EVERYBODY knows that Newcastle and Sunderland are football-mad cities and whilst times have perhaps not been so good for the Magpies recently, the team is back on an even keel and topping the Championship.
There is always, in both cities, a keen sense of expectation and a 'buzz' in the air around big matches and in the transfer window. Be it away from one of the clubs, like at the moment with Sunderland's Kenwyne Jones, or perhaps a big name coming to one of our Tyne and Wear teams.
Perhaps what is not so often considered or reported is the benefit to the North East economy from football, especially to the hospitality industry.
There is the local benefit of having 40,000 thirsty football fans converge on St James' Park or the Stadium of Light on a Saturday afternoon, but also the bigger aspect of the travelling away fans who may also want accommodation and experience the renowned Newcastle nightlife before or after the game.
The most recent published figures show that 8.9 million overnight tourists visited the North East in the sample period, generating approx £3.9 billion for the local economy and supporting around 76,500 jobs.
How much of this is attributable to sport is difficult to determine however.
So how can the hospitality industry capitalise on football or indeed sport in general? Well perhaps the next big football opportunity is 2018, with Newcastle/Gateshead and Sunderland being confirmed as Candidate Host Cities for England's 2018 World Cup bid. Research suggests that visitor numbers will increase substantially during the period of the games, possibly by as much as 225,000 overnight visitors.
There will be a significant generation of income from the fans travelling to the region, perhaps upwards of £50,000,000, based on the experience of Leipzig (a similar sized city area to Newcastle/Gateshead) at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
This says nothing of the peripheral benefits such as infrastructure improvements, other capital expenditure or the PR value of exposure of the region to the world via the mass media and the legacy this will leave behind.
The challenge for the industry is to make more from these visitors than just a one or two-night stay for the game and convert that to a week's stay with the family. To do this we need to emphasise the other attractions the North East has to offer; such as the stunning Northumberland coastline; the sporting opportunities such as mountain biking at Kielder or surfing at Tynemouth; the history and heritage of Durham, Lindisfarne and the Northumberland castles; the quality cuisine being created in the region by chef's like Kenny Atkinson and Terry Laybourne; and the art and cultural scene in the area with the likes of Baltic, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA), The Sage, The Sunderland Empire and Newcastle's Theatre Royal.
This is a role that Tourism North East has been busily working on over the past few years, with increased marketing in cyberspace and through the traditional media.
As for other sporting events, the BUPA Great North Run is the world's biggest half marathon and as an annual feature in the North East sporting calendar, hoteliers have capitalised on this increasing the average RevPar (Revenue Per Available Room), by approx 300% for the event weekend.
There are of course additional opportunities in other sports to do the same with careful marketing. In cricket, you have Durham CCC's Riverside Ground at Chester-le-Street hosting a one-day international against Pakistan in September 2010, the Twenty20 Finals day in 2011 and an Ashes test in 2013. Athletics, with the Aviva British Grand Prix in July 2010 at the Gateshead International Stadium and rugby with regular Guinness Premiership and European Challenge Cup games at Newcastle Falcons' Kingston Park, amongst others.
So perhaps now is the time for the hospitality industry to get behind our sporting teams, back the bid (www.england2018bid.com) and take the opportunity to score a goal for the North East.
David Downing is Partner, Valuation and Licensed & Leisure, Sanderson Weatherall LLP