The Leisure Industry

Take a drive in the countryside anywhere in the country (but particularly, it seems, in the hills), and you’ll end up seeing many a cyclist. Bike stores are thriving, and Britain appears more active – a point that this BBC article makes.

The roots of this revival in cycling is traced back to the terrorist attacks in 2005 when the London Underground was closed, forcing many to commute on their bikes. This seems a rather London-centric interpretation, and others might focus on the Cycle To Work government scheme which began in 1999 allowing people to buy bikes tax free. Additionally, investment in cycling surrounding various sporting events (Olympics in London, but before that the Commonwealth Games in Manchester), and subsequent success appears to have inspired many.

Do we care, as economists? We have to; from a public policy perspective a more active population (probably) costs the state less – fewer weight-related problems being treated on the National Health Service. Governments are increasingly interested in what is called “nudge economics”, the application of behavioural economics to public policy in order to increase the effectiveness of policy. What policy lessons might be learnt from the cycling craze that could be applied more generally to encourage more folk into becoming more active?

Cycling, of course, isn’t the only boom area in physical activity – triathlons and their constituent parts – cycling, running and swimming, all appear to be enjoying a surge in popularity. As the linked article, a more business orientated approach, makes clear: people doing sport need to buy equipment. They also like to enter events, such as races.

An interesting associated phenomenon is the parkrun, which began back in 2004 as a few runners in a park in London, and now has events all of the country and in multiple countries around the world, with over 60,000 people running per week in 2014. It’s a free timed 5k run in a local park at 9am on a Saturday morning, and hence is supported by volunteers and sponsors, given the price is zero hence the organisation makes no revenue that way.

This is all micro more than macroeconomics, but hopefully in light of New Year Resolutions, which we’re all inclined to break, it’s a very interesting application of what you’re learning whilst you’re studying economics with us. Happy New Year!