Belfast Telegraph

Belfast slips to 43rd in league table of UK's leading sporting cities and towns


By Aaron Tinney

Belfast has been ranked 43rd out of 49 in the UK's great sporting cities and towns of 2017 despite recently hosting major events such as the Gran Fondo.

It dropped 18 places down the league table from its position of 25th last year on an annual poll produced by ESPN and the University of Bath.

Belfast scored lower than previous years in most of the 12 factors that fans identified was the key to a great sporting centre.

The research also showed Belfast is reckoned to be the seventh worst city or town in the UK to be a sports fan.

Liverpool was voted the greatest sporting city in the UK, replacing Leicester.

Manchester was second and London took third.

ESPN asked 5,000 fans in an online survey to rank 12 factors that go towards making a great sporting city or town, the results of which helped provide weightings for each place's results.

The most important factor was value for money, which received 20% of the votes.

Other categories voted on by fans included success, atmosphere, history, venues and transport links. ESPN divided research into individual sports to reveal the best places to be a fan of football, rugby union, rugby league and cricket.

Blackpool completed an unwanted hat-trick, coming last for the third time, behind Ipswich in 48th and Swindon at 47th.

Bath was the biggest climber on the list, rising 23 places from 41st to 18th, while the biggest faller was Middlesbrough, which dropped 26 places to 46th.

Despite Belfast's lowly ranking, Tourism Northern Ireland insisted the province as a whole was "made for events".

A spokesman said: "Sporting events are an important part of our strategy to grow visitor numbers. Having successfully hosted the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open last month, and in the week the UEFA Under 19 Championship is held in Belfast followed by the Women's Rugby World Cup later this month, Northern Ireland is made for events."

Steven Saunders, senior editor of, said: "ESPN's aim is to put the fan first, and that approach underpins this research. The study canvases the opinions of thousands of fans across the country and is combined with third party data from hundreds of sources.

"One of the results has remained consistent over the years - fans continue to rank value for money as the most important factor, which is an important consideration for everyone involved in professional sport in the UK."

The results came as the summer is being touted as an epic year for sport across the region.

Rory McIlroy has already hosted the Irish Open, the Ulster Grand Prix is on until August 12, more than 15,000 competitors took part in the Belfast Marathon in May and boxer Carl Frampton's postponed Belfast homecoming is expected to be hosted in the city soon.

John McGrillen, Tourism NI chief executive, said: "This summer is packed full of sporting events that will make a real impact to the visitor economy across Northern Ireland.

"From the Women's Rugby World Cup to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and Uefa European Women's Under-19 Championship - there's a huge variety of sporting events to choose from and at the same time experience some of our fantastic accommodation, restaurants, pubs and attractions."

Top 10 sporting sporting events in Belfast in 2017

1. Boxer Ryan Burnett beat Lee Haskins to win the IBF bantamweight title at the SSE Arena

2. The Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon

3. Premier League darts returned to the SSE Arena

4. Ulster Rugby entertained the Barbarians at the Kingspan Stadium. The visitors ran out 43-28 winners

5. Linfield beat Coleraine 3-0 to win the Irish Cup at Windsor Park

6. A record 4,361 riders took part in the Gran Fondo cycling race, which began at Stormont

7. Belfast will be a host city for the Women's Rugby World Cup which begins later this month

8. Linfield hosted Celtic at Windsor Park in the Champions League qualifiers

9. Northern Ireland beat Norway 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park in March

10. The Uefa Women's Under 19 championship begin today at venues across Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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