Friday night Premier League football – how many tuned in?

Friday 14th August saw an unusual event – a televised Premier League football game.  We look at how many people tuned in, and whether Friday night could become the new Sunday afternoon.

The FA and Premier League have been at pains to point out this was due to “unique circumstances” but, from 16/17, Friday night games are part of the TV package so this serves as an interesting experiment.

The headline figure from the Broadcast Audience Research Service released figures this week suggested 861k viewers tuned in to Sky Sports 1 for the Friday evening game of Aston Villa vs Manchester United. This was higher than both the 612k who watched Manchester United defeat Tottenham in the season opener on BT Sport the previous Saturday, and the 663k who watched West Brom vs Man City on Sky Sports on the previous Monday. However, Sunday afternoon games tend to attract over a million viewers (see below) and that was the case here as 1.3m saw West Ham upset at Arsenal.  Of course, the opening weekend figures may have been buoyed by the two-month summer break and these figures don’t account for those watching in a pub. Still, the margin here is big enough to suggest Friday night is less attractive to home viewers than Sunday afternoon.

Arguably the most interesting comparison is with the Saturday night football the Friday game replaced.  Again using the opening weekend as a reference (Sat 8th August) 857k watched Chelsea vs Swansea on Saturday night – so, arguably a similar game and very similar to Friday’s 861k.  Looking back to spring, other similar Saturday night games also attracted under a million – for example 828k for United vs West Bromich Albion; 973k for Crystal Palace vs United.

So, the Friday night figure appears in line with similar Saturday games. If the ‘novelty factor’ of a Friday game boosted the figures this could point to Friday being less attractive than Saturday – though the opposite could be true if watching on Friday becomes a ‘habit’. A Friday game could also shift some demand away from the other weekend viewing slots.

The first weekend’s figures may disappoint BT Sport. For the big kick-off last year,  they achieved 818k viewers for Man United vs Swansea – so this year’s figure of 612k is down by more than 25%. Still, both figures were well-up on the 451k who watched the opening encounter in BT’s first season in 2013 (Liverpool vs Stoke). It’s probably too early to say how BT’s prices changes and the addition of Champions and Europa League will affect viewing overall.

Looking more broadly at viewing figures, last year Sky Sports achieved up to 2.1m for a key game in winter and several intra-top-four games attracted over 1.5m. Outside of the top 6, a good example might be 1.1m for Sunderland vs Newcastle in early April. England internationals attract much bigger audiences – it’s unusual they attract under 4m viewers, and in the knock-out stages of major tournaments, viewers can exceed 20m.

In terms of key points then, Friday night’s game appears similar to Saturday night in terms of attractiveness to viewers and BT Sport got 25% fewer viewers for the opening game than last year. This is a relatively simple analysis – we plan to undertake more detailed analysis and modelling of what drives Premier League and England TV audiences in the coming weeks. Get in touch if you’d like to sponsor or report on that work .