Almost 20 million Britons watched the World Cup final on Sunday afternoon, with the BBC once again beating ITV in the ratings.
A peak audience of 14.9 million viewers tuned in to see Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer front BBC One’s coverage, with 4.3 million watching ITV for the combination of Gary Neville and Roy Keane’s facial hair.
Although England’s exit in the quarter-finals meant this year’s World Cup did not reach record-breaking audience levels, the contest between France and Argentina shows there is still an enormous live television audience for free-to-air football.
The promise of a showdown between Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé – and cold weather keeping Britons inside – meant the British audience was substantially up on the 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia.
The overnight television audience figures, produced by data provider Digital-i, do not include the millions of Britons likely to have watched the match on streaming services such as iPlayer and ITVX, or in communal places such as pubs.
While the BBC was praised for its coverage – including a stunning closing montage set to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love – ITV is likely to have been pleased with relatively strong ratings for the one match it shared with its rival broadcaster.
Among those watching ITV’s coverage were staff at the Daily Mail, who led Monday’s print newspaper with a criticism of Neville’s comments comparing the treatment of Qatari migrant workers to striking staff in the UK.
The newspaper used its front page to declare that Neville had “sparked fury” with his comments, where he said the world should detest low pay, poor accommodation, and poor working conditions regardless of where they are in the world.
Neville, who received criticism before the tournament after taking work with Qatari broadcaster BeIN sports, said he saw parallels with the treatment of British NHS staff.
“It shouldn’t happen here,” he said, from his seat in Doha. “But it shouldn’t happen with the nurses in our country either where our nurses are having to fight for an extra pound or two pounds.”