Sky ends Champions League run with viewership in relegation zone

DetailsEditor | 09 June 2015

Billions worldwide may have watched Barcelona dismantle Juventus with cool, Catalan élan in the Champions League final on 6 June, but for Sky the night was a poor way to sign-off on UK rights to the tournament.

Football is most certainly a game of two halves for the UK pay-TV giant, with coverage and viewership of the Barclays Premier League going from strength to strength but with audiences for the premium European competition undergoing what looks like secular decline.

Indeed as the full-time whistle blew for the Champions League on the channel — said to have delivered fewer than half a million viewers, just under a third of that for the previous year's final — Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis hinted that new owner BT Sport may have bought the rights to a televisual hospital pass.

In a blog post, Francis said: "We're proud of the high standards that our production teams have set in the Champions League. While we have enjoyed bringing the competition to customers, there is no doubt that Sky Sports remains the unrivalled choice for sports fans. Not just next year, but for years to come. [But] in football, it's the intense rivalry of our domestic competitions that matters most to customers. You only have to look at the viewing figures to see the evidence."

The numbers certainly bear this out. Over the last five seasons Sky's Champions League audiences fell 36%. Last season, Sky saw its lowest ever average match audience and not a single European game appeared in its top 40 football matches. Overall, Champions League accounted for just 2.5% of Sky Sports viewing, while the Premier League was seven times bigger. Francis did not offer reasons for the decline but what can be said is that English teams' performances in the competition have worsened considerably over the ten years since Liverpool's legendary capture of the club's fifth Champions League in Istanbul.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the Reds' downward trajectory since, plus the equal fall from grace of Manchester United — who did not even qualify for any European competition in the 2014/15 season — lie behind the slump. The two teams are the most popular in England, indeed the only two clubs who can be counted on to deliver national audiences.

In a parting shot at the new owner, Francis noted that his company had never been in better shape. He added that in the two years since the launch of BT's sports channel, Sky's revenue in the UK and Ireland had grown by 11% and that it had recently reported our highest customer growth for 11 years.