With fewer people attending sporting events in person, it was always likely that TV viewing figures would increase for the major spectacles.
But even so, the scale of the numbers has shocked many, with both Royal Ascot and the Premier League recording their highest-ever audience figures in a bumper week for the armchair fan.
On Thursday, nearly 1.8 million watched ITV’s coverage of Royal Ascot, where Hayley Turner rode a second successive winner in the Sandringham Stakes.
That was the highest figure for the festival’s coverage since 2012, and the itemised peak for Ascot came when 1.5 million tuned in to watch Stradivarius complete a remarkable hat-trick of Gold Cup victories.
It was a surprising success story for a meeting that typically thrives on royal pomp and pageantry, and where being seen wearing the right designer labels can often overshadow the action on the track.
Ed Chamberlin, who anchors ITV Racing’s coverage, said:
“It’s a nice surprise. If I’m honest, I thought we might take a bit of a hit with none of the magic of Royal Ascot to sell like the Queen, the royal procession and all the fun and games that normally goes with it.
“We’re fully aware we were helped with bad weather and lockdown but that was Royal Ascot with a serious difference, and for 1.8 million to watch Hayley was just extraordinary.”
Figures for the event as a whole were up, with an average audience of 980,000 showing an increase of 14% compared to the 859,000 who tuned in last year.
Millions Get the Bore Draw Treatment
And it’s not just horse racing that is showing an increased interest from viewers.
Premier League viewing figures are up too, and Sky Sports have now reported that the 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Everton on Sunday was watched by 5.5 million views – a Premier League record.
The audience was boosted by the game being shown live on free-to-air channel Pick TV, but even so it shows a remarkable appetite for top-flight football’s resumption.
The Premier League returned last Wednesday, and after Aston Villa and Sheffield United got the show on the road Manchester City and Arsenal, arguably the most eye-catching fixture so far, recorded an audience of 3.9 million on Sky Sports alone.
Meanwhile, the BBC showed their first live Premier League game since 1988, and despite the match being a rather inauspicious affair between Bournemouth and Crystal Palace it still rated well.
The audience peaked at 3.9 million viewers (roughly 25% of the whole available audience watching TV at the time), with an average of 3.6 million across the 90-minute run time.
Those viewing figures were also boosted by a further 600,000 who watched on the BBC iPlayer, and so the combined figure of 4.5 million also trumped the previous highest TV audience for a Premier League encounter.
That was a record previously held by the Manchester derby during the 2011/12 campaign, where 4.3 million people watched Vincent Kompany head the blue side of the city to a 1-0 victory.