When Celtic play Rangers, it’s virtually the only show in town in Glasgow, possibly even in Scotland. But fans are no longer tuning into the derby match on the box.
Viewing figures from the last Old Firm clash according to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) show that fewer than 300,000 people watched the September 23rd clash on television, down on previous numbers.
We’ve taken a look at why fans might be switching off the Old Firm games...
People are watching less football on TV
In 2017, people have changed their TV viewing habits. The rise of Netflix, Sky Go and catch-up services means people don’t have to sit down at a set time to watch a particular show.
Additionally, sport viewers are more inclined to stream football onto portable devices, while the likes of Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter often means you can see goals or incidents from a particular match on social media, without having to tune in to a TV channel.
Even highlights on YouTube is a popular way of catching up with games while many clubs are offering live streams through their own TV channel, or at least a highlights package, often on the evening the match has taken place.
Data collected by BARB revealed that every week, Sky’s Premier League matches dominated the live streaming charts, with more than 1.7 billion minutes of Sky Sports 1 viewing being streamed to devices.
Time’s a factor
According to Joe Lewis, BARB’s Head of Insight, Saturday is the least popular of all days to live stream matches, possibly due to timing.
Many football fans will be travelling to their own team’s matches, and televised games that start at midday aren’t referred to as ‘lunchtime kick-offs’ for no reason.
BARB figures suggest that midweek matches tend to perform the best, although a lot of these matches take place over Christmas and New Year, and during the close-season.
Lewis believes that it is a ‘sign of peak time TV set conflicts with other programming forcing us to our devices as the only means in order to watch the big match.’
English football is a bigger draw
BARB figures show that a total of around 275,000 people tuned into the Old Firm match across Sky Sports Football (85,000) and Sky Sports Main Event (190,000). The match kicked off half an hour earlier than another televised game in which West Ham United took on Tottenham Hotspur - perhaps not the biggest rivalry in the English top flight but still a London derby with England internationals involved.
The viewing figures for Aston Villa’s clash with Nottingham Forest in the English Championship that evening were around 300,000. The following day, nearly 150,000 more viewers (close to 425,000) tuned into the Steel City derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.
Liverpool’s midweek Carabao Cup clash with Leicester was watched by 760,000 viewers.
Forest Green’s Friday night clash with Swindown Town drew 127,000 viewers on Sky Sports Football - over 40,000 more than watched the Old Firm game on the same channel.
Naturally the sort of money available in the English leagues means that matches are accessible to people across the world. Many EPL sides have vast north American supporters groups and sponsorship deals have seen many clubs take part in exhibition games in south-east Asia, Australia, or further afield, potentially reaching an even larger fanbase.
It’s less of a showdown these days
Celtic defender Mikael Lustig told a Swedish podcast that he felt there was ‘less hype’ around the fixture at the moment.
Lustig said: “I don’t think it’s the same hype, the same kind of hatred that you had back in the day. Rangers are nowhere near us now. I imagine the tighter it is, the more important it gets to win the derbies.”
The defender may have a point - if TV fans who were accustomed to seeing a blood-and-thunder football battle tuned in to see Celtic easing to a 5-1 victory on two separate occasions last season, then they might be put off watching again.
Old Firm matches used to be cup finals, or title deciders. These days, many viewers may feel the result is almost a foregone conclusion.
We see on social media how much Premier League fans dismiss the Scottish game, usually with references to a ‘one-horse league’ or the skills of a particular individual’s nan, but the hard fact is that Celtic-Rangers matches just aren’t as much of a draw south of the Border than they are in Scotland.