Reimaging the city : the impact of sport initiatives on tourists' images of urban destinations
The contemporary city is notably image-conscious. Indeed, several commentators suggest that cities are consciously attempting to manufacture images and identities by manipulating a range of myths, traditions, lifestyles and urban cultures. The need to develop appealing city images is a particular concern for post-industrial cities attempting to acquire attractive reputations as tourist destinations. In an almost desperate search for imaging themes for this purpose, a growing number of cities have employed sport initiatives, involving events, event bids and the construction of new facilities. Despite the lack of evidence of, and associated explanations for, image effects, it is widely assumed that these initiatives do have the capacity to enhance the image of the city destination. The present study explores the validity of this assumption by evaluating the use and impacts of `sport reimaging' in three UK cities - Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield. Despite recognition of the multiple objectives of city reimaging in these cities, the primary aim of the study is to reveal how sport initiatives have influenced the images of potential tourists. Findings included in the study affirm that all three of the case-study cities have used sport events and sport stadia as vehicles for reimaging, with tourist images a particular concern. The study not only assesses whether such reimaging works, but explores how it might work. The study is assisted by the development and use of a conceptual framework that surmises that sport reimaging can influence both the holistic images of cities and specific perceptions of sporting provision. The study employs this framework to evaluate the impacts of sport imaging by identifying the processes through which these impacts may be procured. Accordingly, the effects of the case study initiatives are assessed in reference to their propensity to engender denotative perceptions of impressive sport provision and their capacity to procure fresh metonymic images and positive connotations. This is achieved by using a combination of methods, including semi-structured interviews and questionnaires, to explore how sport reimaging has affected the images of potential tourists. As such the study addresses a weakness in the burgeoning place image literature which is dominated by attempts to deconstruct city reimaging, and where there is too little attention to its reception, consumption and interpretation by target audiences. The study findings suggest that all three case study cities have developed strong sporting reputations and that sport initiatives do have the capacity to affect holistic city images because of their potency as metonyms and metaphors. However, despite widespread awareness of their implementation, the specific effects engendered by some case study initiatives appear rather limited. Furthermore, the study reveals certain problems.