BBC Sports Personality of the Year all set for a return to Belfast
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year show will return to Northern Ireland in the future, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
BBC executives were delighted with how Sunday's show went on screen and off it and are determined to come back to Belfast in years to come.
A sell-out crowd of 7,500 packed into the SSE Arena and a peak audience of 9.9 million people - one million up on last year - watched on television as Davis Cup hero Andy Murray walked away with the big prize of the night, having gained 35% of the public vote.
Murray, who in total polled 361, 446 votes, was overjoyed by the reception he received, as were all the winners, who included Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, Moneyglass jump jockey Tony McCoy and west Belfast football coach Damien Lindsay, who was presented with the BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero award for 2015.
BBC bigwigs, presenters Gary Lineker, Clare Balding and Gabby Logan and the hundreds of top sports stars from around the UK and beyond were blown away by the fantastic atmosphere inside the SSE Arena as the people of Northern Ireland showed their love and enthusiasm for sport.
In recent years the SPOTY show has left its London base to go on tour around the UK and yesterday high ranking BBC figures were pencilling in Belfast for a return visit.
A BBC spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph: "We were really pleased with how everything went. It was a great night in Belfast. We received a warm reception and everyone got behind the show, as we hoped they would.
"The atmosphere inside the arena was brilliant and we would like to thank the people of Northern Ireland for their support."
Apart from hosting the event, there was an Ulster theme running throughout the show with golfers Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, boxer Carl Frampton, Olympic hero Dame Mary Peters and former Northern Ireland captain and Republic boss Martin O'Neill presenting trophies, while former world champion boxer Barry McGuigan, who won the SPOTY prize 30 years ago, handed over the main award to Murray.
Prior to the show there was fear in the BBC over Tyson Fury's appearance , but that subsided when he said sorry on stage following his controversial comments on homosexuality and women weeks before. Speaking to co-host Gary Lineker, the heavyweight boxing champion stated: "If I've said anything in the past that's hurt anybody, then I apologise to anyone I've hurt, that wasn't my intention." Fury had caused outrage with some of his views - so much so that a petition was set up calling for his removal from the award shortlist.
As the Belfast Telegraph revealed, one of the contenders, world long jump Champion Greg Rutherford, even pulled out in disgust before deciding to remain in the competition.
Rutherford was in attendance on Sunday, as was fellow athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who Fury said "slaps up good". The Olympic and world heptathlon champion, who finished third in the public vote, welcomed the boxer's apology.
It emerged later that Fury came fourth in the voting, with some fans claiming phone lines were jammed and calls cut off. The fourth place finish meant Fury was unable to pick up a trophy and be photographed alongside Andy Murray and Kevin Sinfield, which could have embarrassed the BBC.