41+ Sports Viewership Statistics [Stay Tuned For More]

by Dusan Randjelovic
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Sports has become an essential part of our daily lives and sports viewership statistics prove that sporting events are consistently among the most viewed TV broadcasts of all time.

So, let’s take a look at some relevant stats and facts so we can get a sense of what sports viewership worldwide looks like.

Fascinating Sports Viewership Statistics

  • A record of 15.6 million viewers watched the first day of the NFL draft in 2020.
  • The most viewed sporting event of 2019 was the ICC Cricket World Cup.
  • The average TV audience for the 2019 MLS season was 246,000.
  • Sky Sports’ English Premier League viewership was up by 21% in 2019.
  • More than 458 million viewers watched eSports in 2019.
  • The average TV viewership for the NFL in 2019 was 16.5 million per game.
  • In 2019, MLB had an average of 28.5 million prime time viewers.

1. The 2020 NFL Draft drew a record 15.6 million viewers on the first day

(Source: CNBC) 

  • The broadcast shattered the 2014 record of 12.4 million.
  • The draft saw an overall 37% increase in ratings over the previous year.
  • The virtual draft reached a record 55 million viewers over three days.

As a surprise to no one, football is the king of the most popular sports in America by TV ratings

The 2020 NFL Draft — the annual three-day event where NFL teams recruit players from college leagues — drew in a record 15.6 million viewers on its first day of broadcast. With all major US sporting events in 2020 postponed and/or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL took the risk of doing the entire event via video conferencing and it paid off big time.

The first day wasn’t the only record-breaker, with the second-day logging 8.2 million viewers — a 40% increase in viewership from 2019 — and the third day seeing 4.2 million viewers — a 32% year-on-year increase. The event, in total, had 55 million viewers with an average of over 8.4 million who watched all three days, providing the best sports TV ratings of 2020.

2. The 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup was the most viewed sporting event of the year

(Source: Sportspromedia) 

  • The tournament had a cumulative live audience of 1.6 billion viewers.
  • It was also the most-watched event in the history of the ICC (International Cricket Council).
  • This edition saw a 38% increase in viewership from the 2015 tournament.
  • The most-watched match globally was India vs Pakistan with 273 million viewers.

Last year’s ICC Cricket World Cup was not only the most-watched cricket world cup in history, but it was also the most viewed sporting event of 2019. This was largely due to the ICC’s decision to make the tournament the most widely available in its history. 

25 broadcast partners across 200 countries aired over 20,000 hours of live games, highlights and reruns over seven weeks between May 30 and July 14. Fans watched the games for longer too, the competition had 13.7 billion global viewing hours. A record for an ICC event.

The tournament was matched more in India than any other country. The country’s streaming service Hotstar reported that 25.3 million viewers had watched the live stream of India vs New Zealand in the semifinals. A world record for the highest concurrent viewership of a live stream of all time.

3. The 2019 MLS season delivered an average audience of 246,000 viewers

(Source: Sportspromedia)

  • ESPN’s MLS ratings were up 2% for the 2019 regular season.
  • ESPN was the most-watched cable channel for MLS matches for the 2019 season.
  • The biggest audience of the season was the Seattle Sounders’ 2-1 win over Atlanta United — 462,000 viewers.
  • The MLS social channels generated 2.2 billion impressions.

The major league soccer (MLS) has seen a 27% surge in interest since 2012, according to Nielsen Sports. Soccer viewership statistics have been on the rise, especially with big-name players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry, and Kaká playing in the MLS.

The 31-game schedule of the 2019 season delivered an average audience of 246,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN 2, up from 241,000 in the prior-year period. Stats on sports ratings in America suggest that this trend matches the growing popularity of soccer in the US — both in terms of participation and interest.

The biggest audience of the season came from the Seattle Sounders’ 2-1 win over Atlanta United — 462,000 viewers tuned in for the action.

4. Sky Sports’ English Premier League viewership was up 21% in 2019

(Source: Sportspromedia)

  • The network also confirmed an overall audience growth of 12% for the Sky Sports channels.
  • Liverpool’s win over Manchester City in November drew an audience of 3.36m in the UK.
  • It was the third most-viewed Premier League broadcast in the network’s history.
  • Sky also logged almost 2.5 billion social video views across its Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram channels.

Broadcast in 212 territories to 643 million homes and with a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people — the English Premier League is one of the most popular sports leagues by viewership.

Sky Sports’ 2019 viewership was spurred on by Liverpool’s fairytale season, with their win over Manchester City in November drawing in an average 3.36 million viewers. 

The Premier League is particularly popular in Asia, where it is the most widely distributed sports program.

5. eSports saw around 458.8 million viewers worldwide in 2019

(Source: Roundhill Investments)

  • That number is divided into 201.2 million eSports enthusiasts 
  • 252.6 million occasional viewers 
  • The League of Legends World Championship in 2019 had a record-breaking viewership of over 100 million viewers.
  • Over half of the world’s frequent eSports viewers and enthusiasts can be found in the Asia-Pacific region.

eSports viewership statistics confirm that this is one of the most popular forms of competition out there. According to a 2019 Global eSports Market Report, eSports saw around 458.8 million viewers worldwide. 

It’s important to quantify that number — 201.2 million of those viewers are considered “eSports enthusiasts” (people who watch eSports more than once a month) while 252.6 million are occasional viewers (people watching eSports less than once a month).

The 2019 Fortnite World Cup Solo Finals had 1.8 million total hours watched while the 2019 League of Legends World Championship broke the record for the most-watched eSports event with over 100 million viewers.

6. In 2019, the NFL had an average TV viewership of 16.5 million per game

(Source: CNBC)

  • This marked a rise from the 15.8 million viewers it averaged last year.
  • NFL games finished with 47 of the top 50 telecasts for the season.
  • The season ended with more than 180 million in total viewers for the 2019 regular season.
  • The Dallas Cowboys’ 26-15 loss to the Buffalo Bills was the most-watched NFL game of 2019 with an average of 32.6 million viewers.

NFL viewership has been low, dating all the way back to the 2016 season. In fact, the league experienced a 9.7% drop in ratings in 2017 amid the Colin Kaepernick controversy. That, coupled with the retirement of popular quarterback Peyton Manning were to blame for the declining football viewership statistics.

Currently, the league is benefiting from younger stars like Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and the popularity of the Dallas Cowboys. 

Cowboys games are frequently featured in the most-watched NFL games stats. They had both the most-watched and second most-watched games of the 2019 season, averaging almost 30 million viewers per game, as confirmed by sports viewership ratings.

7. The 2019 MLB averaged 28.5 million prime-time viewers

(Source: Boston)

  • Baseball viewership statistics were down 20% from the 2014-15 season.
  • It fell by 35% in the key 18-48 demographic.
  • The MLB World Series averaged 13.91 million viewers nationally, down 1.3% from last year.
  • Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros was the most-watched MLB game of the 2019 season

While the viewership numbers seem to confirm the supposed demise of baseball in the US, the truth is not so simple. 

Nielsen ratings for the 2018-19 broadcast networks — CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox — averaged 28.5 million prime-time viewers, down 20% from 2014-15. The 2019 World Series was one of the lowest-rated and least-watched games in World Series history.

MLB’s three national TV partners, however, all saw increased viewership last year, while the league’s 13-game exclusive series of YouTube broadcasts averaged 1.2 million live views per game.

8. The 2019 Golf Masters Sunday was the most-watched morning golf presentation in history

(Source: Golf Digest)

  • The event had an average of 10.8 million viewers.
  • A rerun of the show averaged 4.5 million tune-ins.
  • This was Tiger Woods’ first major win in 11 years and his first Masters win in 14 years. 
  • It was also the highest-rated golf broadcast since last year’s Masters.

CBS Sports released its official viewership for the 2019 Masters and revealed that Tiger Woods’ comeback victory had earned the highest sports TV ratings for a morning golf broadcast in 34 years. 

The broadcast peaked in viewership towards the end of the over five-hour broadcast when it was clear that Tiger was going to win, boasting 18.3 million viewers. 

The previous best morning for a golf telecast was also a historic Tiger Woods victory when he won the 2000 Open Championship and completed the career grand slam at only 24 years old. Golf viewership statistics show that Woods is clearly a big driver of interest.

9. NBA viewership is down by double-digits compared to this time last year

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

  • NBA on TNT viewership is down 22%.
  • NBA on ESPN is down 19%.
  • The overall NBA ratings on Regional Sports Networks are also down 7%.
  • TNT’s coverage is averaging 1.3 million viewers through 14 telecasts.

Much like the MLB, NBA’s TV ratings have been declining for a few years and dropped by double digits in 2019 versus 2018. However, viewership on half of the local Regional Sports Networks is up. 

Many experts believe that the dip in viewership is largely due to several big stars not playing because of injuries. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the games of the 2019 NBA season had stars like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Zion Williamson all missing because of injury.

Other experts believe the fall is due to the concentration of star power in the West Coast versus the East Coast. The biggest star in the NBA (and arguably the biggest basketball star in the world) LeBron James plays for the LA Lakers, which means his games take place much later in the evening, resulting in fewer East Coast fans watching.

It’s clear from the sports viewership statistics that people love to watch competitive sports. Sports viewership trends meanwhile point to a shift to eSports, which is hardly surprising given the current global climate.

FAQ

Which sport has the most viewership?

soccer ball

Sports viewership statistics show that soccer is the most watched professional sports and, unsurprisingly, it also draws the most viewers of any other sport. According to audience data for official broadcast coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, a combined 3.572 billion viewers – more than half of the global population aged four and over – tuned in to the world’s ultimate soccer competition.

What are the top 10 most watched sporting events in the world?

soccer ball

1. 2012, 2016 Summer Olympics (3.6 billion viewers) 2. 2018 FIFA World Cup (3.572 billion) 3. 2008 Summer Olympics (3.51 billion) 4. 1996, 2000, 2004 Summer Olympics (3.5 billion) 5. 1998 FIFA World Cup (3.4 billion) 6. 2010, 2014 FIFA World Cup (3.2 billion) 7. 2002, 2006 FIFA World Cup (3 billion) 8. 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup (2.6 billion) 9. 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup (2.2 billion) 10. 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 Winter Olympics (2.1 billion)

Are eSports more popular than sports?

soccer ball

A recent study revealed that 70 million people will watch a single esports final, which is higher than the viewership for U.S. professional baseball, soccer, and hockey finals. The study suggests that by 2021, esports will have more viewers than every professional sports league except the NFL.

Who watches sports?

soccer ball

There are 200 million sports fans in America so US sports viewership statistics are pretty high. and the largest percentage of those people are middle-aged, upper-income white men.

The largest single sporting event in America every year is?

soccer ball

It’s the NFL SuperBowl. The annual NFL SuperBowl game is not only the single largest sporting event in America but it is also one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, according to sports viewership statistics. Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 between New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks was the most-watched game in history with 114.4 million viewers tuning in.

Sources:

1. CNBC
2. Sportspromedia
3. Sportspromedia
4. Sportspromedia
5. Roundhill Investments
6. CNBC
7. Boston
8. Golf Digest
9. Yahoo Finance

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