What Is the Most Watched Sporting Event in the World?

Beijings National Stadium

Beijing’s National Stadium (fstockfoto / Shutterstock.com)

Most sports fans have at some point wondered what the most watched ever sporting event in history was. The Soccer World Cup Final? The Olympic 100m? The Super Bowl?

Many people automatically assume the Super Bowl is the world’s most watched sporting event, but according to our research, it doesn’t even make it into the top 10.

The wildly differing viewing figures could be down to a number of different reasons, but in today’s increasingly commercial world, it is in an event’s interest to have as many viewers as possible. This attracts more and more sponsors and thus more money. Below we take a look at what our research points to as the world’s most watched sporting events ever.

5. UEFA Champions League Final 2013

Number of viewers: 360,000,000

The UEFA Champions League is Europe’s premier club competition and is contested by the best teams on the continent. The 2005 final was played by Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund, making it an all-German affair. It was aired in more than 200 countries with an estimated global reach of 360,000,000.

4. FA Cup Final 2005

Number of viewers: 484,000,000

Played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium between Arsenal and Manchester United, two of the best supported clubs not just in the UK but the world. Also contributing to the big viewing figures was the fact that the game ended up being the first goalless draw in an FA Cup final for nearly 100 years with more and more viewers tuning in toward the end of the game in anticipation of a penalty shootout. The game was eventually won by Arsenal.

3. FIFA World Cup Final 2006

Number of viewers: 715,000,000

Taking place on 9 July 2006, the 2006 World Cup Final was contested between Italy and France. The game has gone down in history for two reasons. Firstly, it saw arguably the world’s greatest player Zinedine Zidane sent off for a remarkable headbutt on an opposing player. Secondly it was only the second ever World Cup Final to be decided by a penalty shootout. These account for the huge viewing figures for this game.

2. Cricket World Cup 2015

Number of viewers: 1,000,000,000

If you’re not a fan of cricket, you may not grasp just how popular the game is, especially in countries such as India and Pakistan. Cricket is almost like a religion in these countries and the national teams are supported with a fervour that is amazing to watch. So, when India played Pakistan as part of the 2015 World Cup, it was no surprise that an estimated 1 billion people watched it with India beating Pakistan by 76 runs.

And, the most watched sporting event ever is:

1. Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony

Number of viewers: 1,000,000,000+

We’ve been conservative with our estimates of viewing figures for the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. Chinese news agency Xinhua estimated total viewing figures of nearly 4 billion, Bloomberg went with “billions” whereas Reuters decided upon "around one billion".

The number of people watching the event was down to the Chinese being renowned at putting on such displays and they were set to spend more than any other country on the ceremony. The event was a huge success and the watching world was not disappointed.