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Media Microscope: Super Bowl owns American TV, but soccer conquers the globe

American football is king the United States, and the Super Bowl is the sport's coronation.

The game is a de facto American holiday, as roughly half the country gathers together to gorge themselves on snacks, judge multi-million-dollar commercials, marvel at the halftime show and, if the game is decent, watch the actual football as well.

The television numbers show just how big of a deal the Super Bowl, and American football in general, is in the U.S.

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With an average audience of 111.32 million, Super Bowl LI was by far the most-watched TV program of 2017 in the U.S., more than doubling the second-place finisher in that category.

And that second-place finisher? None other than the AFC Championship Game — the contest whose winner advances to the Super Bowl — which drew 47.95 million viewers.

In fact, five of the seven most-watched programs of 2017 were NFL games.

As big as the Super Bowl is in the United States, it hasn’t quite caught on the same way in the rest of the world.

Estimates for the global TV audience for the Super Bowl vary, but roughly 30 million to 50 million viewers outside the U.S. watch the game annually, putting its global TV audience between 140 million and 165 million.

Unsurprisingly, those numbers fall short when comparing them to some of the soccer/football world’s marquee events.

According to UEFA, the 2015 Champions League final drew an estimated global TV audience of 180 million. Most of that audience came from outside of the United States, as the game between Barcelona and Juventus drew just 2.2 million viewers in the U.S.

Of course, the Champions League final (and every other single-day sporting event in the world) can't remotely compare to the viewership drawn by the World Cup final. In 2014, FIFA estimated that 695 million people worldwide tuned in on television to watch Germany defeat Argentina. 

The 2014 World Cup final is still the most-watched soccer game in American history, drawing around 27.3 million total viewers. Though an impressive total, that number is also an indication of how far soccer has to go in the U.S. before it approaches the popularity of the country’s number one sport.

Not only is 27.3 million far short of any recent Super Bowl audience, but it’s also significantly less than the lowest Super Bowl TV audience of all time in the U.S. — Super Bowl II, which drew 39.1 million viewers in 1968.

So while the popularity of soccer continues to grow within the U.S., it clearly has a long way to go until it can even approach the dizzying heights of football. Meanwhile, the rest of the world continues to wonder exactly what all the fuss is about.