GB future event management

UK Athletics is about to release its annual accounts for the year to 31st of March 2023, reporting a loss of £3.7 million ($4.6m) for the year. Briefing the UK athletics writers on the accounts, chairman Ian Beattie highlighted the losses in recent events: The 2022 Birmingham Diamond League 2022 lost nearly £800,000 ($ 1 million). The World Indoor Tour Final in Birmingham 2023 lost around £500,000 ($600,000).

The London DL 2023 was an overwhelming success, with over 50,000 tickets sold.  The field included the stars of the sport.  It was shown live on BBC TV.  While the official figures have yet to be released, RunBlogRun understands that the event lost around £500,000 ($600,000).

London Diamond League, July 2023, photo 2, by Stuart Weir

When he briefed the UK athletics writers on the accounts, chairman Ian Beattie explained why events lost money. Beattie is an accountant by background and, as chairman of UKA, always comes across as open – even blunt – in his dealings with the media.  He said: “You can’t put these events on profitably unless you have three things: crowd income, sponsorship income, and broadcasting income – and we’ve been without two of them. Even an event like the Diamond League at the London Stadium in the summer, full of 50,000 people in the stadium for a tremendous day of athletics, which is really important to the sport for the athletes to perform and for our crowds to see. For the long-term development, people are saying how good it can be – yet that event lost money. So we need the sponsorship to be in place because the cost of putting on these is big. You need a sponsor or a serious broadcasting contract”.

It is ironic that  I am writing this in a week when the next Premier League Football (Soccer) TV rights contract has been announced.  The cost to TV channels of televising one football match (UK rights only) is £5.95 million ($7.5m). In contrast, BBC televised the London Diamond League live without paying a fee for the privilege.  This is not incompetence on the part of the UKA but a reflection of the market.  UKA felt it was important to have the profile of coverage on a mainstream TV channel, but the broadcaster was unwilling to pay.

Commonwealth Games, 2022, photo by Stuart Weir

Going forward, UKA is seeking a new approach to event management involving cooperation with the London Marathon and the Great Run people.  UKA issued the following statement:

“For the past nine months, UKA has been working with London Marathon Events and the Great Run Company, exploring how this innovative collaboration between entrepreneurs and the governing body could work together to create a new future for athletics and running in the UK.

 “The exciting combination of the most watched Olympic and Paralympic sport, huge scale mass participation running, and one of the most popular forms of exercise for adults in the UK has the potential to create and deliver a pathway from grassroots to the global stage.

 “Discussions are still ongoing, and we hope to be able to make a further announcement in early 2024 on the way forward with that”. 

Beattie was very optimistic about the development, saying: “We see that as a positive, the way these discussions have gone, although nothing is signed yet. We’re also coming off the back of one of our most successful World Championship performances for many years so that we are moving into an Olympic and Paralympic program with confidence. The fact that next year’s Olympic and Paralympic year will bring increased coverage and hopefully improved commercial viability to the sport. We have Glasgow 2024 [World Indoors] in March and  Birmingham [European Championships 2026] ahead, for both of which the planning is significantly underway – in the case of Glasgow – and well underway in the case of Birmingham”. 

Noah Lyles, Zharnel Hughes, photo by Getty Images for British Athletics

 Speaking about the potential benefits of the partnership, he said: “We think, firstly, it gives us the opportunity to be more commercially successful when we go out looking for sponsors. We think having a joined-up approach with some of the big players will be more attractive. We also think it gives us an opportunity to look at the cost side as well in terms of these operators being used to looking at events bringing new thinking and hopefully being able to reduce some costs and also increase the income. So that’s really the model, and that might take time. I mean, that may not come through for the 2024 Diamond League. But equally, it’s why it’s so important we keep these events going because we believe it’s a short window, and we can make these successful”.