Where did it all go wrong for Football Focus?

Where did it all go wrong for Football Focus? How BBC’s iconic show is suffering from packed TV sport schedules, Dan Walker’s departure and a lack of popular pundits as bosses hold urgent talks to reverse viewing figures slump

  • Football Focus’ future is hanging in the balance amid poor viewership figures 

Football Focus is in peril due to plunging viewing figures ahead of its 50th anniversary with the show struggling to recover since Dan Walker quit, an expert told MailOnline today.

The 49-year-old programme has lost more than one third of its early-season audience in the space of four years, with the average weekly viewing figures for August falling from 849,000 in 2019 to just 564,000 last month. 

The most dramatic fall in viewing figures coincides with Alex Scott replacing Dan Walker as Focus’ main presenter in 2021. 

In Walker’s last season before he was moved on the average weekly August audience was 827,000, before dropping to 809,000 in 2021, 599,000 12 months later and 564,000 this year.

Scott is not being blamed by her bosses, though, and remains highly regarded at the BBC, who are set to give the former England defender a prominent presenting role at next summer’s Olympics.

Brand and culture expert Nick Ede told MailOnline that the departure of Dan Walker was a huge blow to the Beeb, with new host Alex Scott struggling to stem that tide of viewers who left with him. He said the decline of Football Focus shows how the BBC has lost viewers tired of discussions about matches and would rather watch live games or documentaries on Disney+ and Netflix. 

BBC programme Football Focus, which is hosted by Alex Scott, could be axed amid concerns over viewing figures. Ms Scott is a favourite at the BBC who will head to the Olympics next year

Dan Walker spent 12 years as the show’s presenter before stepping away to join Channel 5 – the viewing figures have fallen even since

Bob Wilson, the longest serving host of Football Focus, with Des Lynam and Jimmy Hill

He said: ‘The trend for digesting football results and football discussion has changed and with ratings down on football focus it shows that viewers don’t want discussion, they want to watch the match then use social media to make their own opinions heard.

50 years of Football Focus presenters 

Pre-1974:  Sam Leitch

1974–1994: Bob Wilson 

1994–1996: Steve Rider 

1996–1999: Gary Lineker 

1999–2004: Ray Stubbs

2004–2009: Manish Bhasin 

2009–2021: Dan Walker

2021– present: Alex Scott

‘Dan Walker is a very popular presenter and his exit has made things change and the viewers have departed. People are switching on to documentaries like Disney’s ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ and Netflix with the Beckhams. People want interesting documentaries to invest their own time in, rather than discussion shows’.

Mr Ede added that Dan Walker ‘probably saw the trend was changing’ and so quit Football Focus, helped by a golden handshake deal with Channel 5 worth £1.5million-a-year. 

The future of Football Focus is the subject of urgent talks at the BBC due to a dramatic drop in viewing figures.

The programme will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and serious thought will be given as to whether a major rebrand is required. 

Mark Lawrenson, who appeared on the programme for 25 years before being let go last year, told Mail Sport: ‘It has served its time. It’s a football magazine show, but there are so many other options for viewers these days and so much competition. ‘It doesn’t surprise me. Football Focus is coming up to 50 years, which is an unbelievable run, although there was no competition 50 years ago.’ 

Former Sky Sports anchor Richard Keys said: ‘If no-one is watching Football Focus & that appears to be the case why are there ‘fears’ that it will be dropped? Who exactly is fearful? It’s a long way past it’s sell-by date’

Ms Scott has been battling falling viewing figures and changing trends 

Gary Lineker and Ray Stubbs were also stalwarts of the show

Football Focus is not thought to be under immediate threat but reversing the decline will be a priority for the corporation’s new director of sport, with Barbara Slater retiring next spring. 

Football Focus formed part of Grandstand for 27 years before becoming a standalone programme in 2002. In its 49-year history there have been seven permanent presenters, with former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson fronting the show for 20 years before being followed by Steve Rider, Gary Lineker, Ray Stubbs, Manish Bhasin, Walker and Scott.

BBC sources insisted the decline in viewing figures mirrored those experienced by all linear channels in recent years.

A spokesperson told Mail Sport: ‘Football Focus continues to herald the start of a whole weekend of sporting coverage across BBC Sport. Week-on-week it is the most watched programme during that time slot and iPlayer viewing figures are also strong, so we know its popularity is enduring for fans.’


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