Exactly 100 days since the Premier league was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, football in Britain returned to the delight of fans across the country. And while they were not allowed inside Villa Park or the Etihad Stadium – with supporters set to be locked out for the remainder of the season due to the social distancing guidelines currently in place – Sky Sports were able to broadcast the two matches as the sport resumed.
Record numbers are expected this weekend, with the Premier League set to return to free-to-air TV with the BBC on Saturday for the first time in more than 30 years, while Liverpool’s Merseyside derby against Everton will also be made available outside of Sky’s subscription.
But Wednesday’s action got the return off to a flying start, with Sky announcing that City’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal reached a peak audience of 3.4m across its Main Event and Premier League channels, averaging 3.1m throughout the match.
Coverage on Sky Sports Main Event reached a peak of 2.6m alone, with the channel offering the added fake crowd noise to bring a sense of normality to proceedings, while the Premier League coverage provided the real, eerie sound inside the empty stadium. It represented a 14.3 per cent share of the TV audience at the time, with the peak coming soon after City took the lead through Raheem Sterling’s opener.
The figures represent the most-watched match since Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool in January 2017, although the all-time record stands to be broken this weekend.
The Manchester derby in April 2012 remains the most-watched Premier League game in history, with a peak audience of 4m turning in to see Vincent Kompany head City to victory on their way to the Premier League title.
With Saturday evening’s meeting between Bournemouth and Crystal Palace live on BBC One, a record audience is expected to watch the first ever Premier League game on free-to-air TV, with the top flight making a return to terrestrial programming for the first time in more than 30 years.
That figure – should it break the existing eight-year record – may not stand long though. Sunday’s Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park will be broadcast by Sky Sports once more, but the match has been made available on Pick, enabling Freeview viewers to see every second of the encounter.
The first game back earlier on Wednesday evening also proved a success, with a peak audience of 2.7m watching Aston Villa’s 0-0 draw with Sheffield United, averaging a credible 2.3m across both channels.