Final viewing figures for the big Sunday of sport (July 14th) when England won the Cricket World Cup show just what a dilemma sports rights owners face when deciding how to put such inspiring events in front of people who don’t have pay-TV.
The full story of how getting sport onto free-to-air channels massively increases the audience for sport’s golden moments shines through in the final figures from BARB (British Audience Research Board). Some 23 million people tuned into one of the sporting events on Super Sunday, that’s one in three of us, with the decision to take two events free-to-air clearly playing a role.
The ratings show that of the people who watched England’s nail-biting triumph at Lord’s and Lewis Hamilton’s dominant win at Silverstone via free-to-air, a huge majority did so on Freeview, the universal, free way for Brits to enjoy sporting success. Most of those who watched the epic Djokovic defeat of Federer at Wimbledon did so on Freeview as well.
In good news for Channel 4, BARB viewing figures reveal that it had 5.2 million viewers for the cricket after Sky generously agreed to waive their exclusive rights for the historic day. Of those watching free-to-air, 96 per cent did so on the Freeview platform.
With speculation that future sports rights deals across the board may be lower than the record-breaking figures of recent times, governing bodies will have to take more account of the need to enthuse new generations, experts say.
In the event of a general election, parties will also be looking at their approach to the regime of listed events, in which certain sporting events are guaranteed free-to-air coverage. Like governing bodies, they will be well aware of the delicate balance between ensuring our sporting crown jewels are widely available with investment that comes from selling off sports rights.
Jonathan Thompson, CEO of Digital UK, which leads the development of Freeview, said: “The BARB numbers underline what difficult choices sports such as cricket have. Sky and other pay-TV services give fantastic financial support to sports by paying top dollar. But if you want to ensure the longevity of our traditional sports, and enthuse a wider social mix of people, including those who may not be able to afford to pay for telly, then these audience numbers show the way to do it.”