Sky Sports' Champions League viewing dives in 'worst year ever' for audiences | Media | The Guardian
As rival BT prepares to launch its own coverage, satellite giant stresses that tournament’s audiences are dependent on how well English teams fare

Sky’s coverage of the Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus drew fewer than 500,000 viewers, as its sports chief complained this has been the worst season ever for audiences.

Its coverage of the final on Saturday night drew an average of just 497,000 viewers, almost a third the audience it attracted for the 2014 final.

Sky and co-broadcaster ITV, which attracted an average of 4.18m viewers and a 22.5% share, have lost the TV rights to BT from next season after it paid an eye-watering £900m for exclusivity.

BT will unveil its Champions League coverage plans on Tuesday including Gary Lineker as a presenter and a package priced at about £5 a month.

The telecoms group offers Premier League football for free to customers who take its broadband package.

Sky Sports head Barney Francis has attempted to take the sting out of BT’s launch, and dampen perceived impact of the loss to Sky, arguing that the Champions League is not the valuable asset it once was.

“Over the last five seasons we have seen Champions League audiences fall 38%,” he said in a blog. “ Last season, we saw our lowest ever average match audience and not a single European game appeared in our top 40 football matches.”

Francis that the Champions League accounts for just 2.5% of Sky Sports viewing, while the Premier League is “seven times bigger”.

The popularity of the Champions League in the UK is heavily dependent on how well English teams fare in the tournament.

The last time an English team featured in the final was Chelsea’s penalty shootout win over Bayern Munich in 2012, which saw ITV attract an average of 8.2 million viewers to its live coverage, while 1.5 million tuned into Sky Sports 1.

For ITV, Barcelona’s tougher than expected 3-1 win over Juventus on Saturday proved to be more popular than 2014’s match between Real Madrid and city rival Atletico.

ITV’s live match coverage from 7.45pm to 9.40pm averaged 5.3 million viewers, up from the 4.9 million and 24.6% share last year’s match managed.

“It will be interesting to see what BT Sport manages next year with no terrestrial window,” said an ITV source.

While viewing of Champions League football has waned in recent years, it only takes a home team to do well to dramatically change ratings.

In 2008, a peak audience of 14.6 million watched Manchester United’s win over Chelsea in the all-English Champions League final.