Written by, Toni Maglovski
Updated September, 2, 2022
Sporting events may be universally loved, but they are not equally popular.
Americans never miss the Super Bowl, Europeans boo and clap during football matches, and then, there are those (Brits included) that love cricket.
But, what are the most-watched sport events in the world, by the numbers?
Let’s find out.
Highest TV viewership: 4.7 billion (Summer Olympic Games)
The Olympic Games, which last between 16-17 days in total, is historically the most-watched sport event in the world.
The first Summer Olympic Games took place in Athens, Greece, on 6 April 1896. The event made broadcasting history in 1936 when sports fans got the chance to watch a live stream of the Games in 25 special viewing rooms in Potsdam and Berlin.
Decades later in 2008, a record-breaking 4.7 billion viewers tuned in to watch the Beijing Olympics.
The most-watched Winter Olympics were the 2022 Beijing Games, with around 2 billion viewers from around the world.
Highest TV viewership: 4.6 million PPV buys
Boxing, as a sport, has been on the main stage since the Ancient Greek Olympics in 688 BC.
The highest-grossing boxing fight, with a whopping 4.6 million in PPV buys, was the match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in 2015.
This major sporting event was popularized by “The Greatest”—Muhammad Ali, who drew in 2 billion TV viewers in 1978 in his match against Leon Spinks II. It is estimated that almost half of the TVs in the USA had the fight on at the time.
Highest TV viewership: 3.5 billion
The FIFA World Cup is the pinnacle of professional football. Every four years, since the first TV broadcast in 1954, the public gathers in front of their (not-so-) small screens to witness shocking victories and heartbreaking defeats.
What’s more, World Cup TV ratings show that the event seems to be getting more popular by the year.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia drew in a record audience of more than 3.5 billion, while the final, which is traditionally FIFA’s most-watched television event, attracted 1.12 billion viewers.
Highest TV viewership: 3.5 billion
Tour de France, also known as “The Big Loop,” is one of the most-watched sport events of all time, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Dating back to 1903, the three-week race includes 21 stages, in which contestants, racing as part of an 8-men team, cycle through the scenic mountain roads of France. Every team tries to achieve the best cumulative time in front of millions of spectators lined up along the route.
More than 3 billion people tuned in to watch the Tour de France in 2018, the highest viewership count so far, and every year, an estimated 12 million spectators watch the race live.
Highest TV viewership: 857 million
Though the Rugby World Cup hasn’t been around for long, the game goes back to1823 in England. BBC even broadcast a match back in 1938.
Like many of the biggest sporting events out there, the Rugby World Cup is held once in four years, lasts for around seven weeks, and welcomes the 20 best teams to compete for the ultimate championship title.
The latest Rugby World Cup attracted more than 850 million television viewers.
Highest TV viewership: 167 million
The cricket World Cup is held at 4-year intervals and has had a total of 12 Men’s Cups since 1975, and 11 Women’s CUps since 1973.
The last male tournament that took place in England, from May to July in 2019, only allowed 10 teams to compete for a prize of over $4 million.
According to the International Cricket Council, the game attracted 167 million viewers globally and is the most-watched sport event ever in the history of the cricket World Cup.
Channel 4 said 4.5 million people watched the cricket World Cup final, thanks, in part, to the sport’s return to free-to-air television.
Highest TV viewership: 114.4 million
The Super Bowl might have been at the centre of controversy in the past couple of years, but it is undoubtedly the most viewed sporting event in the US.
Fans of all ages gather around to watch 3 hours of contained chaos, short but expensive ads, and of course, the Super Bowl halftime show. Most of them even skip work the Monday after the Super Bowl weekend.
In 2015, the match between Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots broke the worldwide Super Bowl viewership record with a TV audience of over a hundred million! Viewers also took notice of the 2021 Super Bowl, when 91.63 million Americans tuned in to watch the game.
Highest TV viewership: 35.89 million
All of the NBA championships have had an impressive viewership count.
The NBA reserves only 16 spots for the main event and is one of the few sports where the playoffs are extremely popular.
The 1998 championship series, between the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls, remains the highest-rated finals in NBA history with an average of 29.04 million viewers. A staggering 35.89 million fans watched Game 6, making it the most-watched basketball TV event in the world.
Highest TV viewership: 17.3 million
What good is an English summer without Wimbledon?
Wimbledon is one of the biggest sporting events in the world and the oldest tennis tournament in existence, with more than 144 years of history.
Every year, Wimbledon tennis players compete in five major events for two weeks in late June and early July.
In 1980, a little over 17 million viewers watched the five-set Wimbledon championship match between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
Highest TV viewership: 2.4 million PPV buys
The Mixed Martial Arts in UFC have been a steady TV hit ever since it came to the scene in 1993. Fans say they appreciate the use of numerous fighting techniques, fighters’ wide range of skills, and the different striking and grappling methods in the sport.
For true fans of the sport, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that the 2018 face-off between Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor drew in the largest TV audience in the sport.
With over two million viewers, this fight is not only the most-watched one in UFC history but one of the most popular fights in all combat sports.
Highest TV viewership: 360 million
The World Cup, one of the most famous sporting events in Europe, might be the pinnacle of professional football worldwide, but the UEFA Champions League doesn’t fall far behind.
The annual competition, held every June, hosts 32 of the absolute best clubs of the Old Continent. They compete in a preliminary round, 3 qualifying rounds, and a playoff. And the world tunes in to watch.
To date, the 2012-13 Champions League Final in London drew in the most viewers in the sport’s history–more than 300,000 million fans around the world watched Bayern Munich beat Dortmund.
Highest TV viewership: 110 million
F1 has captured the hearts of many thrill-loving fans who enjoy watching the world’s fastest cars and fiercest drivers battle it out on the race track. The Monaco Grand Prix, which usually takes place in late May or early June, is thought to be one of the most prestigious races in the world of F1.
The F1 circuit in Monte Carlo doesn’t allow many spectators to attend the race in person, but it still is a fan- favourite.
According to F1 figures, the 2018 Monaco GP attracted around 110 million viewers around the world.
Highest TV viewership: 43 million
The Masters’ Golf Tournament is one of the four most popular professional golf competitions worldwide. Built in 1933, Augusta prides itself on decades of history and a hefty prize fund of $11.5 million.
The 1997 Masters holds the record for the largest TV audience in the history of the tournament: Tiger Woods’ breakthrough attracted an unrivalled 43 million viewers. In 2019, the tournament broke another record when more than 10 million viewers tuned in, making it the most-watched morning golf presentation in history.
Highest TV viewership: 42.3 million
Though it is called a World Series, the whole world doesn’t get to play. The MLB World Series only welcomes the greatest teams of the American and National League.
To date, the Yankees are the ultimate World Series champions with 27 Commissioner’s trophies under their belt.
Though viewership remains high, the most-watched game in the history of the event is Game 7 in 1986, when the New York Mets took victory over the Boston Red Sox and became the World Series winners, as an estimated 55-60 million fans watched.
Highest TV viewership: 9.6 million
Ever since the first Grand National was held in 1839, and Lottery (the horse) beat 5-1 odds, the event skyrocketed in popularity and is regarded as one of the most prestigious steeplechase races.
In 2019, an audience of nearly 10 million fans tuned in to watch the big race. The event also attracts an average of 70,000 fans who watch the race at the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England.
The race has been broadcast ever since the ’60s and almost 9 million fans watched the 2021 race on ITV.
Whether it is a high-adrenaline bike race or a thrilling football match, the world’s biggest sporting events draw in billions of casual observers and die-hard fans to watch the latest and greatest and root for their favourite players or teams.
To date, the most-watched sport events are the Olympics and for a good reason– they have the world’s greatest athletes and a little something for every sports fan.
I always had an appetite for learning new things and random facts about almost everything, which is why when I got offered the job to work as a content writer at Don't Disappoint Me I took it without hesitation. Writing on a daily basis took my love for words and research to a whole new level, and made me realize that this is a career I would love to pursue. Although I spend most of my time researching my next piece, you can also find me on the football court, in the gym, or at home with a book in my hand.