Lee Richardson – Gaming Economics: Big events, tiny audiences….how sports fans, bettors and bookmakers all lose out!

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Lee Richardson

Lee Richardson MD of Gaming Economics, tells sports betting industry stakeholders why they should be concerned by the declining TV audience figures of major sporting events. With a proliferated TV schedule and changing viewer habits, will sporting events ever gain the broadcasts figures and viewer engagements of years gone by? 

Despite one of the most fascinating final-day championship golf duels in living memory – rookie Major-winner Henrik Stenson getting the better of Phil Mickelson at last week’s Open at Troon – most golf fans, and sports bettors, didn’t even get the chance to watch it unfold on live TV.

The peak audience of just 1.1m for last Sunday’s final round – shown exclusively on Sky Sports – represented a drop of over 75% versus 2015. Last year, when the Open finished on a Monday due to the weather, the BBC’s peak figure was 4.7m. In 2014, when Rory McIlroy proved victorious on the Sunday, the BBC peak was higher still, at 5.5m.

Live TV pictures are vital to stimulating fan attention and betting turnover, whether that’s golf, football or any other sport you’d care to mention. Bookmakers have already described last week’s titanic tussle at Troon as a ‘damp squib’ regarding betting interest.

Last season’s entire UEFA Champions’ League competition suffered a similar fate, when BT Sport – a cable rival to Sky – became the sole provider of live CL fixtures within the UK; audiences collapsed, as did betting interest and turnover. UEFA have been so concerned at the decline that they intend to re-write the broadcasting rules over free-to-air access ahead of the next rights-renewal round, for the 2018 – 2021 season.

At least UEFA would have been happier with their recent EURO 2016 tournament, which showed precisely what free-to-air terrestrial TV can do for audiences when the games are accessible and available to all.

Despite a consistent decline in terrestrial UK TV viewing audience since England’s miserable performance at the FIFA World Cup in 2014, this latest tournament showed some real improvements, but perhaps not as fans, TV executives, nor UEFA officials probably anticipated.

Within the British home nations, more people chose to watch Wales play rather than England, on either the BBC or iTV, something no-one would have forecast before the event.

According to BARB, the Wales v N. Ireland’s game gained more viewers than England’s abject failure against Iceland (8.94m v. 8.02m), with a record-breaking 10.88m tuning for Wales’ QF victory over Belgium, 36% more viewers than any England game at the tournament.

EURO 2016 was extremely profitable for the bookmakers, and which was due, in part, to the rather unpredictable outcome of the event; eventual champions Portugal were a relatively unconsidered 18/1 shot, and just 43% of games were won by the favourite within 90 minutes.

But surely the single-most important stimulus for the excellent betting revenues would have been the universal availability of free-to-air live TV pictures right across Europe.

Fully audited global figures for the tournament won’t be known for some weeks yet, but broadcasters already seem confident that the 2016 Final audience will exceed the record 299m viewers worldwide who watched the previous Final, Spain v Italy in 2012.

Sports governing bodies simply can’t afford to alienate their fans, or those who also enjoy a bet on their favourite sports, by restricting choice of over how, and where, they can watch. Big events need big audiences. Ask UEFA.

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Lee Richardson – MD – Gaming Economics

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Lee Richardson will be speaking on sports betting trends and user habits at the upcoming Betting on Sports Conference (15-16 September), click the below tab for more information…

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