Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City could be playing in front of the largest domestic television audience in the history of the Premier League next month when their home game against Fulham is made available unencrypted on the Freeview platform.
As part of a marketing exercise to broaden awareness of its programming, the broadcaster ESPN is showing the league leaders’ game against Martin Jol’s London side at the Etihad stadium free of charge in some 10m Freeview homes. The match will also be made available unencrypted to BSkyB, BT Vision and Top Up TV customers, meaning that it has a potential audience of 20m. The game will not be shown free to Virgin Media customers.
Yesterday’s game between Arsenal and Manchester United, shown on Sky, peaked at 3.6m (not including viewers in pubs). The earlier game between Manchester City and Tottenham was watched by just under 3m. The two games were among the most anticipated in the 20 year history of the league.
According to the Premier League, the previous record was 3.2m for last season’s game between Spurs and Manchester United. The highest recorded audience for a Premier League Match of the Day package was 5.49m in February last year, when viewers were drawn in by a record 41 goal haul that included Newcastle United’s 4-4 draw with Arsenal.
The game at the Etihad on Saturday 4 February will be the first Premier League game to be made available for viewing in homes with the basic Freeview package. But there is no guarantee of a bumper audience – many Freeview viewers have deliberately resisted the charms of the Premier League, which has been a key part of the BSkyB programming package.
The first live Premier League game was Nottingham Forest’s 1-0 win over Liverpool in August 1992. ESPN is broadcasting unencrypted for the whole of the first weekend in February, from Friday to Monday.