The arrival of Brighton and Hove Albion in the Europa League is good for the city on so many levels.
In the past few years, the success of the Albion has been one of the few stand-out achievements in the city. Promotion to the Premier League in 2017 and hitting a top six spot and securing European football next season are big moments for the club and the city.
The economic impact of Premier League football has been immense. Back in 2019 the respected Marshal Regen study showed that Albion’s first year of top-flight football had added a staggering £212 million to the local economy.
Roll that estimate forward six years and the impact will be well in excess of £1 billion.
Other spin-offs, like the Albion in the Community Programme (AITC), wewre estimated to be worth £28 million annually back in 2019 – and the conference activity based at the Amex stadium which bring 100,000 people a year to the city, adds to the benefits.
Football brings jobs, growth and a lot of fun to the city.
Back in 2001, estimates suggested the net benefit to Brighton and Hove would be around £23 million. Opponents of the stadium questioned those figures.
In the event both they and the club were wrong. Now the football club supports over 3,500 jobs, 90 per cent of which are local to Sussex.
The early years in the Premier League saw Albion being watched globally by 102 million people. Other research by Ernst and Young, focusing on the impact of Leicester winning the Premiership in 2016, showed £140 million being added to the local economy.
Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League run in 2018-19 contributed £500 million to the city, representing 4 per cent gross value added.
For Brighton and Hove, Europa League football represents a whole new level. Qualifying for the competition will add to that impact and represents a massive opportunity for both the club and city.
The financial benefits to the area are bound to grow. It isn’t just the away fans who will visit for the home games and the midweek add-ons that will give local hotels and hospitality providers a significant boost.
Taken together with the destination branding internationally, the TV viewer numbers, player exposure, merchandising and the monetisation of the club’s name, it will give Brighton and Hove a huge lift.
One likely spin-off will be new levels of interest in the city’s two universities. The stadium’s location already draws in student interest, not least as a source of employment.
Albion insiders tell us that the club’s American tour this summer is attracting big sell-out crowds of up to 70,000 for the three games being played there against Premier League rivals Brentford, Newcastle and Aston Villa.
One additional strength which has emerged is the club’s long-term embracing of diversity. Players from South America, Spain, elsewhere in Europe and Japan thrown together with an Italian manager have added to the sense that Brighton and Hove Albion is now a global club with a growing international fan base. Diversity is a strength on and off the field.
Quirky and local
Pride among fans isn’t just about the team’s performance on the pitch. One of the stand-out reasons for the fan loyalty evident this season has been the club’s commitment to staying rooted in the community.
The desire to put something back has been part of the back story of the Albion. The boom time around the corner with the Europa League next season may appear to put this to the test.
Roots matter as we go big in Europe. But the Albion in the Community programme has the ability to help keep the fans, the club and its players linked.
There is little doubt that the success of the Albion as an emerging Premiership top team, especially this season, is inspiring local football and footballers.
Whitehawk’s promotion, Worthing making it to Conference South play-offs and a solid season for Lewes Town talks to the strength of the football tradition in Sussex.
Community clubs are beginning to flourish again. Just last week, Moulsecoomb and Bevendean FC had a relaunch. Investment at all levels of the so-called football pyramid is good for the game and for our city.
If the newly elected council is able to act on its commitment, facilities for local football should be upgraded in recognition of our passionate football city by the sea. New local clubs and school teams will begin to expand and flourish as in the past.
One sure-fire winner could also be the return of the Albion women’s team to Brighton and Hove. Playing at Crawley Town’s Broadwater Stadium has probably hampered the push to improve the team’s strength.
Bringing them back to the city with their own home compares with bringing back the men’s team to Brighton from Gillingham.
It would be a big lift, adding to the success of the club and unlocking the enthusiasm that exists in the community for women’s football.
The new council leader, Councillor Bella Sankey, is a big football fan and, like many, was inspired by England women playing to a full house at the Amex. Now she is calling for the women to return and that will doubtless help.
So it’s boom time for football. The club and the city are in a good place to reap the benefits from the success story on the pitch.
Local businesses, our tourism and hospitality sector, the club’s supply chain, the jobs they create and the enthusiasm the club is generating – these are all linked to a strong social purpose that could usher in a brilliant opportunity for the city to grasp.
A club saved by the voices of its fans gets to sing in Europe. We also get to welcome teams and new fans to our city.
We sense there is an appetite to make it all happen and help regenerate our city by the sea.
Steve Bassam is a Labour peer and former Brighton and Hove council leader.
Ty Goddard is a Labour member of Brighton and Hove City Council and serves as lead member for business support and growth.