The Most-Watched Sports Events in the History of Television

People love sports and not just because of the betting aspect. There’s something enjoyable about watching athletes go at it and put months of hard training to the task. It’s entrancing to watch people representing their countries and teams in different sports and excelling at it. Being there and breathing in all the excitement is an opportunity of a lifetime. But most people cannot make it to cheer their favorite teams on in person. So, they sit at home, content to watch their favorite athletes make them proud. But which sporting events attract the largest viewership? Are you curious? Here goes:

Summer Olympics

Summer Olympics

Did you know that the summer Olympics are the most-watched sporting events globally? Of course, this makes a lot of sense. Countries send the best of their athletes to compete against seasoned athletes from other regions. It’s one country against the other, and the athlete who takes the win does not just do it for themselves but also for their country. So, besides the many who flock to the venues and sing the national anthems, proud to be present, millions, nay, billions of others are watching from home. You may be asking yourself, ‘just how big can the viewership be?’ Here are some of the most-watched summer Olympics events of all time:

Event Viewers
Rio 2016 Summer Paralympics 4.1 billion
London 2012 Summer Olympics 3.6 billion
Rio 2016 Summer Olympics 3.6 billion
Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics 3.51 billion
Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics 3.5 billion
Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics 3.5 billion
Athens 2004 Summer Olympics 3.5 billion
Moscow 1980 Summer Olympics 2 billion
Los Angeles 1984 Summer Olympics 2 billion
Seoul 1988 Summer Olympics 2 billion
Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics 2 billion
Montreal 1976 Summer Olympics 1.5 billion

See how high those estimated viewership numbers are? It shows how much people appreciate these games, which grace our screens every four years.

FIFA World Cup

The summer Olympics have the allure of countries going at it with citizens sitting at home and cheering their athletes forward. Does this bring another global event to mind? How about the FIFA world cup? Like the summer Olympics, fans only get to cheer on their favorite teams every four years.

FIFA World Cup

It’s not a secret that international soccer is one of the most enthralling sports on this green earth. People and companies spend billions on soccer teams. Whether it’s on regalia, sportswear, or even endorsements, a lot of money goes into soccer. Why do they do it? For the thrill! There’s nothing like watching football players at their best, passing the ball from one corner of the field to the other and finally scoring a remarkable goal. It’s a sight to behold and one that organizers can replay over and again to live in that moment again.

But what makes the FIFA World Cup much more interesting than the standard leagues? It’s the togetherness. The whole world almost comes to a stop and looks on as rivals join hands and play together as a nation. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and the passion that surrounds this event is undeniable. No wonder previous events have recorded the figures below:

Event Viewers
Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup 3.572 billion
France 1998 FIFA World Cup 3.4 billion
South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup 3.2 billion
Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup 3.2 billion
2002 FIFA World Cup (Korea & Japan) 3 billion
Germany 2006 FIFA World Cup 3 billion
1990 FIFA World Cup Italia 1 billion
1994 FIFA World Cup USA 1 billion

With the US also catching up on this game, the numbers are sure to get even higher with more people glued to the screen for those two crucial months.

Did you know that the FIFA women’s world cup also attracts a large viewership? This tournament is relatively new and has been on the rise for the past three decades. So far, it’s been hosted in 6 countries, with China and the US taking up the leaderboard spots. Statistics show that its viewership is also doing well, and it made history in 2019 with the record of:

  • France 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup - 1.12 billion

Cricket World Cup

Cricket World Cup

Of the growing sports, cricket seems to be on the lead, which shows in its viewership, more so in the 2019 world cup. (There seems to be something captivating about watching different countries battle it out for the win.) But is cricket as popular as deemed? A resounding yes! Stats show that this sport is easily the second most popular after soccer. So, it makes sense that its stats would be right under the beloved soccer game.

You probably know that Indians love cricket. But where else does it have a large viewership? Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, and New Zealand! Most of these countries have high populations, which translates to a high viewership during global games. Of course, there’s hope that the love for this game will catch on, pushing its numbers even higher.

But for now, its fans can remain content that it’s hit the following milestones over the years:

Event Viewers
ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 2.6 billion
2011 ICC Cricket World Cup Final: India vs. Sri Lanka 1 billion

Funny enough, this competition started in 1975 and has already garnered viewership by the billions. One has to wonder what will become of the numbers once more countries begin taking part in the global tournaments.

Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics

Watching the Winter Olympics gives you a glimpse into sports that you would have otherwise probably never watched. Like the summer Olympics, it’s an opportunity for athletes to make their countries proud by showcasing their skills. But it takes on a different approach by setting the scene on ice and snow. Every four years, athletes skate, snowboard, and maneuver their way down slopes at record speeds. From skeleton to luge to ice hockey down to speed skating, there’s a lot to enjoy about these games whose popularity is also on the rise.

So far, these sports which have been running since 1924 have been hosted in 12 countries in 3 continents. Record viewership numbers include:

Event Viewers
Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics 2.1 billion
Torino 2006 Winter Olympics 2.1 billion
Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics 2.1 billion
PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics 2.02 billion

Any guess on the next turnout?


Professional boxers

If the Deontay vs. Fury turnouts are anything to go by, it’s clear that boxing is a popular sport worldwide. Fans were not satisfied with one match and what was supposed to be a one-and-done event is now a trilogy. With wagers coming in fast and speculations amassing, it’s easy to tell that the third match will be just as good. The reason? - People love watching the opponents go at it, wondering who will be the first to be knocked out and how long the opponents can last. As the rounds go by and the fighters get weary, the anticipation is palpable in the air. Who will throw in the towel? Who’s going to go lights out first? These are the thoughts and whispers around the ring as people inch closer to the action. So, how would it be a surprise that this event attracts fans in the billions? But are the numbers as high as you would think? Sure, they are! Here are some exciting events:

Event Viewers
Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks II 2 billion
Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes: The Last Hurrah 2 billion
Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki 1.4 billion
Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman: The Rumble in the Jungle 1 billion
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III: Thrilla in Manila 1 billion

UFC games have also been getting a lot of attention, and they will probably also be topping the charts at some point.



The tennis viewership stats are not what they once were, but the diehards still give this game their all. While the numbers are now pointing at millions per event, there was a time when this was not the case. People would remain glued to their screens, watching the ball move from one side of the court to the other, hoping that their team would not lose to its rival. So loved was the game that it recorded an all-time viewership high of:

Event Viewers
2016 Wimbledon Championships 1 billion

Since then, the viewership has suffered a bit of a decline. Will tennis hold its own as one of the most popular sports? It’s hard to tell at this juncture. But the 2016 stats should be enough to ignite hope that all is not lost, and this game can recover and compete at an even higher level.?

What other events attract a lot of attention?

  • Rugby World Cup: Fans want to watch some tussle and cheer the stronger teams to the goal. In 2019, the TV viewership was well over 800 million.
  • The Super Bowl: If there’s a game that gets a lot of hype from the USA market, this would be it. Its 114 million viewers in 2015 are proof of this.

Were you surprised by the stats? Was your favorite event on the list?