English Premiership losing TV viewers and crowds

Despite paying records fees for their new contracts, British sports broadcasters Setanta and Sky are facing a softer viewing audience for live English Premier League. Exclusive ratings figures collected by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board and supplied by media agency ZenithOptimedia show the market to be stagnant, with an average of 1.19 million viewers attracted to the first 50 Premiership matches broadcast this season on the main Sky sports channels. This compares with 1.25 million when a snapshot was taken in April 2005, ahead of the auction for live rights for the next three seasons, and 1.23 million at the same stage of the 2004-05 season.

With BSkyB paying a total of £1.3 billion for 92 live matches a year, the latest deal is costing the broadcasters £1.7 billion in total - 66 percent more than the sum raised by the previous auction in 2003.

"As a rule of thumb, matches involving two of the 'big four' clubs - Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal - attract around three million viewers when shown in a prime slot. The least popular matches - involving the likes of Watford and Fulham - struggle to get above 500,000 viewers," The Independent reported. ."The biggest draw so far this season was the showdown between Man Utd and Chelsea on 26 November. This drew an average audience of 2.95 million viewers. The least-watched game involved newly promoted Watford and Sheffield United two days later. This was seen by an average of 486,000."

Arttendances are also reported to be down. Based on figures compiled by Football365.com, average crowds Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic so far this season are, in each case, significantly down on levels for the whole of 2005-06. Even Newcastle United has been affected, with average crowds slipping below the 50,000 mark after exceeding 52,000 last season. Research released by Virgin Money found that 46 percent of Premiership supporters said they had gone to fewer games this season. Virgin said its Football Fans Price Index showed that the cost of going to games had risen by 17 percent since the start of 2006.