As TV Viewership Splinters, Sports Still Get Big Audiences

From Reuters

The Super Bowl, championship European soccer and Formula One’s Canadian Grand Prix each drew more than 50 million viewers in 2005, proving that top sports programs are among the few remaining in a fragmenting TV landscape to deliver large global audiences for advertisers.

Ninety-three million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl XXXIX between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, but 98% of them were from North America, according to data released Thursday by media buying and planning firm Initiative.

By comparison, Liverpool’s 3-2 penalty shootout victory over AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League Final attracted an average audience of 73 million viewers spread across dozens of countries. The Canadian Grand Prix drew 51 million.

“The reality of which events are most popular are different than most consumers’ perspectives,” said Kevin Alavy, the senior analyst behind the Initiative research.

“I would wager that in Europe people would be a little bit surprised that the Super Bowl is No. 1 because it draws its audience from only one market,” he said.


The remaining seven events in the top 10 -- which included the men’s 100 meters final in the World Athletics Championships, pro basketball’s NBA Finals, baseball’s World Series and cycling’s Tour de France -- all had audiences less than half that of the Grand Prix.

In even-numbered years, when either the FIFA World Cup or the UEFA European Football Championships are played, they typically outdraw the Super Bowl, with the Euro 2004, for example, boasting an average audience of 153 million people.

“For the vast majority of genre and other programming, audience is declining because of fragmentation, digital video recorders (DVRs) and commercial clutter, but some of the sports programming is becoming more powerful with every year that passes,” Alavy said.

“I would expect that for these sports programs, it will become yet more expensive to buy 30-second commercials,” he added.

A 30-second Super Bowl commercial in 2005 cost $2.4 million.

The only other 2005 event Alavy suspected might have been comparable in TV audience size to some of the biggest sporting events was the funeral of Pope John Paul, but he did not have specific details.