compromising on social distancing in order to allow more paying punters entry to events. This was emphasised by around 52% of respondents saying they were worried about health and safety risks, or more specifically transmission risks if they were to return to their old sport and entertainment habits.

What are your key concerns as sport and entertainment venues reopen?

Illustrating such fears, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently blamed Euro 2020 for a rise in Covid-19 cases across Europe. In a release ahead of the tournament’s quarter-finals, the WHO said the mixing of crowds at the football competition in host cities, as well as travelling and easing of social restrictions, had driven up the number of new cases by 10%. An example of how this has occurred came as Public Health Scotland found 1,991 cases of Covid-19 were linked to Scottish fans who visited London during the group stages of Euro 2020.

The WHO’s Senior Emergency Officer Catherine Smallwood commented, "We need to look much beyond just the stadiums themselves. We need to look at how people get there, are they travelling in large-crowded convoys of buses? And when they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches?"

A further statement from the WHO warned that the recent decline of cases across the continent had come to an end, and that a new wave is “inevitable” if fewer restrictions were placed on fans – as has been the case in a number of Euro 2020’s venues. As it looked to claw back ticket revenue from postponing the tournament, Uefa – the football governance body behind Euro 2020 – notably pushed for host nations to ease pandemic restrictions ahead of the event.

Months before the tournament was due to begin, Uefa officially stripped Dublin of its hosting of four Euro 2020 matches, with the games being moved to St Petersburg and Wembley. The move came after the Irish Government did not bow to pressure to allow 25% spectator attendance for each game. Similar issues came up in Munich and Bilbao. However, in those cases, the German Government did eventually provide the sufficient assurances needed, while there was an element of success for the Spanish football federation in ensuring its games were moved from the Basque region to Seville, where the Covid-19 outlook was reportedly better.