WEARSIDE MATTERS: Sunderland’s sporting success

Steve Cram at the Stadium of Light in the build up to the first Marathon of the North, and Sunderland 10K race.
Steve Cram at the Stadium of Light in the build up to the first Marathon of the North, and Sunderland 10K race.
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With over 500 community sports clubs in the city, Sunderland is earning a deserved reputation as a sporting city, and here we explore the impact that sport is having on the economy and vibrancy in the city.

“Football is more than just something you do on a Saturday afternoon to the people of Sunderland. It’s a way of life,” says Gary Hutchinson, commercial director of Sunderland AFC.

“And the difference it makes to the morale in the city cannot be underestimated. It’s huge.”

Sunderland AFC is the best known sporting institution in the city. Drawing 40,000-plus crowds each week, the Stadium of Light is the mecca for tens of thousands of Black Cats fans from in and around the city and it has a significant impact on the local economy.

“Domestic football is of course the most significant part of what we bring to the city, but other major events also bring a huge boost to Sunderland. Our hosting of the England vs Australia friendly earlier this summer was worth millions to the city.

“Hotels were fully booked, restaurants and bars enjoyed a significant boost and we attracted people from across the country, who otherwise may never have visited our great city, as well as a global audience on TV.

“The venue – initially intended for football – is an asset in itself and as we have seen recently with the sell-out Beyoncé concert – with our ability to bring wealth into the city is significant.”

Exploiting sporting events is something that is helping to generate wealth in the city centre. Sunderland Business Improvement District’s hugely successful Fan Zone, which is in the city until July 10, has been giving families the chance to enjoy screenings of the European Championships.

Despite England crashing out with a 2-1 defeat against Iceland, the impact the sporting space has had on the city centre has been significant.

“Some pubs and bars are reporting a 400 per cent increase in sales, which is just fantastic. Many say that trading is the best it has been in decades as a result of creating a spectator space that families and individuals can enjoy,” explains Sunderland BID chief executive Ken Dunbar.

It’s not just spectator sport though that is making a difference to the city. May saw a record number of runners taking to the streets for the sixth Run Sunderland Festival.

Almost 4,000 club and fun runners tackled the Siglion Sunderland City Half Marathon and 10K, which for the first time started and finished in Keel Square, a symbol of the city’s regeneration.

The number of entrants was a 21 per cent increase on 2015, and included representatives from athletics clubs throughout the North East, along with hundreds of fun runners, many of whom were raising money for good causes.

The Run Sunderland Festival was organised by Events of the North and made possible thanks to a partnership with Sunderland City Council and Sunderland Live.

Event founder and race director Steve Cram comments: “Bringing the Siglion Sunderland City Half Marathon and 10K closer to the city centre worked really well and Keel Square proved itself to be an excellent base for big events like this. Both races grew in size significantly this year and are now firmly established as major events on the region’s sporting calendar.”

Councillor John Kelly, portfolio holder for Public Health, Culture and Wellness at Sunderland City Council, said that the city had an opportunity to appeal to people from far and wide, to take advantage of its great sporting assets.

He said: “Whether it is large-scale spectator events, or our fantastic sports clubs and facilities, Sunderland is leading the way with the assets it has. How many other places can claim a marine activities centre, a ski slope, a nationally renowned tennis centre, a karting track and an Olympic-size swimming pool, among other things?

“With the summer holidays ahead, and great natural playgrounds like the beach and our beautiful parks, there is no better time for people to get active.”

For more, visit Active Sunderland at www.activesunderland.org.uk