Spectating sports is about as old as sports themselves. Even though most of us intuitively know it’s big business, many of us would also be surprised at the sheer magnitude of specific sport viewership statistics.
Below, you’ll find some of the most relevant statistics and facts about sports viewership and how it has evolved over the years. Plus, we’ll discuss future trends in spectator sports and how the esports industry is becoming a significant player in the field.
The Top 10 Sport Viewership Statistics and Facts
- The first broadcast sporting event happened in Missouri in 1911.
- An average of 15.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2020 NFL draft.
- Over 150 million people in the US watched live sports at least once a month in 2019.
- US women’s soccer viewership broke previous records by as much as 300% in 2020.
- Researchers estimate there will be around 300 million frequent esports viewers in 2023.
- The Worlds game in 2020 peaked at over 3.8 million concurrent viewers.
- Three of the top 10 most-watched esports events are of the game Mobile Legends.
- 40% of people who watch esports tournaments are in China.
- Australian Football League’s first post-COVID game had 1.2 million viewers.
- In 2020, almost 2 billion people were aware of esports across the world.
Historical Sports Viewership Statistics
Sports have been part of our lives long before we can remember, and they are always bringing in a massive audience of spectators. But what are the facts and numbers? Continue reading.
1. The first broadcast sporting event happened in Missouri in 1911, sports viewership facts reveal.
The event was a football game that took place in Missouri and was reproduced in Lawrence, Kansas. Operators recreated the game on a football stadium model in Lawrence while the game took place in Missouri.
A telegraph relayed the events in the game, which were then mapped onto the field.
2. The 1936 Berlin Olympics was the first televised sporting event.
(How Stuff Works)
As per sports television viewership statistics, 72 hours of live footage from the Olympics in 1936 were broadcast to viewing booths throughout Berlin and Potsdam, Germany.
Televised sports didn’t make it to the US until 1939, when a college baseball game between the Columbia Lions and the Princeton Tigers became the first to grace the airwaves.
3. Statistics for spectators on esports and regular sports reveal the earliest organized spectators were in Britain in the mid-1800s.
Cricket and various forms of rugby, which were encouraged in British public schools, were the first to be organized into official leagues centered around the premise of being spectator sports.
Some of the sports developed then, such as soccer, are still among the world’s leading spectator sports today.
Sport Viewership Statistics in the US
It’s a well-known fact that American’s love their sports! How much so you will learn in the statistics below.
4. An average of 15.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2020 NFL draft.
The 2020 NFL draft was the first virtual draft in the league’s history, but it also broke the record for the most spectated first round ever.
Sport viewership statistics in the USA reveal that the number of viewers peaked at 19.6 million, which surpassed the 2019 draft by about 8 million.
The previous record for the most average viewers for the first round of an NFL draft was 12.4 million, and it was set in 2014.
5. Game 3 of the WNBA finals in 2020 attracted 34% more viewers than the same game in 2019.
Sport viewership statistics in 2020 were all over the place, with many record lows and highs. But one of the biggest surprises was a sharp increase in viewership of the WNBA finals.
Game 3 of the finals, which delivered the championships to the Seattle Storm, had 27% more viewers than the championship game of the 2019 WNBA finals.
6. Super Bowl LIV was the most-watched sporting event of 2020 in the US, with over 100 million viewers.
The NFL typically dominates US sports viewership statistics, and 2020 was no different. Super Bowl 54 between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers drew more viewers than any other event.
It was also the most-watched primetime TV broadcast that year, according to Variety.
7. Over 150 million people in the US watched live sports at least once a month in 2019.
(Statista, Washington Post)
2019 was another in a series of banner years for the sports broadcasting industry when almost half the country’s population watched live sports every month. However, 2020 marked a significant paradigm shift in sports viewership statistics in the United States.
In 2020, most sports saw sharp declines in viewership. Speculation about the decline’s cause ranged from the presidential election coverage to some leagues and individual players’ social justice messaging.
8. The MLB’s 2020 Opening Day attracted more than twice the viewers it did in 2019.
(CNBC, Sports Pro Media)
US sport viewership numbers for the MLB were uncharacteristically low in 2020 overall. The World Series only drew an average of 12.62 million viewers (down from 23.2 million in 2019).
Despite the low numbers, the Opening Day game between the Washing Nationals and New York Yankees had 232% more viewers on ESPN than Opening Day games in 2019.
Four million people tuned in on average, making it the most-watched regular-season game on any network since 2011.
9. 145 million people tuned in to college football telecasts in 2019, according to college sports viewership statistics.
(Football Foundation, Statista)
College sports have been rising in popularity in the last decade to the point that the NCAA had revenue exceeding $800 million in 2019 from TV broadcast deals.
College football games attracted substantial TV viewers, but they also drew in 47.5 million fans that attended games in person in 2019.
10. America’s National Pastime started playing second fiddle to football in the late 60s.
According to Gallup polls that have been administered since the 1930s, America was all about baseball well through the 40s and 50s. However, US sports viewership statistics in the region started shifting in the 1960s, and by the 70s, football had overtaken baseball.
Today, football is more popular than baseball. Over 40% of people list it as their favorite sport to watch.
11. Superbowl LV was the least-watched since 2006 with around 96.4 million viewers.
Sports viewership trends (at least on TV broadcasts) continue to drop, continuing the decline in 2020. The 55th Super Bowl attracted fewer viewers than any other in the decade.
On the bright side, it was the most live-streamed Super Bowl ever, with an average of 5.7 million streams per minute for its duration.
12. US women’s soccer viewership broke previous records by as much as 300% in 2020.
Statistics on sports viewership show that women’s soccer had a great year in 2020. It was also among the first sports to resume regular games.
The first and last game of the NWSL Challenge Cup attracted over half-a-million viewers, comparable to the English Premier League.
How Esports Viewership Stats are Changing the Game
Not all sports are viewed and experienced on the field. Esports has been a game-changer for sports lovers around the globe.
13. Researchers estimate there will be around 300 million frequent esports viewers in 2023 as per Esports viewing numbers.
In 2018, frequent esports viewers exceeded 170 million, and over 220 million people were self-described occasional viewers. By 2020, those numbers rose to 223 million frequent viewers and 272 million occasional viewers.
If the trend remains consistent, we’ll soon see worldwide esports viewer’s statistics break the 300 million mark.
14. The League of Legends World Championship game in 2020 peaked at over 3.8 million concurrent viewers.
League of Legends has been leading the esports viewership numbers in several markets. In 2020 established its dominance with the most-watched esports event in history.
Millions of viewers watched over 139,000,000 combined hours of League of Legends play during the 2020 World Championship. Further statistics reveal that 7% of total bets on Esports were on LoL.
15. The first esports event dates back to 1972.
Although the term is difficult to define, the first recorded video game competition with a tangible prize took place at Stanford University. Unfortunately, the total Esports viewer numbers for the event weren’t recorded.
Students at the university competed in the game Spacewar!. The prize was an annual subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.
16. Esports audience demographics reveal the median age of US viewers is 29.
(The Next Level)
Many people believe that esports is entirely the domain of younger generations. However, Esports viewership demographics show that almost 40% of the total Esports audience in the US falls between the ages of 25–34.
17. Three of the top 10 most-watched esports events are tournaments of the game Mobile Legends.
(The Next Level)
Esports viewership by game doesn’t always follow the game’s popularity among players. And although Mobile Legends doesn’t have the biggest player base, it attracts more viewers than many older and more established titles on the market.
On the other hand, it is important to note that the original Leage of Legends is considered among the most addictive games.
18. 40% of people who watch esports tournaments are in China.
China has an edge in any comparison of Esports viewership by country, simply because it has more people than any other nation.
However, the Chinese people are also very enthusiastic about video games. Namely, over 650 million people in China play mobile games alone.
World Sports Viewership Statistics
Although sports are a popular family even in the US, they are part of many households and loved worldwide. Learn what sports are making heads turn around the world in the statistics below.
19. Soccer is, convincingly, the most popular sport in the world with anywhere between 3–4 billion fans according to sports average viewership statistics.
(Sports Show, World Atlas)
If you explore sports viewership statistics by sport, soccer comes out on top based on numerous criteria. In 15 measures that include global fan base, internet popularity, and even year-round relevance, soccer proves to be the world’s dominant sport.
A distant, but not irrelevant, second is cricket, which owes some of its popularity to its legions of fans in India and other parts of Asia.
20. Sport viewership statistics in 2021 will see esports dominate most other leagues in the US.
Football fans can rest easy knowing that their sport of choice will likely continue to reign supreme among viewers.
However, esports is inching ever-closer to the top spot. Еxperts forecast it to be ahead of the MLB and NBA in terms of viewers in 2021.
21. Sky Sports welcomed over 14 million viewers for an average of 95 minutes on October 4th, 2020.
(Sports Pro Media)
Setting records in sport viewership statistics for the UK, Sky Sports had its best day ever in terms of viewers in 2020.
Most viewers tuned in to watch one of several soccer games. Another contributor was the Cleveland Browns versus Dallas Cowboys game, thanks to the broadcaster’s NFL rights deal.
22. The Australian Football League’s first game after COVID lockdowns had an average audience of 1.2 million.
(Sports Industry AU)
Australian football dominates the sports viewership statistics in Australia, and it cemented that role with sky-high ratings in 2020.
The first match post-COVID shutdown drew in over 600,000 viewers from Melbourne alone.
23. In 2020, almost 2 billion people were aware of esports across the world.
Esports viewership in 2020 is underpinned by a sharp increase in the number of people aware of it as a spectator sport.
Global awareness of esports rose to 1.95 billion people in 2020, representing a significant increase over 2016. At that time, only 1.1 billion knew of esports as a spectator sport, according to esports viewing statistics.
What sport has the highest viewership?
Globally, soccer is the undisputed king of spectator sports. It has the most considerable fanbase of any sport. In 2018, it set a record for the most viewed sporting event when more than half the world’s population spectated the FIFA World Cup.
In the US, sport audience statistics for soccer are markedly lower than in many other countries. American football is the nation’s sport of choice. About 30% of the population regularly watches football during regular season play.
(FIFA, Top End Sports, Forbes)
What is the single most-watched sporting event in the world?
Typically, the FIFA World Cup attracts more viewers than any other event. A close second is the Tour de France, usually followed by the Olympic Games.
However, sport viewership statistics for individual events are better or worse based on several factors. The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing were the most-watched televised event in history with over 4.7 billion viewers.
(Huffington Post UK, Nielsen)
How many people watch esports?
In 2020, there were around 223 million frequent esports viewers and about 272 million occasional viewers.
Over a billion people worldwide have watched at least one esports event.
(Statista, Cyber Athletiks)
How many people watch sports?
In the US, around 154 million people watched live sports at least once a month. Experts forecast that number to rise to about 160 million by 2024.
It’s hard to estimate the total number of viewers who watch sports regularly worldwide. This is especially since the introduction of streaming services, which are tracked differently from TV broadcasts.
However, based on sport viewership statistics from numerous popular events, it’s safe to assume around half the world’s population watched sports with some regularity.
2020 was a rough year for a lot of sports networks. More fans than ever are streaming sports, and fan bases are shifting rapidly. However, most sports viewership statistics indicate that things should level out soon.
Take a look at the stats we’ve compiled here, and stay tuned to what happens during the rest of 2021 and beyond!
- Dot Esports
- Football Foundation
- How Stuff Works
- Sporting News
- Sports Illustrated
- Sports Industry AU
- Sports Pro Media
- Sports Pro Media
- Sports Show
- The Next Level
- Washington Post
- World Atlas