In the past few weeks, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) have released the viewing figures for England’s Euro 2016 campaign and in this blog we compare them to the figures from previous tournaments which we compiled for our comprehensive research into audience drivers.
In short, the news is not good for the Football Association or England’s sponsors – viewers over the four games averaged just 8.9m – lower than any of the previous seven tournaments they played in (back to and including Euro 2000). Indeed, this is down over a third on the average 14.5m households tuning in to those tournaments. These figures are taken from BARB’s weekly top 30 figures which measure the average audience over the course of a programme, and can be updated up to six weeks after their initial release (quoted ITV figures use ITVHDSD Total).
Perhaps viewers were turned off by England’s opposition, awkward kick-off times or even by England’s poor result in their first game against Russia? We don’t think these are plausible explanations – first, our econometric model of all of England’s games since the year 2000 suggests the opposition’s ranking makes only a limited contribution to viewing figures. Second, all but the Wales game were in a prime viewing slot, and even the figure for Wales was below all of the awkwardly-timed 2002 South Korea and Japan games (see chart above). Third, the audience for the first game against Russia game was also poor – at just 9.74m. ITV chose this game precisely because weekend evening games attract the most viewers. Based on similar games, our modelling suggested 15m was a realistic expectation for the Russia game. Finally, all of the games mattered – in previous tournaments, audiences have dropped when England were effectively out (spot the 2014 Costa Rica game in the above chart), or safely through, but that wasn’t the case in any of the three group games.
There are some other potential explanations – perhaps the number of viewers in public places was higher than previously, or BARB’s methodology missed some internet viewing, or maybe the Brexit vote diverted viewers’ attention. It could be that fewer players in the starting eleven were from well-supported English clubs. These might be part of the explanation, and further analysis might shed some light on these issues, but they are unlikely to explain all of the difference. It would be interesting to explore viewer age break-downs, and whether club now comes before country.
It’s also worth keeping all this in context – more UK households watch England games than any other football event – the Premier League draws up 2m on Sky and the FA Cup final attracted 6.7m (inc BBC 1 and BT Sport). We also think the UEFA Nations League will offer a big improvement on the pointless friendly games it replaces from September 2018 (although it looks like the will only be broadcast on Sky). Still, overall, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that watching England games is just not as appealing to viewers as it was.