Why Yorkshire tourism must seize on region having Leeds United and Sheffield United in Premier League

The head of Yorkshire's tourism agency says businesses must seize upon the "huge opportunity" of having two Premier League football teams for the first time in years.

With Leeds United playing in the top flight today after 16 years away, joining Sheffield United in the world's most lucrative division, Welcome to Yorkshire's chief executive says the exposure could help "put Yorkshire on the global map".

Yorkshire teams have only spent a combined 51 seasons in the Premier League since its first season in 1992 compared to the North West's 160, giving business and civic leaders in places like Manchester the chance to leverage the top teams' name recognition.

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Academics warn that being in the top division may not necessarily be a "land of milk and honey" despite the £100m financial benefit that each club gets just for one season.

And an expert who studied Huddersfield Town during its two seasons in the Premier League says the majority of the extra income went to the club itself rather than the wider economy.

But they predict that Leeds United is better-placed than other Yorkshire sides to take advantage of the heightened profile which comes from Premier League football because of its history, size and the wider offer for tourists in a major city.

James Mason, the chief executive of tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire and a former Bradford City chief operating officer, said the huge television audiences for English football would put the region in the spotlight this season.

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Leeds lift the championship trophy at Elland Road, winning the division and promoted to the Premier League . Picture Tony JohnsonLeeds lift the championship trophy at Elland Road, winning the division and promoted to the Premier League . Picture Tony Johnson
Leeds lift the championship trophy at Elland Road, winning the division and promoted to the Premier League . Picture Tony Johnson

He said: "Being in the Premier League means that TV companies all across the world are hungry for stories, both training grounds will get lots of coverage, the cities themselves will get lots of coverage and it's opening them up to another audience that you don't experience in the lower leagues.

"Some of the Middle Eastern, Chinese, American, South American businesses are now investing heavily in the Premier League and will be looking for opportunities at both Leeds and Sheffield United."

Social distancing rules mean it could be months before fans return to football stadia in great numbers, with the recent rise in coronavirus cases making a quick return less likely.

But Mr Mason said: "Crowds will be back at some point, we just don't know when. But we've got to allow for fans coming back. And we've also therefore got to capitalise on that opportunity."

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Professor Simon Shibli, Director of the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, said Yorkshire would need a constant presence of teams in the Premier League to get the most benefit for the wider region.

He said: "No-one's going to build a business because we've got the Tour de France here for one year, if it doesn't come back for another 15, or 20 years.

"But if you've got a Premier League football club that is a constant, then that takes a certain amount of the risk out of an investment decision as to whether or not I'm going to build a bar or restaurant or hotel or set up a media company.

"And the problem we have in Yorkshire is that too many of the clubs have been 'yo-yo clubs' and there are not enough constants."

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