The Women's Super League match between Manchester United and Manchester City on Saturday afternoon set a new TV audience record for the league, with more than one million people tuning in to watch.
The game was broadcast live on BBC One as part of the multi-year WSL broadcasting deal with BBC and Sky Sports, attracting a peak audience of 1.1m people. An additional 114,000 watched on BBC’s online platform.
It surpasses the 800,000 peak audience that watched Man City against Everton on BBC One on the opening weekend of this landmark season.
The lack of rival Premier League action because of the October international break, as well as the intrigue of a derby game on free-to-air television, likely pushed more eyes on to the match.
There was also a spike in attendance at the stadium itself. United drew home crowds of around 2,100 at Leigh Sports Village for their first two home games of the season against Reading and Chelsea, but 3,797 were there on Saturday, a new home record for the club.
But getting bigger audiences on TV and in stadiums, regardless of how it happens, is a huge step forward because it is easy to become hooked on anything given the right exposure and accessibility. Once people are invested, there is a strong chance they will keep coming back.
It still remains a ’build it and they will come’ kind of situation. That much was clear when nearly 12m people watched England play in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup. Already, nearly as many people watched Arsenal play Chelsea in the WSL on Sky Sports last month as tuned-in for a Premier League clash between Newcastle and Burnley last season on the same channel.
It also helped over the weekend that the Manchester derby didn’t disappoint. United and City delivered and provided an action-packed contest that had everything from great goals to great saves, high tempo and tenacity throughout.