EBU Members have reported impressive audience figures for their sports programming during the period of the coronavirus lockdown, as live international sport begins to make its cautious return to European TV screens.
The figures emphasise the crucial role played by free-to-air, public-service broadcasting in informing, entertaining and raising morale across the continent and beyond during the unprecedented crisis caused by the pandemic.
- ARD, Germany’s public-service broadcaster and EBU Member, delivered the latest in its ground-breaking series of investigative documentaries on doping in sport, ‘Hit the Pill’. After a year of research, the programme, aired on 9 June, revealed that the pain-killer Ibuprofen was being “consumed like Smarties” by footballers, according to Union Berlin’s Neven Subotic, one of 1,147 players that took part in a survey by the ARD doping editorial team and the Correctiv research centre. Following in the footsteps of previous documentaries in the series, the programme provoked international media coverage and debate. ARD’s lockdown sports contributions also included reruns of classic sports moments and documentaries on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and on Uli Hoeness, who finally stepped down as president of Bayern Munich after a lifetime of achievement in football.
- In Sweden, EBU Member SVT’s sports department changed focus within the space of a week from live sport to broadcasting Helgstudion – The Weekend Show – dedicated to understanding how Swedes should think and act during the first months of the crisis. SVT Sport also showed a range of archive programming, including ‘The Goose Bump Generator’, which enabled sports fans to go online and press a button to watch a random goose bump sports moment. Other archive highlights included the legendary Wimbledon tennis final between Sweden’s Bjorn Borg and USA’s John McEnroe from 1980, plus every match played by Sweden at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, when the national team finished in third place. Each of these matches, shown on Saturday afternoons, was watched by over 300,000 viewers.
- In Switzerland, SRG SSR partnered ‘The Digital Swiss 5’, cycling’s inaugural digital Tour de Suisse. Running from 22 to 26 April, 2020, 57 professional cyclists from 19 teams took part in a five-day stage race on smart training machines, attracting up to 100,000 viewers in the German-speaking part of Switzerland for the final day of racing, a viewing share of 11.3 per cent. Meanwhile, in the Italian-speaking part of the country, ‘Pronti, ri…partenza, via!’, a show addressing the impact of the coronavirus on live sport, was broadcast eight times between 28 April and 9 June in a time slot usually reserved for live sports coverage, generating a market share of 5.1 per cent – just under 40,000 viewers.
- In Italy, RAI showed soccer’s Coppa Italia semi-finals and final, originally scheduled for May, but rescheduled to June because of the pandemic, generating top average viewing figures of 9 million and 7.5 million for the two semi-finals (Juventus v Milan and Napoli v Internazionale, respectively) and 10.2 million for the final between Napoli and Juventus on 17 June, a 45.4-per-cent viewing share. During lockdown, Raisport launched the Raisport Classic channel, showing a range of archive sports events including Fifa World Cup matches, cycling’s Giro d’Italia, athletics, basketball, volleyball, skiing and many other events. The channel’s top viewing figure was for a replay of Italy’s match against Germany in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which attracted an average viewing figure of 219,137, a 0.84-per-cent viewing share.
- In the Czech Republic, Czech Television collaborated with the Czech Athletic Federation to create its ‘Back On The Track’ initiative. The federation was one of the first to return from lockdown in June, albeit under strict conditions, with a specially-created series of five national athletics events, which included elite-level competitions in Kladno, Pilsen and Kolin. These took place behind closed doors, but were shown by Czech Television and were also available to viewers globally, courtesy of a non-geo blocked stream provided by Eurovision Sport.
- In Finland, YLE began its coverage of track and field competitions in June after the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, with over 10 competitions due to be aired by late September. The top audience so far was for the Jyväskylän GP on 8 July, which reached 785,000 viewers in total. Meanwhile, YLE Sport also collaborated with the city of Helsinki to produce ‘Jumppahetki’, which translates as ‘Home workout’, and was aimed at everyone in home quarantine, especially the elderly. Beginning in April, over 40 10-minute episodes have been broadcast, with an average reach of 18,000.
- In the UK, the BBC showed live coverage of Premier League soccer matches for the first time ever, following government intervention to ensure that selected matches of the league were available free to air, given that all matches were played behind closed doors when the league resumed in June after lockdown. On 5 July, the BBC’s coverage of Southampton’s surprise victory over high-flying Manchester City attracted an all-time record Premier League peak TV audience of 5.7 million across all platforms, including the BBC Sport website.
EBU Members also contributed to national debates about the effect of the pandemic on sport through their radio airwaves during lockdown, as the coronavirus uncovered the hidden resourcefulness and versatility of journalists and others working in public-service radio.
- At Denmark’s DR, all sports journalists were transferred to COVID-19 news coverage, proving that “we are one big company and we are really good at co-operating,” as one senior executive put it.
- At Germany’s ARD, sports journalists who had already become experts on anti-doping extended their range further to cover anti-virus measures and financial issues in sport.
- Lockdown also led to a new spirit of co-operation between athletes and the public, with Radio Slovenia Val202 reporting how a team of ski jumpers, coaches and staff delivered food to people across the country, while Aleksander Ceferin, the Slovenian president of UEFA, helped to deliver protective masks.
Glen Killane, Executive Director of Eurovision Sport, said: “The work of EBU Members over the past six months in helping us, through sport, remember and believe in the 'life outside' has been so important to so many. This work demonstrates the unique value of what we in Public Service Media do in raising spirits and building unity at times of crisis.”
The Eurovision Sport portfolio was recently augmented by a new agreement with the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for EBU Members across Europe and North Africa to broadcast exclusive coverage of FIG World Championships in Artistic, Rhythmic and Trampoline Gymnastics for the cycle 2021-2024.
This followed a new, long-term exclusive rights agreement with the International Biathlon Union and extensions of existing rights agreements with road cycling’s Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.
These agreements complement an existing line-up of partnerships with top sports organisations including: FIFA; UEFA; the International Paralympic Committee; World Athletics; European Athletics; the European Championships Munich 2022; the UCI; FINA; FEI; World Rowing; the International Canoe Federation; United World Wrestling; EWF; the FIS; Ski Austria; SwissSki; the UEC; LEN; ASO; and European Gymnastics.