ITV fails to send Uefa right signals

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Uefa has expressed its disappointment at viewing figures for Champions' League matches on ITV's new digital sport channel, although European football's governing body said it will not be pressing the television station for any immediate action.

However, the figures may lead broadcasters – notably ITV and Sky – to the conclusion that coverage of the sport has gone past the saturation point.

Figures from BARB reveal that 15,000 viewers tuned into Panathinaikos v Arsenal on ITV Sport, while 52,000 watched Deportivo La Coruña v Manchester United. Its Nationwide League coverage of Nottingham Forest v Bradford last month attracted 1,000 viewers.

Champions' League sponsors might start to wonder if their products are reaching enough people in the UK. The Uefa communications director, Mike Lee, said there had been no concern expressed by sponsors, but added: "ITV do a very good job on the Champions' League but the digital channel figures are disappointing. We would like the games to be made available to a wider audience."

ITV Sport points out that more than half the programmes on Sky Sports 1, and 84 per cent on Sky Sports 3, attract fewer than 25,000 viewers, and one third of Premiership games on Sky are watched by fewer than 50,000 people.

Andrew Marr, an ITV spokesman, said: "We are talking about ITV Sport, a channel in existence for seven weeks. Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3 have been around for 10 years. The BARB figures do not measure everybody who watches and it doesn't measure people who watch in pubs. It is likely that hundreds of thousands of people are watching in pubs who are not counted."

Meanwhile, Africa's poorest countries have been promised they will have free access to TV coverage of next summer's World Cup.

The Football Association's chief executive Adam Crozier, described as "obscene" the reported £169m being demanded by the Kirch Media Group to allow the tournament to be shown in Britain. But Sepp Blatter, president of the world governing body Fifa, who has just returned from a three-day trip to Tunisia, said yesterday that all African nations except South Africa will get free television rights to the World Cup.