Harry Styles our economy: How sport, singing kept us spending

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Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran concert-goers and even hyped-up Australian Open fans have defied inflation and high interest rates, boosting the economy and clouding the Reserve Bank’s plans for monetary policy.

A string of major sporting and cultural events across the country have buoyed spending by consumers even as they look to wind back their expenditure in the face of the RBA’s aggressive increases in interest rates.

Fans who attended Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran’s concerts defied inflation and boosted the economy.Credit: Getty/James Brickwood

Retail sales, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have slowed through the start of this year despite strong population growth. In April, the ABS reported sales for the month were flat while the annual rate of growth slipped to its slowest pace since late 2021.

But the bureau noted that while overall sales were slowing, the pace of spending through cafes, restaurants and takeaways was up 13.3 per cent over the past 12 months.

“Spending has also been boosted by the return of large-scale sporting and cultural events,” ABS head of retail statistics Ben Dorber said.

Those cultural and sporting events, many of them either delayed or pared back because of COVID-related restrictions, are now delivering measurable boosts to the economy.

Concert-goers line up to see Harry Styles at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne in February. Credit: Paul Jeffers

According to the bureau, musicians such as Styles, Sheeran, Elton John and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have not only entertained hundreds of thousands of people but enticed them to open their wallets.

Styles attracted more than 100,000 people to his two concerts at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne in February. Many concert-goers ate at nearby restaurants and also paid up to $120 for a Styles sweatshirt.

In March, Sheeran entertained 217,500 people at two separate concerts at the MCG – the first events at the MCG with more than 101,000 people since the then-VFL grand final of 1986.

Both the AFL and the NRL have also affected the nation’s spending patterns.

A record Anzac Day crowd of 95,179 attended this year’s Collingwood-Essendon match at the MCG.Credit: AFL Photos

The introduction of the Dolphins to the rugby league competition brought forward the start of the NRL season, boosting economic activity in March.

The AFL started its season with back-to-back matches at the MCG which attracted more than 86,000 fans. Through the first 11 matches of the season, more than 3.6 million people have watched games live, 61,500 more than the previous record set in 2019.

A key element has been the strong start to the season by Collingwood, which has attracted an average 70,000 fans to the Magpies’ five MCG games.

The AFL’s first Gather Round, held in Adelaide in April before a combined 268,000 fans, boosted economic activity in that city. Analysis by NAB found a 50 per cent jump in accommodation expenditure through that weekend.

Adelaide also benefited from the first LIV Golf tournament, which attracted more than 60,000 spectators to The Grange golf club.

This year’s Australian Open in Melbourne set a new two-week attendance record with almost 840,000 people through the gates. The previous record of 812,174 was set in 2020, just ahead of the COVID outbreak.

Even in the nation’s smaller jurisdictions, the end of COVID restrictions has given cultural events a boost. Canberra’s national multicultural festival in February attracted a record crowd of 380,500 over a weekend.

In NSW and Victoria, spending in discretionary areas such as footwear and household goods is down on a year ago, but spending at cafes and restaurants in both states is up by more than 20 per cent on March 2022.

ANZ’s head of Australian economics, Adam Boyton, said despite consternation about the pressures facing consumers amid a period of higher interest rates, they had proven to be highly resilient.

He said the strong jobs market was continuing to deliver the income necessary for consumers to weather higher costs.

“If the household sector is in solid shape, then weakness in consumption this year could reflect discretionary spending coming back to more normal levels, not a ‘forced’ across-the-board retrenchment,” Boyton said.

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