Yorkshire's potential football tourism windfall that could be unlocked by Sheffield United's promotion

The return of top-flight football to Yorkshire next season could see the region capitalise on a growing influx of international tourists who dream of  lapping up live Premier League action.

The Sheffield United players and manager Chris Wilder wave to the fans during the promotion parade in Sheffield City Centre following their promotion to the Premier League. Picture by Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

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According to VisitBritain, football is the number one sporting draw for international tourists to the UK. More than 800,000 international visitors attend a football match annually, spending £684m during their time in the country.

A greater share of that income could benefit Yorkshire next season with Sheffield United preparing to feature in English football’s elite division for the first time in 12 years.

Latest VisitBritain research identifies the Premier League as a bigger draw for tourists than top-flight football in any other country, while a survey of international visitors found that watching a Premier League game live is a dream activity for one in four. A similar proportion are keen to visit Britain to watch a Premier League match in a pub with local supporters.

In a separate survey, more than three-quarters of overseas football fans told VisitBritain that they intend to visit the UK during the next two years - including 92 per cent of Chinese football fans, 85 per cent of fans in India and 80 per cent in the US.

Patricia Yates, director of VisitBritain, said: “This research cements the huge pull that Premier League football has in attracting international tourists to Britain.

“It demonstrates the Premier League’s potential in driving regional tourism by encouraging visitors to explore different parts of Britain, and football’s effectiveness in driving growth across the low and shoulder seasons, supporting local economies.”

Sheffield United’s promotion from the Championship means that Sheffield will host Premier League football for the first time since the Blades’ last spell in the top flight ended in 2007.

Dr Hossein Olya, senior lecturer in consumer behaviour at the University of Sheffield, said Premier League football can play a key role in building the image of Sheffield as an international destination, and that the city should embrace the opportunities that come with increased exposure.

“The Premier League has got international media coverage that offers an opportunity to Sheffield United to promote the city on an international scale,” Dr Olya said.

“This is a great opportunity to highlight the role of Sheffield in the development of international sports tourism in England, by establishing a museum promoting its teams, including the oldest football club in the world, Sheffield FC.”

Dr John Wilson, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Management, believes the impact on the Steel City as a whole should be “substantial”.

“This will put Sheffield on the map,” he said. “There will be increased spending on merchandise, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc.”

For United fans, these are heady days and Kevin Cookson, senior communications officer at Sheffield United, said: “We are looking forward to joining the Premier League and are delighted that the benefits associated with our status will impact positively on the city of Sheffield.

“It is a learning curve for everyone at the club with regards to the lure of the Premier League, but we will warmly welcome visitors from across the country and beyond to our historic home.”