— Published 11 July 2023

Paris in the lead a year ahead of schedule

Paris can rub its hands. With just a year and a few handfuls of days to go before the opening of the Olympic Games in 2024, the French capital has scored its first victory. It is a symbolic victory, but one that is always worth taking: Paris has topped the world ranking of cities most associated with sport, drawn up every year by the BCW agency.

For the first time, Paris is in the lead. Fifth in 2021, second last year, it has moved up one place. With a year to spare, it has taken pole position in a ranking that includes not fifty, but one hundred cities around the world.

Paris is ahead of two other Summer Olympic cities: Los Angeles, which will follow the French capital in hosting the Games in 2028, and London, which hosted the event in 2012. The English capital is the only city in the rankings never to have left the podium in the last three years. Second in 2021 – behind New York – it was third last year.

To establish its ranking, the BCW agency used a two-tier methodology. It interviewed the presidents and general secretaries of international sports federations, surveyed a broad panel of sports industry experts – including event organisers – and sent a questionnaire to over 300 sports media representatives.

At the same time, the Lausanne-based agency worked on an analysis of the association between sport and a city on social networks, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but also on Reddit, specialist blogs and websites.

The results? A wealth of information. Here are the main lessons.

The Games work even before they open. Paris’ first-place finish, and Los Angeles’ second, are clear proof that the impact of the Olympic and Paralympic events on a city’s sporting image is felt even before the first competitions. The French capital is reaping the benefits a year ahead of schedule. Logically, it should retain its place in the next rankings. As the host city for the 2032 Summer Games, Brisbane did not feature in the rankings until 2023. It now makes a remarkable entry in 15th place.

The Games don’t always work for long afterwards. Another lesson from the rankings is that the Olympic flame is sometimes extinguished very quickly. Tokyo, which topped the rankings in 2022, has slipped to 8th place. The Japanese capital has not, however, drawn the final line on hosting major sporting events: it will be hosting the World Athletics Championships in 2025. The phenomenon is even more spectacular in the case of Rio de Janeiro. Host city of the Summer Games in 2016, it is now ranked 74th, after being ranked 27th in 2021 and 45th last year.

The Games work best in summer. The figures leave little room for doubt: unlike the summer event, the Winter Games have a very limited effect on a city’s sporting image. Beijing, the most recent city to host an Olympic event, has not gained much in terms of image: the Chinese capital is only 24th. It has even dropped ten places compared to its ranking in 2021 and 2022. With the 2026 Winter Games less than three years away, Milan is still a long way from the top (12th). As for PyeongChang, host city of the 2018 Winter Games, it appears discreetly in 80th place.

The United States remains very strong. With three years to go until the 2026 World Cup, when American stadiums are expected to dominate the screen, American cities are out in force. No fewer than fifteen of them feature in the top 50 of the BCW world ranking, including five in the top twenty (Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and Washington). Their image remains closely linked to sport, but they seem to owe it much more to the media impact of the major professional championships (NBA, NFL, MLB, etc.) than to hosting international events.

The World Cup is not a big hit. Less than a year after hosting the 2022 Football World Cup, Qatar remains outside the top 10. Doha is only 11th. Admittedly, the Qatari capital is making progress – it was 32nd in 2021, then 19th last year – but it is struggling to make headway, despite a succession of international events that will be further enhanced next year with the World Swimming Championships. The upward trend also applies to the rest of the Persian Gulf: Dubai enters the top 20 for the first time (19th), Abu Dhabi moves up four places (21st) and Riyadh moves straight into 65th place.