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How much is football worth to the Belgian economy?

With the World Cup in Russia almost upon us and Belgium possibly on its way to World Cup glory sceptics might be surprised to hear how much football means to the Belgian and Flemish economy.

Last season, 2016-17, football, what Americans call 'soccer', provided employment for 3,239 people in Belgium. The figure comes from a study commissioned by Belgium's Pro League.

Auditors and consultants Deloitte worked out that 935 million euros was spent in Belgium thanks to professional football last season. Wages, fees and an array of football club revenues allowed professional football clubs to create an added value for the Belgian economy worth 669 million euros.

What are called 'operational results' of clubs generated by ticket sales, TV rights, payments by UEFA, merchandising and sponsoring totalled 316 million euros and in recent years grew by 13% a year. This compares favourably to the EU average of 8.8%. Transfers are an increasingly important source of income. Last season they raised 97 million euros and that's four times more than in 2012-13. Football clubs recognise the importance of training young players for the future transfer market. Today some 11,000 youth players are under the wings of the Belgian clubs.

Pierre François, the CEO of the Pro League, notes it's important to recognise that Belgian professional football is more than simply the wages of top players. The CEO adds that football is also important for general well-being of the population at large: "Football is often the top topic of conversation. There would be a lot less chatting if we didn't have football!"