If you can’t be in the stands at the world’s biggest sporting events, watching on TV is the next best thing. Making plans to watch the big game (or match/fight/tournament/race) is a tradition that is shared by cultures around the world. In fact, sporting events make up the majority of the most popular TV broadcasts. Wondering which are the most watched sporting events in the world?
1. Tour de France – 3.5 Billion Viewers
The preeminent event in cycling takes place each summer in France. In addition to being one of the most prestigious competitions in the sport, it is also one of the most difficult with a course that winds through the country’s scenic mountain roads. The race consists of 21 stages totaling approximately 2,200 miles, raced over 23 days. Competitors race as part of an 8-person team, working together to achieve the fastest cumulative time.
Dating way back to 1903, the Tour de France has become one of the biggest events in the sporting world. A recent article estimates that 3.5 billion viewers worldwide tune in to watch the Tour de France every year.
Next Tour de France: June 27 – July 19, 2020 in France
2. World Cup of Soccer – 3.3 Billion Viewers
In the same company as the Summer Games, the World Cup is right up there at the top in terms of popularity. This 32-team tournament (which will be expanded to 48 teams in 2026) features national soccer teams from around the globe competing until ultimately one team is crowned champion. Held quadrennially, the World Cup is the pinnacle event in the sport and boasts huge attendance numbers every year. The 1950 Final game holds the record for attendance at a sporting event in an enclosed stadium with a whopping 199,854 spectators.
In terms of TV viewership, the World Cup numbers are regularly in the billions, with 3.262 billion (that’s half the world’s population!) tuning in in 2018.
Next World Cup: November 21 – December 18, 2022 in Qatar
3. Cricket World Cup – 2.6 Billion Viewers
North Americans may be surprised to find cricket on a list of most watched sporting events, but fans of the sport are well aware of how hugely popular cricket is in many parts of the world. The Cricket World Cup is the international championship for One Day International cricket. The contest features ten teams and lasts just over six weeks. Like the soccer World Cup, the tournament takes place every four years, with the next Cricket World Cup scheduled for 2023 in India.
The 2019 Cricket World Cup, hosted by England and Wales, set a new record for viewership. An incredible 2.6 billion people tuned in, making it the most watched cricket event of all time.
Next Cricket World Cup: February 9 – March 26, 2023 in India
4. Summer Games – 2 Billion Viewers
Without a doubt, the Summer Games are one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world. The Games not only offer a variety of different sports to watch, they also feature incredible personal triumphs, underdog stories, record-breaking feats of strength and endurance, and the opportunity to showcase national pride. With people around the world eager to cheer on their home country, it is no wonder billions of people want to spectate.
Every four years, the Summer Games are hosted in one of the world’s most attractive destinations, contributing to it being one of the highest attended sporting events. With a global average reach of 2 billion viewers, it’s also one of the most watched on TV.
Next Summer Games: July 23 – August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan
5. Winter Games – 2 Billion Viewers
Though it may not attract the same amount of attention as the Summer Games, the Winter Games are still a hugely popular event that draws interest from around the globe. With popular sports including figure skating, alpine skiing, ice hockey, and snowboarding, the Games reaches a broad audience. The Winter Games take place over a 17-day period every four years. The next edition of the Winter Games will take place in 2022 in Beijing, China, which will become the first destination to host both a Summer and Winter Games.
A quarter of the world’s population (1.92 billion people) tuned in to watch a portion of the 2018 Winter Games, down slightly from the previous event in 2014, which drew 2.06 billion.
Next Winter Games: February 4-20, 2022 in Beijing, China
6. Women’s World Cup – 1.12 Billion Viewers
Women’s soccer is becoming more and more popular and as a result, the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France attracted a lot of interest. Following a similar format as the men’s tournament, national teams compete in a month-long tournament that begins with group-stage matches and ends with a knockout stage (playoff rounds).
With a hugely popular Team USA playing for first place, it makes sense that so many Americans wanted to watch the matches. But it wasn’t just Americans tuning in. The 2019 tournament smashed previous viewing records, with an incredible 1.12 billion watching worldwide. It will be interesting to see if the numbers are even bigger at the next tournament in 2023.
Next Women’s World Cup: Summer 2023, TBA
7. Boxing – 1 Billion Viewers
Boxing is a fascinating sport. Casual observers may not hear much about the sport from day to day but the moment a major match is announced it draws huge attention from around the globe. Viewership is often measured by pay-per-view buys and these big-name bouts put up huge numbers.
Muhammad Ali, known as “The Greatest”, was one of boxing’s most popular fighters ever and was even named “Sportsman of the Century.” His fights received huge attention and were some of the most watched sporting events of all time, with numbers in the billions.
8. UEFA Champions League – 380 Million Viewers
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and the UEFA Champions League Final is one of its biggest events. The top teams in Europe battle all season to be one of two teams in this prestigious championship match. This year’s Champions League Final will play out in Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey, providing travelers with the perfect reason to visit this popular travel destination.
The Champions League Final is consistently one of the world’s most watched sporting events. For the 2018 Champion’s League Final in Kiev, 380 million people tuned in to watch around the globe.
Next Champions League Final: May 30, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey
9. Super Bowl – 102 Million Viewers
Every year, American football fans count down the days until the big game: The Super Bowl. The National Football League’s championship game consistently tops the list when it comes to sporting events in the US. Even presidential debates can’t compete with the Super Bowl. While millions of people are tuned in for the game itself, the A-list halftime act and even the commercials attract viewers as well.
The most recent Super Bowl, which featured the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, drew 102 million viewers making it the 10th most watched Super Bowl of all time.
Next Super Bowl: February 7, 2021 in Tampa, Florida
10. World Series – 23 Million Viewers
This beloved event is one of America’s favorite fall traditions. Every October, the Major League Baseball (MLB) season culminates with the World Series. The champion from the American League faces the champion from the National League in a best of seven series to become World Series champs. The 2019 World Series was the 115th edition of the event, and was won by the Washington Nationals.
While it may not draw the huge numbers it once did, it is still one of the superstars when it comes to most watched sporting events. The 2019 World Series TV viewing peaked for game seven, with 23 million people tuning in.
Next World Series: October 2020, TBA
11. NCAA Final Four – 19.6 Million Viewers
Before basketball stars shine in the NBA, they hone their skills in college. The NCAA Final Four is not only a showcase of the top collegiate talent, it’s the culmination of their basketball season. Each year, the semi-finals and the finals are hosted in one of America’s great basketball cities and the excitement is big. Fans are already ramped up by March Madness and everyone wants to watch to find out how it all ends.
The 2019 championship game averaged a TV viewing audience of 19.6 million, who watched as Virginia topped Texas Tech in front of over 72,000 fans inside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Next NCAA Final Four: April 2-6, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana
12. NBA Finals – 18.5 Million Viewers
Basketball fans follow their team for 82 games of the regular season but the real fun begins when the playoffs start. With 30 teams fighting for 16 playoff spots, only two of which will make the NBA Finals, it’s kind of a big deal. The NBA Finals feature incredible basketball, an impressive celebrity presence, and a fun atmosphere…it’s no wonder so many people want to watch.
The 2019 NBA Finals featured Canada’s only NBA team, the Toronto Raptors, defeating the Golden State Warriors and as a result, the event broke records in Canada. In fact, 56% of the Canadian population (18.5 million people) tuned in to watch at least part of the NBA Finals.
Next NBA Finals: June 2020
13. The Masters – 18.3 Million Viewers
The most prestigious tournament in the sport, the Masters takes place every spring in Augusta, Georgia. Attracting the best golfers from around the world, the Masters always boasts big names and a big crowd. Playing four rounds over four days, the top pros battle to become Masters Champion and don the elusive green jacket.
In 2019 the TV viewership numbers were even higher than usual, due in large part to Tiger Woods ultimately winning his first major championship in 11 years. Adding to the excitement, the final round was moved up five hours due to an inclement weather forecast, and the result was the most watched morning golf broadcast in 32 years. While the broadcast peaked at 18.3 million viewers, the final round averaged 10.8 million, spurred on by those who tuned in to see if Tiger could complete his comeback.
Next Masters: April 5-11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia
14. Kentucky Derby – 16.5 Million Viewers
Dubbed “the fastest two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby is not just the most popular horse race in the United States, it’s also one of the premier horse races internationally. While Derby weekend is filled with plenty of different races, the highlight is the grand finale, which features three-year-old thoroughbreds racing one and one quarter miles around the historic Churchill Downs track.
The most recent Kentucky Derby, which took place on May 4, 2019, was ultimately won by Country House after the first horse to cross the line was disqualified. A total of 150,729 spectators watched inside Churchill Downs while the TV audience averaged 16.5 million viewers on domestic network NBC.
Next Kentucky Derby: April 29 – May 2, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky
15. World Cup of Rugby- 12.8 Million Viewers
Rugby’s premier event is the World Cup of Rugby, and like many big events is held every four years. Twenty of the best international teams compete in a six-week tournament until ultimately one team remains.
The most recent World Cup of Rugby was hosted by twelve Japanese cities in 2019. Millions watched around the world including a peak audience for the final of 12.8 million in the UK, who watched England fall to South Africa.
Next Rugby World Cup: September 8 – October 21, 2023 in France
16. Wimbledon – 3.3 Million Viewers
It is the most famous tennis tournament in the world so it is no surprise that it’s one of the most watched sporting events, as well as the most attended. Every year, thousands of fans converge at the All England Club for two weeks of spectacular tennis. There were 500,397 fans watching on at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships, the second-highest attendance in history.
In terms of TV viewership, the 2019 Wimbledon Championships saw record numbers according to ESPN. For the final day, which included Djokovic vs Federer in Wimbledon’s longest singles final, 3.3 million tuned in to watch.
Next Wimbledon: June 29 – July 12, 2020 in London, England
If you are tired of watching the world’s biggest sporting events on television and want to finally experience your dream event live, we can help you out. Contact us to start planning your ultimate sports travel experience to one of the world’s most watched sporting events.