Whatever the outcome of England’s World Cup campaign, the big winner this summer is Sunderland’s city centre economy.
And things could get better yet, with a World Cup win providing a feel good factor that would give business a major boost across the region.
Gareth Southgate’s side take on Croatia in this evening’s semi-final, hoping to secure a place in Sunday’s final.
Sunderland Business Improvement District (Bid) has organised FanZones, complete with massive TV screens, in Park Lane and Low Row.
“We have had three in Low Row now and two in Park Lane, each of which have been full to capacity with 2,500 people,” said Bid director Sharon Appleby.
“We know people are coming out early and they are staying out late.”
England’s game will once again see hundreds of people heading into the city centre to enjoy the atmosphere and will provide a financial boost to local business, helping drive the economy forward.Prof Lawrence Bellamy
The bid estimates fans are spending around £50 each.
“We know the bars and restaurants have definitely benefited,” said Sharon.
Tonight’s FanZone will again be in Low Row, but discussions are still under way about the weekend.
England’s progress had taken everyone by surprise, said Sharon, with the Bid having to put on an extra screen in Low Row after objections to the main FanZone being part of the Sunniside Live festival during Saturday’s quarter final with Sweden.
“We have been consulting with the bars for months about where the FanZone would go,” said Sharon.
“They were all okay with the decision to put it at Sunniside Live.”
Sunderland’s Fan Museum, in North Bridge Street, will also be busy tonight, with the return of the Undr The Cosh podcast, hosted by former Sunderland striker Chris Brown.
The museum’s collection includes England shirts, boots and gloves belonging to Sunderland-born stars Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford.
Natasha McDonough, chairman of the North East England Chamber of Commerce Sunderland committee, is delighted to see the pair in England’s starting line-up: “I think the message to young people living and looking for work in the city is to believe - two lads from Sunderland in the World Cup final – what bigger inspiration is there than that?” she said.
An England win on Sunday would be massive, she added: “The feel-good factor will, of course, boost morale – country-wide and certainly for Sunderland.
“I’ve even heard some company owners say that they’ll be giving staff the day off on Monday to celebrate.”
Her comments were echoed by chamber head of policy and campaigns Jonathan Walker, who said: “There is no doubt football success can lift everyone’s spirits and give an area a real buzz.
“This can only help businesses, especially those in the service industry. When England win you can see the whole region and country getting a massive boost of confidence and that has to be good for business.”
Prof Lawrence Bellamy, Academic Dean with the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism, said tonight’s match was part of a bumper week for city centre businesses.
“By falling on the same day as the start of the Tall Ships Races in Sunderland - and in the same week as graduations from the University of Sunderland - the World Cup semi-final completes a triple whammy for the city,” he said.
“Hotels, restaurants, bars and retail in general will benefit from the influx of people into the city - an estimated 1.5million-plus due throughout this week - while the good weather only adds to the ‘feel good factor’.
“England’s game will once again see hundreds of people heading into the city centre to enjoy the atmosphere and will provide a financial boost to local business, helping drive the economy forward.
“With the arrival of the Tall Ships and the final day of graduations from the University, this week has provided the city with a unique opportunity to showcase itself in the best possible way.”