Report: “Success stories for TV sport amid pandemic”

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With major international events such as the Summer Olympics and the European Football Championship, the 2019/20 season looked set to become an exceptional year. Before these events were cancelled, other major international competitions had marked the start of the season, such as the Rugby World Cup, from September 20th to November 2nd, which was a major success, states a report from Médiamétrie’s Glance .

In the host country, Japan, 6 of the top 10 best TV ratings of the season were Rugby World Cup matches. NHK G leads the way with 11.6 million TV viewers (57.4 per cent audience share) for the quarter-final defeat to South Africa. The final between South Africa and England was also a great success in both countries, with 4.8 million viewers on SABC 2 (40 per cent audience share) in South Africa and 9.1 million in the UK on ITV respectively (67 per cent audience share).

As for Winter sports, they narrowly escaped the lockdown, with only a few final events cancelled at the beginning of the health crisis. In Austria, for example, winter sports accounted for 54 per cent of the sport watched on television between September 2019 and August 2020, for an offer of 43 per cent of all sports programmes. In Slovenia, Norway, Poland and Sweden, TV viewing of Winter sports accounted for over 40 per cent of all sports viewed between September 2019 and August 2020.

Like every season, certain local events stood out. In Ireland, the final of the Gaelic football championship between Dublin and Kerry attracted almost one million viewers on RTE2 for a 71 per cent audience share. Even more unusual in the Netherlands, the biggest sports audience of the season was recorded at a kickboxing match between the two Dutchmen Badr Hari and Rico Verhoeven, with 3.6 million TV viewers and a 52 per cent audience share on the Veronica channel.

Faced with postponements or pauses in sporting events, TV channels and event organisers had to be creative and develop alternatives to deliver quality content to sports fans during this very strange time.

In several European countries, some channels showed reruns of the greatest triumphs of their national teams. In France, for example, the L’Equipe channel broadcast several matches from the 2018 World Cup, including France’s win in the final against Croatia, which attracted more than 600,000 viewers. In Germany and Spain the same strategy was adopted by ARD and Gol, with 1.6 million fans watching a replay of the 2014 World Cup final on ARD in Germany.

Virtual events were also set up to replace the normal schedule, as was the case in Northern Belgium with the broadcast of the virtual Tour of Flanders on EEN, where 13 riders were facing each other on a cycling simulation; a race watched by more than 600,000 viewers  with an audience share of 56 per cent. Another example, this time in the United States, was the Virtual Draft of the NFL (selection of the best university players by American football teams, taking place in visio-conference from the prospects, coaches and general manager’s houses) broadcast simultaneously on 4 channels and which reached an audience of 15 million viewers, i.e. an increase of 37 per cent of audience compared to the 2019 Draft.

Still in the US, to make up for the lack of live sport, the ESPN channel decided in April to bring forward the broadcast of The Last Dance documentary series about the final season (1997/98) of the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan’s basketball team. This eagerly awaited documentary, which was initially scheduled for release in June, created a real buzz and was watched on average by more than 6.7 million TV viewers for an average audience share of 7.8 per cent, the biggest audience in history for an ESPN documentary.

Sports fans worldwide have been eagerly awaiting the return of sport to television. With games played behind closed doors and sometimes new formats to finish the season, this return took place in a rather particular context.

One of the first football competitions to resume was the Bundesliga, the German league. To mark the occasion, in Germany, the Sky Group aired the first two multiplexes of the first two days of the German season on its free Sky Sports News HD channel. The first post-lockdown day broadcast on this channel thus achieved an audience of more than 2.5 million fans.

In Italy, on June 17th the final of the Coppa Italia between Napoli and Juventus achieved the best audience of the season with 10.2 million viewers and a market share of 39.3 per cent on Rai 1, which is 3 million more viewers than for the 2019 final.  In the 2019/20 season, 6 of the top 10 sports audiences of the season were for Coppa Italia games.

Another eagerly awaited competition, the Champions League, made its comeback in August in a new format (final 8 held in Lisbon). The final between Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich achieved the best sports audience of the season in France and Germany, with 11.4 million fans watching on TF1 (44.4 per cent audience share) and 12.8 million on ZDF (39.6 per cent audience share

Yassine Berhoun, Sport Director at Glance, notes that “2020 will forever be an unprecedented year in the history of World sport, as virtually all sports competitions from March to June were cancelled. Rights holders, broadcasters and other sports stakeholders had to reinvent themselves in order to offer attractive content to their fans during this shutdown, then to prepare for an expected return of sports events. The broadcast sports offer during the 2019/20 season has logically declined, but audience successes have also been recorded in many countries, particularly with the resumption of competitions after lockdown”.


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