Sky Sports Speedway Elite League Viewing Figures 2011: Down according to insider expert, up on BARB

After a catastrophic plunge in popularity in 2010, the ‘new look’ Elite League of 2011 – where BARB figures are available – attracted an average Sky Sports Speedway audience of 80,611 viewers (5,870 viewers a week up on previous year).  Hopefully, though it’s on a low previous year base figure, this 7.8% increase represents the green shoots of recovery for the popularity of speedway on satellite television rather than a dead cat bounce.

Before we get carried away, it’s worth noting that 2011 average viewer numbers (80,611) are 45% down on 2008 (145,550) and even 25% down on the 106,944 two years ago when 38,000 odd viewers were lost.

In the absence of specific information or comment from Sky Sports (let alone credible competing publicly available rival viewer statistics), ‘friends’ of speedway and insider experts continue to anonymously attack the veracity of the BARB figures on the British Speedway Forum. Though these posters unsubstantiated and, sometimes, tendentious criticisms are allegations unlikely to register beyond the BSF, this ongoing questioning the BARB figures sounds petty and horribly like sour grapes when you consider that BARB is the accepted standard form of audience measurement within the television industry. Apparently good enough for Strictly and the X Factor but allegedly too blunt an instrument for obscure or specialist programmes like Sky Sports Speedway.

Sky Sports insider, Flagrag takes it upon himself to articulate the apparent position of the satellite broadcaster, “Sky no longer rely on BARB figures much now anyway as they don’t take into consideration time shifted viewing like recording and repeats. In fact we now have a more accurate system as we have our own consumer viewing panel and online Skyline survey system this is all backed up by our internal viewing monitoring figures collected from set top boxes as this allows us to see how many recorded it along with repeat play outs.”

Interestingly after this scepticism about the integrity of the BARB figures, earlier this month Flagrag rushed onto the BSF to state that Sky Sports Speedway internal figures reveal a decline for viewing numbers for Elite League in 2011! “I have not had a chance to fully have a look at viewing figures year on year but in general they have been down a bit which is to be expected as has been going head to head with MNF premiership football on Sky sports 1 but the audience share has remained good all year and Speedway still out performs a number of other more well known and supported sports and events” It’s an immutable law of sales that whenever there is talk of market share, things aren’t usually rosy in the garden.

The calibre of the excuses aren’t up to much either, especially since – for example – Monday night football has been around for some time, this doesn’t seem a credible or creative explanation. Given the frequent praise for the quality and editing of the pictures broadcast, the decline Flagrag highlights is hard to fathom unless those legions of time shift viewers no longer bother to Sky+ Monday night live speedway meetings.

That said, during 2011 12 Elite League meetings were unmeasurable by BARB since their audience fell outside the weekly Top 10, so – if the figures for these are known by insiders at Sky Sports and added into the mix – it is conceivable that Monday night live speedway viewer numbers did slump as Flagrag claims. Speedway riders such as Chris Holder (“It’s an inferior product. They want to keep costs down but are watering down the product. If they want to make the Elite League in England ‘the Elite League’, they should bring all the top riders over”) and Hans Andersen (“No disrespect to some of the riders, but people are paying Elite League prices to get in, but it’s not Elite League riders on display”) raise partisan product quality questions but this isn’t a situation solely peculiar to 2011.

This blog suggests that we shouldn’t lose sight of the ‘good news’ that these increased BARB figures represent. We could also continue to hope this is a sign of further recovery in the future. Monday night expert commentators Nigel Pearson and Kelvin Tatum often remind us during the season that the resurgent 2011 Elite League nowadays manages to attract stay away Speedway Grand Prix stars – riders like Nicki Pedersen and Emil Sayfutdinov – back to our shores. It’s a development they say that signals our collective speedway good health. So, perhaps, on balance these deeply admired returning riders are one of the key reasons behind the modest rise the BARB official figures show for the 2011 season?

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