Sporting defeats still deliver advertising gold

The high-octane sporting weekend of the Rugby World Cup final and the finale to the Formula 1 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix, both shown live on ITV1, delivered advertising gold dust, even though England and Lewis Hamilton failed at the last to deliver world titles.

The rugby final in Paris delivered a peak of 15.8 million viewers to ITV1 – or 60 per cent of the national audience, and that is without factoring in the vast number of people watching the game in pubs and clubs across the country, a strong demonstration of sport’s enduring ability to deliver television audiences in an increasingly difficult broadcasting market. It made England’s brave effort to win back-to-back World Cups the most watched TV event of 2007.

But there remained some snags and problems with the commercial channel’s coverage of these tense sporting events, not least the commercial break early in Sunday evening’s Grand Prix coverage which saw the channel miss Hamilton’s engine crisis, when the British rookie lost all power and more than 10 places in the race, and with it the world title. One can only imagine how many of the race’s 10 million audience were hurling objects at their sets when they discovered that ITV Sport had, once more, missed an ultimately decisive sporting moment.

Problems with the French production of the Rugby World Cup final may also have cost England the Webb Ellis Cup, after it emerged that the match’s technical official was unable to order a freeze frame replay of Mark Cueto’s second-half try, and so ruled out the score.

In his weekly sport on television column today, The Guardian‘s Martin Kelner focused on the role of ITV frontman Jim Rosenthal:
“I suppose you can understand the triumphalism at ITV in these difficult times – I half expected Jim to leap to his feet and break into a jaunty chorus of The Night They Invented Champagne or something equally joyous – but did they have to behave quite so much like pools winners? You felt Sir Des, of blessed memory, might have covered it with a sly wink and a little post-modern joke.”

The entire match attracted an average of 15.1 million viewers to ITV1, or a 58 per cent share of the audience, according to unofficial overnight ratings, with 12.8 million or a 51 per cent share tuning in for the entirety of the channel’s coverage from 7.30pm to 10.15pm.

It was the most watched television moment of the year so far, ITV said.

Less than 24 hours later, thanks to the Hamilton effect, ITV was rounding off the best-watched F1 season for seven years. TV1’s live coverage of the Brazilian Grand Prix peaked at 10.4 million viewers yesterday, 50 per cent of the available television audience.

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