Saturday night, 10:20 pm BBC One “Game of the Day” time. The traditional program shows recaps of all the Premier League games of the day. Gary Lineker is the main host of the show. “Match of the Day” once had an audience of 12 million viewers, now it only has four million.
Pay-TV channels Sky and BT Sports broadcast live in the afternoon. But there is another reason: football does not dominate everything on British television. Rugby is extremely popular and newspapers report extensively. The BBC and ITV, also a public television station, broadcast live international matches of the Six Nations. Cricket is also very popular; private broadcaster Channel 5 has just partially brought the sport to free television. Tennis, golf, boxing, the World Snooker Championships, rowing, athletics – the choice is huge on British television almost every day.
“It depends on the success of the athletes”
4.7 million viewers last saw “One for Arthur” win at the Aintree Grand National live on Channel 4 free television. Why are so many different sports being broadcast live on UK television? Robert Blair, who worked for the Daily Mirror as a sportswriter for decades, gives a simple answer.
“It depends on the success of the athletes. When England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, the television audience was incredibly high. Or in cricket, when we won. It is about success and victory. Nobody wants to see losers.”
England has been a successful sporting nation, especially since the 2012 Olympics. Athletics, rowing, cycling – the variety of sports on British television has increased compared to before, says Robert Blair.
Sports are migrating to pay TV
But there is a downside: many sports are migrating to pay TV. And then the ratings drop dramatically. An international cricket match used to reach three to four million viewers on the BBC, a tenth of that on Sky. The Ashes saw eight million on Channel 4 ten years ago, compared to just 470,000 on Sky Sports last year.
“That has a snowball effect. If young people can no longer see their heroes, then they are no longer inspired to emulate them. Because they can no longer see them.”
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