By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
6 February 2012
The first ‘free to air’ Premier League football match broadcast in the UK in the 20-year history of the League, between Manchester City and Fulham on Saturday, had an average audience of 903,000 viewers, and a ‘reach’ of 1.97m viewers, Sportingintelligence can reveal.
The game, which kicked off at 5.30pm, was screened by ESPN and made available free in more than 18 million homes via Freeview as part of ESPN’s ‘Free Weekend’ programming to showcase its content.
Some optimistic industry forecasts had suggested the game could attract up to 20m viewers but the actual figures were not even the highest of the weekend for Premier League football on UK television.
Chelsea versus Manchester United on (pay-tv) Sky attracted an average audience of 2.7m viewers on Sunday, and a ‘peak’ of 3.97m people.
The City-Fulham game’s average of 903,000 is the average number who watched the whole game, while the reach was the 1.97m who saw any part of the game on ESPN.
In context, ESPN’s audience was decent: it was the best rating on ESPN for a Premier League game in the UK since the channel got involved in 2009.
Saturday’s audience was also double the number who normally watch a City match on ESPN. ESPN’s previous two Manchester City Premier League matches averaged 533,000 viewers (Spurs v Man City in August) and 491,000 viewers (QPR v City in November).
The ‘Free Weekend’ as a whole is understood to have brought around 1.5m new viewers to ESPN (people who have never watched it before) and sources consider it a success.
The City-Fulham game was up against tough opposition in as much as there was live Six Nations rugby on the BBC at the same time. BBC1 showed England’s 13-6 win against Scotland and attracted 7.2m people for the match, kicking off at 5pm, peaking at 8.3m viewers.
Sport on BBC1 will always trump sport on other channels. So while the ESPN City-Fulham game was not watched by many, it was never going to pull in huge numbers.