London – By Mike McCarthy, North Of England Correspondent
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Some 800,000 overseas visitors went to a football match last year – up by 6% on 2010 – and usually spend more than other tourists.
A new study has found football is playing an increasing role in attracting overseas tourists to Britain.
It is the first time in five years the national tourism agency VisitBritain has assessed the value of football tourism to the country.
It said international visits to Wembley stadium have more than doubled and that companies across the country can take advantage of a market worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Some 800,000 international visitors went to a football match last year – up 6% from 2010 – providing a £684m boost to the UK economy.
The research was carried out by the Office for National Statistics on behalf of VisitBritain as part of the International Passenger Survey.
VisitBritain director Patricia Yates said: “Football tourism is a real draw for this country something millions of fans around the world connect with.
“They want to come and see football in Britain and they spend about £680m in this country.”
She said football was particularly important in attracting overseas tourists at quieter times of the year such as the winter months, and in encouraging them to explore different parts of Britain.
In 2014 the most visited stadia were: Old Trafford, Manchester Utd – 109,000; Emirates Stadium, Arsenal – 109,000; and Anfield, Liverpool FC – 99,000.
The country at the top of the table for where football fans travelled from was the Republic of Ireland with 121,000 people.
Norway took the second spot with 93,000 visitors, while Sweden was third with 58,000.
Some 53,000 came from the USA and 43,000 from the Netherlands.
Visit Britain said international football visitors spend £855 on average – more than £200 more than those not attracted by the game.
Ms Yates said: “As we see new markets coming on like China and Malaysia and the growth of tourism for that market of course people want to come to Britain and see football played in the home of sport.”
At the National Football Museum in Manchester numbers are at an all-time high.
Deputy director David Pearson said: “We’re getting more than 450,000 visitors a year which just shows the power of football and all of the stories associated with it.”
The Premier League’s chief executive Richard Scudamore said: “The Premier League is proud of its role in promoting Britain across the world.
“There are 1.2 billion people across the globe who are fans of the league and we want to engage with as many of them as possible.”