The first day of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival drew in a record average audience, with free-to-air broadcaster ITV drawing in 1.1 million viewers, as 1.5 million tuned in to see Rachael Blackmore rode to victory in the Champion Hurdle, the Racing Post has reported.
According to the report, the average audience was up 12% from last year’s event, which sparked controversy for going ahead with spectators in attendance, representing the highest figure since records began in 2003.
In addition, the peak audience was said to be up 7% from 1.4 million who tuned in to watch last year.
This year, with the event staged behind closed doors and fans unable to attend, it has been forecast that the Festival will see a huge upsurge in viewers tuning in to watch the action, with Nielsen Sports predicting that Cheltenham will see its biggest viewership in 10 years.
Last year, the cumulative average TV audience for Cheltenham reached 3.7 million. On top of the free-to-air broadcast plans, the sports analytics firm’s estimate also factors in a potential 250,000-person increase in TV viewership in 2021 due to the government’s work from home advice.
ITV has also expanded its coverage of this year’s annual meeting, upping the schedule to include six races per day for the first time, instead of the usual five, to accommodate racegoers forced to watch the event on the television.