Even when British sports people fail, TV can still score big ratings. Liz Thomas looks at some sporting highlights.

If there were any doubt that it is the English way to snatch sporting defeat from the jaws of victory, the recent hat-trick of misery has driven the point home.

England’s footballers have made a meal of entry into Euro 2008, the rugby team stunned allcomers by reaching the World Cup final but failed to stretch any further, and the nation’s first real Formula 1 star for a generation has walked away with nothing from a championship he should have won.

However, there has been a winner in all of this: ITV’s ratings this weekend were remarkable. On Saturday, an audience of 15.1 million, equivalent to 58% of viewers, saw England fail to lift the silverware against South Africa. The entire coverage between 7.45pm and 10.15pm secured an audience of 12.8 million/51.4% share, making it the most watched programme on TV so far this year. And these figures only include people viewing at home - thousands more will have watched in pubs and bars across the country.

Then on Sunday, an impressive 7.3 million tuned in from 4pm hoping that Lewis Hamilton could bring back some British cheer and take home the championship in the final race in the Formula 1 Grand Prix season in Brazil. Across the season the audience averaged 3.4 million, an increase of 41% on last year.

Big sporting events are always ratings winners - it helps if England are playing but it does not necessarily matter. ITV1 cleared its Friday night schedule for the France-Argentina rugby playoff, attracting an audience of close to 4 million. It raked in more than£16m in ad and sponsorship revenue.

According to the BBC, 17 million watched its coverage of the last football World Cup final between France and Italy, and the ratings for the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon are always solid.
As audiences fragment and the battle for viewers intensifies, the 10 million mark is a distant memory. It seems event entertainment, the soaps and sport are the only genres left that can unite the nation in front of the small screen.

The Sports Broadcast Forum will run on 29 November at London’s Waldorf Hilton Hotel. Industry speakers include BBC head of sport Roger Mosey and British Eurosport director Dave Kerr.www.broadcast-sportsforum.co.uk

David Beckham
21 June 2002: A crushed Beckham pauses for thought following England’s 2-1 quarter-final loss to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup in Shizuoka, Japan. The match aired on ITV1, with close to 3 million tuning in, and BBC1, which pulled in more than 13 million viewers.

Zinedine Zidane
9 July 2006: Referee Horacio Elizondo shows French captain Zinedine Zidane a red card during France’s 2006 World Cup final against Italy in Berlin. His team went on to lose to Italy in a penalty shootout 5-3. A massive 17 million watched the match on BBC1, with around 3.6 million watching on ITV1.

Liverpool football club
25 May 2005: Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is surrounded by a sea of red after his team win the Uefa Champions League final against AC Milan in Istanbul. In the UK, 9.7 million watched ITV1’s coverage, which saw Liverpool pull back to a draw after being 3-0 down at half time. The match was decided by a penalty shootout which the British team won 3-2, lifting the trophy for the fifth time.

Venus Williams
2 July 2005: Williams jumps for joy after beating Lindsay Davenport to win the Wimbledon title in London. The American’s flamboyant style ensured a higher profile for the women’s final, with around 6.8 million tuning in on BBC1.

British Olympic rowing team
23 September 2000: Tim Foster, Matthew Pinsent, Steve Redgrave and James Cracknell celebrate winning Olympic gold in the coxless fours at the Sydney Olympics. The victory gave Redgrave a record fifth Olympic gold. More than 6.6 million viewers watched the race on BBC1 despite coverage running after midnight.

Lennox Lewis
21 June 2003: Lennox Lewis wins his title fight against Vitali Klitschko. Sky Sports aired the fight, which saw the British boxer retain his WBC crown only to announce that it was his last professional fight. Lewis was the first reigning heavyweight champion to quit the sport since Rocky Marciano in 1956.

Kelly Holmes
23 August 2004: After years of disappointment and injury, Britain’s Kelly Holmes wins the women’s 800 and 1,500 metres finals at the 2004 Athens Olympics. An audience of 10 million watch coverage on the BBC.

Paula Radcliffe
22 August 2004: Radcliffe cries as her dreams of Olympic gold in the marathon are shattered at the 2004 event in Athens. Around 10.7 million viewers watched on BBC1 as the British world record holder and pre-race favourite pulled out of the race at the 23-mile mark as the blazing heat and humidity took its toll.

Jonny Wilkinson
22 November 2003: England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson strikes the drop goal that sank the Australian rugby team’s chances of victory. Around 12 million viewers tuned in to ITV1 to watch the Rugby World Cup go to a northern hemisphere side for the first time since the tournament began in 1987.

England cricket team
12 September 2005: England captain Michael Vaughan holds the tiny urn containing the Ashes after an historic win at the Oval in London after a period of Australian domination. Channel 4’s coverage attracted around 4.7 million viewers across the five hours of play.