Who’ll be cheering on Tim and Becks?

This summer’s television schedules will be dominated by the Olympics, the Euro 2004 championships and Wimbledon. But which sports appeal to which sections of society?

The approaching summer of international sporting events will again throw the spotlight on the varying fortunes of different sports in terms of attracting participation and television viewers. The sports that will feature most prominently this summer, football and athletics, have already seen significant changes in fortune during the past four years.

The most recent TGI data shows that football remains the most popular sport in the UK. This popularity is likely to increase even further when the Euro 2004 football championships in Portugal kicks off in June. The TGI measure of claimed viewing shows that more than 16.5 million adults watch the beautiful game, an increase of eight per cent over the past four years.

Sports that have not fared so well in terms of viewing figures include boxing, which has lost 18 per cent of its adult viewers. Athletics has also suffered over the past four years and is down 14 per cent, while tennis is down 12 per cent. Basketball, which has never enjoyed the popularity in the UK that it has in the US, has lost ten per cent of its claimed total viewing audience.

The main winners across the four-year period have been cycling, which has seen a 28 per cent rise in claimed viewing, and, perhaps surprisingly, table tennis, which is up by 17 per cent. However, the biggest winner by far is marathon running, with claimed adult viewing up by 76 per cent.

The demographic shifts that underlie these changes are also telling. Athletics seems to have suffered most among the younger age groups and those at the lower end of the social scale. Boxing, on the other hand, has suffered from a loss of older age groups, although it has also lost a disproportionate number of viewers from the lower social groups.

The success of marathon running and football appears to be attributable to female viewers. In terms of running events, the success of women athletes such as Paula Radcliffe may well have been a catalyst for increase in interest from female viewers. The TGI data shows a rise of almost double the number of claimed women viewers. There have been significant rises among 24- to 44-year-olds and the ABC1 social grades.

The increase in claimed football viewing is also attributable to its increasing popularity among women. This rise of more than one-third has compensated for a small drop in claimed viewing among men. As the country’s biggest viewing sport, football has seen rises among older viewers and this has made up for some losses in the younger age groups. The data bears out the overall impression that there has not only been a feminisation of the sport’s appeal, but also one of gentrification. Significant rises in claimed viewing within the ABC1 groups more than make up for small declines in the lower social grades.

A number of commercial implications for sponsorship of football are highlighted by TGI’s data. For example, Ford, the sponsor of BSkyB’s live football coverage, has seen a 14 per cent decline in consumers who cited that their last car purchase was a Ford over the past four years. However, among viewers with satellite TV this figure shows a 25 per cent increase, and among the group with satellite TV that were football viewers this figures rises to 29 per cent.

Carling, which sponsors the Premier League, has enjoyed an 11 per cent rise in the number of people who drink the brand “most often” and who view football. However, this figure leaps to 68 per cent among those who receive satellite TV at home – a strong indication that their specific on-screen presence is paying dividends.

As far as actual participation in sport goes, the importance of 15- to 34-year-olds has always been evident for a large number of sports. However, analysis by TGI’s Lifestage categorisations demonstrates that even within this relatively restricted age group there are major differences.

Fledglings, the singles who have yet to leave the parental home, are the most active group and tend to be involved in the most sports. However, there are some exceptions. For example, participation in aerobics is highest among the Flown the Nest group, while golf scores highly among the Nest Builders. Swimming is the most popular with 15- to 34-year-old Primary School Parents, while yoga enjoys a twin peak of popularity among both Nest Builders and Secondary School Parents.

Much of this pattern of activity is explained by the relative differences in views that each lifestage group has of itself. The parents of playschool and primary children believe they do not have enough time to enjoy sports because of their busy lifestyle, with 16 per cent and 27 per cent respectively saying they do not care for themselves as well as they should.

Fledglings, on the other hand, believe they do a good job of taking care of themselves and staying active compared with their fellow 15- to 34-year-olds. It seems this age group is able to find more time to participate in their chosen pursuits.

After the coming summer of sport, it is likely that this age group will try some athletics following the Olympics and, as always, a spot of tennis after Wimbledon.

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