SportBusiness in Numbers 8 | Media | How major sports events fared on TV in Europe’s big five in 2014-15

Audience ratings and trends for major events in 2014-15 including the Fifa World Cup, Winter Olympics, Tour de France and more, with data from Eurodata TV Worldwide.

The Fifa World Cup 2014 generated the largest average audience for a major international sports event (as opposed to domestic leagues and competitions) in four of the five major European markets in 2014-15. The exception was Spain where the Uefa Champions League generated a marginally larger average audience.

Fifa World Cup audiences generally tracked the performance of the local national team. In Germany and France, whose teams performed better than in South Africa, average audiences improved on 2010. The failure of Italy and defending champions Spain to reach the knock-out phase hit audiences in those countries. In the UK, with England once again unimpressive, audiences were nearly flat.

The first Winter Olympics to be hosted in Russia saw broadcasters achieve improved market shares over their normal programming in the same slots and, in Germany and the UK, increased audiences compared to Vancouver in 2010. In contrast, audiences fell in Italy. In all but Germany, audiences were beneath those from Turin in 2006.

The UK

Fifa World Cup average audiences increased slightly on public-service broadcaster the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV, from 6.2m (a 37.6-per-cent share) in 2010 to 6.3m (37.3-per-cent share). The UK audience has experienced less dramatic peaks and troughs across the last three World Cups than the other markets, likely due to the consistent performance of the England team.

The BBC averaged 6.6m viewers (39-per-cent share) for 28 matches on BBC1, to ITV1’s average of 6m (35-per-cent share) for 29 matches. Both broadcasters showed some matches on secondary channels BBC3 and ITV4, and the BBC showed the Portugal v Ghana match via its interactive ‘red button’ service.

The Uefa Champions League average audience fell 21 per cent year-on-year from 5m (21.4-per-cent share) in 2013-14 to 3.9m (18.4-per-cent share) in 2014-15, coinciding with a poor showing from English teams

in the competition. As in 2012-13, no English team progressed to the quarter-finals. The 2014-15 Champions League season was also without Manchester United, a team that averaged 5.1m (22.2-per-cent share) viewers on ITV in the 2013-14 campaign.

The most-viewed match on ITV in 2014-15 also attracted a significantly smaller audience than in the previous season, as 5.6m viewers (24.9-per-cent share) watched the Manchester City v Barcelona last-16 first leg, compared with the 6.6m (28.8-per-cent share) that watched the Bayern Munich v Manchester United quarter-final second leg in 2012-13.

Audiences on pay-television broadcaster Sky in the UK also fell by over 20 per cent. For the coverage it showed on its dedicated sports channels, Sky recorded an average audience of 407,000 (1.9-per-cent share), down from 529,000 (2.4-per-cent share) in 2013-14. As it did last season, Sky made six matches available on its basic-tier entertainment channel Sky One. With the additional audience from Sky One, Sky’s average audience for 2014-15 was 473,000 (2.2-per-cent share), significantly down on the equivalent figure last season.

For international rugby union’s Six Nations Championship, the BBC recorded an average of 4.8m (32.6-per-cent share) viewers per match, a 15-per-cent increase on its 2014 average audience of 4.2m (28.7-percent share). This year’s average was just shy of the 4.9m (29.9-per-cent share) average achieved in 2013.

Figures were not available for the other participating nation among the five leading European markets, Italy, where the matches are screened on Discovery-owned digital terrestrial channel Dmax.

The success of Lewis Hamilton in the 2014 Formula One World Championship led to an increase in the live television audience in the UK on both the BBC and Sky.

On the BBC, the average audience for nine live races was 3.8m, a 1.4-per-cent increase on the average audience in 2013 of 3.7m (32.8-per-cent share). The coverage also delivered an impressive average audience share of 33.3 per cent, also a rise on 2013. The BBC had an average audience of 3.4m (20.1-per-cent share) for the same-day, in-depth highlights which it broadcast of the 10 races that it did not broadcast live.

On Sky, the average audience of 1.1m (16.6-percent share) for all 19 races on its dedicated Sky Sports F1 channel was an 11-per-cent increase on the 2013 average audience of 914,000 (16.7-per-cent share). For the 10 races broadcast exclusively on Sky Sports, the average audience was 1.3m (14.3-per-cent share). These impressive audience figures suggest that Formula One is a subscription driver for Sky.

The Winter Olympics average audience increased 53-per-cent to 1.4m (15.1-per-cent share) from Vancouver. This was lower than the average number of viewers for Turin, although a higher share. The additional hour’s time difference from central Europe may have led to lower audiences, as most events were completed by the early evening. The most-watched event was the final two legs of the women’s skeleton as 3.9m people (23.5-per-cent share) watched Lizzie Yarnold win the UK’s only gold.

The Uefa Europa League average audience remained static at 1.2m with audience shares of 5.9 per cent in 2013-14 and 6 per cent in 2014-15. The most-watched match was between Liverpool and Beşiktaş, with an average audience of 3.6m (14.9-per-cent share).

The UK audience for MotoGP was hit by live coverage moving exclusively to pay-television, as BT Sport replaced the BBC. BT averaged 168,000 (2.1-per-cent share), an 81.5-per-cent decrease on the BBC’s last year of coverage, which attracted an average of 907,300 (9.2-per-cent share).

The UK average audience for the Tour de France increased on digital-terrestrial channel ITV4. This was mainly due to the UK’s hosting of the first three stages. This helped offset any decline due to the absence of popular British rider Sir Bradley Wiggins and the abandonment of the race at the fifth stage by 2013 winner and fellow Briton Chris Froome.

The audience for all 21 stages on ITV4 was 423,400 (3.4-per-cent share), up almost 23 per cent from 344,500 (3.8-per-cent share) on the same channel in 2013. ITV1, the broadcaster’s main channel, showed a simulcast of the first three stages.


The Fifa World Cup generated an average audience of 8.8m (45.3-per-cent share) for the 28 matches on commercial broadcaster TF1. This was 78.4-per-cent higher than in 2010 when the average for 56 matches on TF1 and public-service broadcaster France Télévisions was 4.9m (32.3-per-cent share).

In 2006, when France reached the final, the average audience was 6.8m (42.9-per-cent share). As in Germany, more matches were shown free-to-air in 2006 than in 2014. The most-watched match this year was France v Switzerland, which averaged 16.4m (60.8-percent share), the largest television audience in France for seven years, according to Fifa.

French pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports broadcast all 64 World Cup matches, including 36 exclusively. According to sports industry information service sponsoring.fr, the most-watched match was Argentina v Switzerland, which attracted an audience of 1.3m. The same website that the France v Germany quarter-final was seen by 1.2m.

The Tour de France average television audience and share remained relatively flat, falling slightly from 3.4m (32.4-per-cent share) in 2013 to 3.3m (31.3-percent share) in 2014. The decrease came despite the presence of two French riders, Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot, on the podium. The slight drop in the audience may be because the 2013 race was the Tour’s centenary edition and had attracted an unusually strong audience, 13-per-cent higher than 2012.

The Six Nations, in which the national team disappointed again, increased its average audience on France Télévisions from 3m (20.9-per-cent share) in 2014 to 3.1m (20.5-per-cent share) in 2015. Although only a minimal increase, this is the first time the average audience has gone up in France since 2012.

The Uefa Champions League average audience on Canal Plus increased by 10.7-per-cent, from 1.8m (7-percent share) to 2.0m (7.7-per-cent share). The 2014-15 season was the third in which free-to-air television coverage has been restricted until the final. The final, which was shown by TF1, attracted an average audience of 4.7m (22.8-per-cent share), 4.5-per-cent lower than the 4.9m (22.6-per-cent share) for the 2013-14 final.

Uefa Europa League audiences continued to fall as French teams again failed to reach the competition’s latter stages. The average audience on commercial broadcaster W9 was 1m (4.2-per-cent share). The mostwatched match was between Inter Milan and Saint- Etienne, which attracted an average live audience of 1.7m (7.1-per-cent share).

The French Open, in the first year of a new five-year rights deal between the tennis federation and France
Télévisions, saw overall audiences increase by 8.9 pe  cent, from 1.5m (13.8-per-cent share) to 1.7m (13.5-percent share) in 2014 despite audiences declining for both singles finals.

The most-watched match in France was between home favourite Gaël Monfils and Britain’s Andy Murray, which attracted 4.6m (18.3-per-cent share). One major change in the public-service broadcaster’s new deal is that it now broadcasts fewer hours, as basic-tier broadcaster Eurosport France took over exclusive rights from 11am to 3pm for the first nine days of the tournament.

Formula One’s average audience declined by 16 per cent, from 853,000 (7.1-per-cent share) in 2013, to 715,000 (6.2-per-cent share) in 2014, in the second year of an exclusive contract for Canal Plus. As in the UK and Italy, same-day free-to-air highlights are broadcast, with Canal Plus decrypting its signal to allow non-subscribers to watch.


Home of the tournament winners, the Fifa World Cup final was the Germany’s most-watched television programme ever, with an audience of 34.6m (86.2-percent share) on public-service broadcaster ARD. German audiences were high throughout the tournament, with the 60 games shown by the two free-to-air broadcasters attracting an average of 12.3m (54.7-per-cent share). This was a 13-per-cent increase on the 2010 average of 10.8m (48.2-per-cent share).

Uefa Champions League audiences in Germany on public-service broadcaster ZDF remained broadly flat, increasing 1.2 per cent year-on-year from 8.4m (27.8-percent share) in 2013-14 to 8.5m (28.6-per-cent share) in 2014-15. This followed a somewhat inevitable fall in audiences in 2013-14, after the 2012-13 all-German final significantly increased average audiences. Audiences in Germany remain the highest in Europe.

The most-watched match in Germany this season was Bayern Munich’s semi-final, first leg away to eventual winners Barcelona, which attracted an average audience of 13.5m (43.2-per-cent share) for ZDF.

In Germany, the Formula One average share remained high at 28.2 per cent, despite a lower average of 4.4m on commercial broadcaster RTL for all 19 races. As in the UK, coverage was also provided on pay-television by Sky Deutschland, which had an average audience of 339,500 (2.2-per-cent share).

Unlike the other big five markets, the 2014 Winter Olympics generated a similar average audience to London 2012. Sochi 2014 had an average audience of 3.3m (25.5-per-cent share) across ARD and ZDF’s coverage. This was a 41-per-cent increase on Vancouver, and a 20-per-cent increase on Turin. The final two legs of the men’s luge, won by German Felix Loch, attracted the highest average audience, at 9.2m (32.3-per-cent share).

ARD/ZDF’s average audience for London 2012 was 3.4m (24.1-per-cent share) across 235 hours of coverage, up from 2m (25.4-per-cent share) for 270 hours of Beijing 2008 coverage, and 3.1m (25.6-per-cent share) for 298 hours of Athens 2004. The German men’s beach volleyball team attracted the biggest audience of the Games, as 8.061m (33.5-per-cent share) watched their victory over top seeds and favourites Brazil.

The European Athletics Championship 2014 drew an average audience of 1.9m (13.9-per-cent share) on ARD and ZDF, adding more than 700,000 to its 2012 figure. This was in line with the 1.9m (16.9-per-cent share) that watched the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow. The most-watched session was the second night, in which German Olympic discus champion Robert Harting successfully defended his European title, attracting an average audience of 4.6m (16.9-per-cent share).

Germany saw the biggest growth in Uefa Europa League average viewing figures out of the big five markets. Audiences for ProSiebenSat.1-owned commercial broadcaster Kabel Eins increased by 30 per cent from 1.7m to 2.2m (7.9-per-cent share), mainly driven by the performance of German side Wolfsburg. The club reached the quarter-finals, beating Inter Milan in the process. In the previous year no German club reached the last 16.


In Italy, where 25 Fifa World Cup matches were broadcast on public-service broadcaster Rai, with the rest on pay-television broadcaster Sky Italia, the average audience was 8m (39.1-per-cent share). This was 8.5-percent lower than in 2010, when the average audience was 8.7m (41.1-per-cent share). Arguably a more interesting comparison is with 2006, when Italy won the World Cup, and the average audience across all games was 11.4m (52.3-per-cent share).

The Uefa Champions League average audience on commercial broadcaster Mediaset increased dramatically from 4m (14.1-per-cent share) in 2013-14 to 6.8m (24.2-per-cent share) in 2014-15, boosted by the progression of Juventus to the final.

Audiences had fallen year-on-year as the Italian teams fared poorly. This season, as in 2013-14, only one Italian team progressed from the group stage. However, Juventus’s run to the final saw a significant increase in average viewing, as it had done in last year’s Europa League. The most-watched match in Italy this season was the Real Madrid v Juventus semi-final second leg, which attracted an audience of 11.6m (40.8-per-cent share). This was a shade higher than the audience for the final – 11.5m (46.6-per-cent share) – and a massive 82-per-cent higher than the most-watched match in 2013-14, also between Juventus and Real Madrid.

Uefa Europa League average audiences increased by 10 per cent from 3m to 3.3m as Napoli and Fiorentina reached the semi-finals. The semi-final between Napoli and Ukrainian side Dnipro was the most-watched match, attracting an average audience of almost 6m for commercial broadcaster Canale 5, owned by Mediaset (22-per-cent share).

Formula One generated an average audience at 3.2m on Rai, though this was one fifth smaller than in 2013 when the average audience on the same channel was 4.1m (20.8-per-cent share). The average audience for 10 races on Sky Italia was 243,000 (1.7-per-cent share).

The Winter Olympics average audience fell by 19.5 per cent to 463,000 (3.5-per-cent share), at least partly due to the change in coverage from Rai to Cielo, pay-television broadcaster Sky Italia’s free-to-air channel. Cielo has an average market share of only 0.6 per cent, while Rai 2’s average market share is 7.6 per cent. With the increased level of interest from being host nation eight years ago, the decrease from 2006 is even more marked.

MotoGP audiences declined following coverage switching to pay-television broadcaster Sky Italia from Mediaset’s free-to-air Italia 1 channel. Although Sky adopted a hybrid approach, splitting coverage across its pay-television channel Sky Sport 1 and free-to-air Cielo channel, audiences were much reduced, in part due to Cielo having a far lower cumulative reach (of 51.7 per cent) than Italia 1 (87.5 per cent). The result was that on free-to-air television the audience fell by 59.8 per cent from 3.6m (20.8-per-cent share) to 1.4m (7.6-percent share). The audience for the 10 races exclusively broadcast on Sky Sport 1 meanwhile was 154,100 (1.3-per-cent share).

Another reason for the drop in audience may be due to world champion Marc Marquez’s dominance of the championship. Marquez won the first 10 races, broke the previous record of 12 grand prix wins in a season, and won the championship with three rounds to spare.

The Italian average audience for the Tour de France increased by more than 33 per cent, from 797,800 (7.2-per-cent share) in 2013, to 1.1m (10-per-cent share) in 2014, as Italian Vincenzo Nibali achieved the largest margin of victory in the race for 17 years. The penultimate stage, in which Nibali all-but secured the race, was the most popular stage, and was watched by 1.7m (13.8-per-cent share).


The Uefa Champions League average audience declined on public-service broadcaster TVE’s La 1 channel, from 6.7m (35.3-per-cent share) in 2013-14 to 5.7m (30.6-percent share) in 2014-15, a decrease of 15.3 per cent. The most watched match in Spain was the Atlético v Real Madrid quarter-final first leg which attracted an average audience of 8.7m (45.4-per-cent share) down by 21.2 per cent on last year’s match between the two Madrid clubs, although that was the final.

The Fifa World Cup average audience for the 34 matches on commercial broadcaster Mediaset fell by 11.9 per cent, from 6.3m (44.6-per-cent share) in 2010, to 5.6m (39.7-per-cent share).

Uefa Europa League’s average audience fell from 2.5m to 2.1m (12.7-per-cent share), a 15-per-cent decrease, despite 2013-14 winners Sevilla repeating their feat in 2014-15, this time beating Dnipro in the final, The final was the most-watched match in Spain with an average audience of 4.9m (29.7-per-cent share).

Formula One’s average audience on commercial broadcaster Atresmedia’s Antena 3 channel declined to 3.1m from the 2013 audience of 3.7m (35.6-per-cent share). As in Germany, Italy and the UK, coverage is shared with a pay-television broadcaster, but audience information for Movistar’s coverage is unavailable. Across the two broadcasters there is now a greater depth of coverage than ever before.

Spain produced the largest increase in Tour de France audiences among the big five European markets in 2014 as TVE showed the entire Tour on La 1, as well as on its basic-tier sports channel Teledeporte. Previously, coverage was split across the two channels. Audiences increased by almost 91 per cent, from 633,000 (5.8-percent share) in 2013 to 1.2m (10.7-per-cent share).

The French Open had a 1.2m average audience (8.8-per-cent share) over its eight hours of coverage, boosted by Spaniard Rafael Nadal winning his ninth title in 10 years.

The French Open was screened by Discovery-owned channel Discovery Max, which agreed half-way through the tournament to show the last three days of the event.The average audience went down 38.5-per-cent on the 1.9m (13.9-per-cent share) who watched commercial broadcaster Mediaset’s 15 hours of coverage on its main free-to-air channels Telecinco and Cuatro in 2013.

The drop in Spanish free-to-air audiences was arguably inevitable, as coverage switched from the popular Telecinco and Cuatro channels to the much less popular Discovery Max. Mediaset’s channels were the first and fifth most popular in Spain in 2013 according to total day audience share, cumulatively taking 18.5 per cent of the market, against Discovery Max’s 1.6 per cent.

Additionally, while this year’s final between Rafael Nadal and Serbian Novak Djokovic would certainly have been an attractive match for tennis aficionados, last year’s all-Spanish men’s final between Nadal and David Ferrer, which attracted an audience of 4.1m (28-per-cent share), might have had stronger local appeal.
See previous article for Eurodata TV Worldwide profile.

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